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In April 2019, hardware hackers, hobbyist, and engineers joined together for the first KiCon. A couple of people asked me, “why is there a conference for KiCad?” Some questioned if KiCad was significant enough software to warrant a conference. That question is valid. But KiCon is larger than the KiCad software. Even in its first iteration, KiCon evolved more into a meeting for people building electronics hardware from small scale hobbyist to professionally designed systems, than just a conference on a single piece of software. Some might call it a maker conference. I call it a hardware developer conference. The key that tied everyone together is the open source software behind our printed circuit boards.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nL0yTvJKA5c

Twenty-five different talks covered basic KiCad usage, automating tasks, PCB layout techniques, and projects designed in KiCad. Wayne Stambaugh ended the first day with a State-of-KiCad discussion. He introduced the feature list for KiCad 6. Additionally, he announced four new lead developers and that he would be working on KiCad full time. That news means it is likely KiCad 6 will be here faster than the usual two-year release cycle.

In addition to the talks, there were several workshops and panel discussions. The workshops included a getting started with KiCad lead by Shawn Hymel [link]. That one was cool to keep an eye on because people were designing their first PCB, milling it, and then soldering parts to make the boards blink. In another workshop, Anool Mahidharia provided a hands-on guided introduction to FreeCAD. It is a parametric mechnical cad tool. The panels featuerd PCB manufactureres, workflow discussions, and the KiCad development team.

Outside of the planned classes and activities, I finally shook hands with