KiCad BOM: Don’t Bomb your BOM!

3 methods to manage your KiCad BOM from the start

A KiCad BOM is a list of all the parts your design is using. The term BOM, or bill-of-materials, is standard for supply chain management and does not just apply to electronics. KiCad’s eeschema has a BOM export feature. Unfortunately as of Version 4.0, this feature is still somewhat lacking. Given the limitations, here are some tips to take your KiCad BOM from Schematic to Mouser.

Spending a few extra minutes while capturing (drawing) your schematic thinking about your KiCad BOM can save you a ton of time later on. Moreover, as you build up a database of parts, these extra minutes turn into seconds. Here are a couple of ways to describe your parts, especially passive components, better while drawing schematics in KiCad.

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Getting PCBs from KiCad to X-Carve

Milling printed circuit boards with open source tools from start to finish.

The last time I looked at using an X-Carve for Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), I created a demo board with EAGLE. Since then, I have learned more about using KiCad, the open source electronics CAD suite. While not a step-by-step tutorial, here is my rough KiCad to X-Carve PCB workflow. These are just the high-level steps, the tools necessary, and the settings I’ve discovered for each—so far.

Eventually, I will make this a more detailed KiCad to X-Carve PCB tutorial, so make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed for updates.

Here’s the Basic Steps:

  1. KiCad: Draw Board
  2. KiCad: Plot Gerbers
  3. KiCad: Generate Drills
  4. pcb2gcode: Generate G-code
  5. Text Editor: Clean Up G-code Files
  6. Camotics: Simulate G-code
  7. ChiliPeppr: Send G-code and control X-Carve
  8. X-Carve: Make the boards!

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Four reasons the Hackaday Superconference 2015 was awesome

Here's what you missed, if you could not go.

A couple of weeks ago I moved from Florida to the Bay Area. I’m not done unpacking yet. Why? Part of the blame goes to the Hackaday Superconference 2015.

Over 300 members of the hardware-hacking community came together at Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco for two days this past weekend.

The topic? Hardware, Art, Design Creation Challenges.

Chances are, you couldn’t attend. Whether you were or not, here are the four things I saw at the Hackaday Superconference.

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Five ways to make a schematic (quickly)

Engineers make a schematic to explain their circuits.

One time I was looking for a non-tourist pub in Japan. I asked someone for help. She said, “I’m sorry, but I do not speak good English. I will bring my friend and she will draw you a map.” (Exact quote!) The map her friend drew, gave directions to a bar with a “Neon Yellow Sing.” She meant sign…

The map was the method we used to communicate with each other, even though we didn’t both speak English. With this crude but effective map, I could find my next drinking place destination.

Schematics are the same as this map. Even if you don’t speak the same language, you can communicate how a circuit works when you make a schematic.

Use one of these five tools, when you need to a document a circuit or when you need to ask for help.

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Bald Engineer’s Top 2015 Stuff

A look at what you read the most from James

As 2015 wraps up, I took a look at baldengineer.com’s traffic for the past year. Here’s some of the most popular stuff from my blog, in case you missed it.

Everyone with a blog looks at their traffic numbers. For me, traffic data provides feedback on what tutorials or posts are helping people most. Each year, the traffic to my blog grows at ridiculous numbers. As someone with both an engineering and marketing background, I find the numbers impossible to believe.

Thank you to everyone who reads, shares, and comments the stuff I create. Those of you on the mailing list, I appreciate the interaction we have there, please keep writing in!

Check out these posts if you didn’t catch them the first time.

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Need a G-code Viewer? Check out this Open Source CAM Simulator

CAMotics.org

gCode Viewer: Camotics

A gCode viewer is essential when doing anything with a CNC. Knowing where the tools is going to run can mean the different between a failed cut and a broken bit. Or let’s say you’re trying to debug some gCode scripting, no need to wait an hour to find out you messed something up. That’s where a GCode Viewer can help.

There are several on-line options that let you upload files and see them in a 3D view. However, if your CNC is setup like mine, there isn’t a good internet connection available. Camotics, formerly the unfortunately named OpenSCAM, is a cross-platform open source gCode viewer / simulator.

Most recently I used it to debug some gCode that pcb2gcode generated from a Kicad board I am working on.

Check out more about Camotics on their site: http://camotics.org

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

PicoScope 2204 Review and Hands-On

Initial thoughts on my first hands-on with a USB 10 MHz Scope

If you need a reason to be an Element 14 member, let me suggest their Road Test program. Companies partner with Element14 to get people to try out their gear. A couple of years ago I got a new microcontroller board. This week I received a new test instrument. Here’s my hands-on Picoscope 2204 review.

The scope is bus powered. With the BNCs and type-B USB connector, it is slightly larger than an external USB hard drive. There is not much weight to the device. It does not feel cheap, just lighter than I expected.

Getting the scope up and running is a breeze. Pico Tech included a CD (or DVD?) to install the software, but I could not find my drive to check it out. Software downloads from Pico Tech’s website work great. It looks like you can even download the software and use it in “Demo mode” if you are curious how it works.

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X-Carve CNC Review and Hands-On with PCB Milling

Can the X-Carve be used for PCB Milling?

There are two methods to making a prototype PCB: 1) Etch Your Own or 2) Send to a Prototyping Service. While there are many prototyping service options, most cause you to wait anywhere between 24 hours and 30 days before you get your boards back.

If you need a PCB done today, etching at home is a great option. Chemical etching involves all kinds of steps with all kinds of weird chemicals. If you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re the next Walter White, then mechanical etching is a better option. Which is why I bought an X-Carve from Inventables. It’s a CNC Milling Kit you build yourself.

Keep reading for my X-Carve CNC Review and first-hand experience on etching my first PCB. Plus, lots of pictures!

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Share projects on one of these 4 platforms

Contribute back to the open source hardware community

Sharing is the maker community’s foundation. When you share projects with others, you contribute to the community. In the past, you might just post your project on a personal website. Today there are many options to share projects.

This weekend I “finished” my reflow oven controller, Open Vapors. Believe it or not, five years ago there were not a bajillion similar projects. In fact, I based my design on the only completely open source project I found. It is a reflow oven controller Arduino shield from Rocket Scream.

After completing my controller, I was excited to share the project. Then I started to think about where to post the files. Obviously, here at baldengineer.com is one option. But I wondered. Is there a better place where others could benefit from my work?

This post is a few notes on the platforms used to share projects. At first, these might seem like they all serve the same purpose. From a high level that is true. However, there are small differences that you should consider when you share projects with the open source hardware community.

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Social Media Guide for Engineers, a How-To

Click here to find the 1 magic trick to using social media ;)

Social Media Guide for Engineers

Engineers are notorious introverts. An untrue generalization is that introverts hate being social. Like all humans, introverts are social creatures. We just prefer only to discuss the topics which are of interest to us. We will listen to anything. This social media guide for engineers explains why and how you can participate in social media, without being social.

Let’s address something head-on. Gone are the days of just “here’s what I ate” or “I’m in the bathroom” social posts. Social media channels are mature platforms for communication. Sure, junk still exists. However. You can filter out the signal from the noise when you following my social media guide for engineers.

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PCB Checklist – What to check before you submit

Recently I’ve been expanding my retro game collection to include game cartridges imported from Japan. The problem is that I don’t have Japanese game systems (yet). So I’m creating an open source adapter to convert Famicom carts to the NES. Before I submit the PCB to OSH Park, I’m going to run through this PCB Checklist to make sure I don’t forget something silly.

This PCB checklist is something I’ve built over my years of creating boards. If you’ve got tips from your own list, don’t forget to leave a comment letting us know.

PCB Production Checklist

The concepts on this list will apply to almost any PCB software. The tips I give relate to EAGLE, since that is what I use most often. Feel free to comment to add tips for other design software like upverter.com or KiCad.

Keep reading to see the list.

Make sure you also check out the comments, some really great suggestions there too!

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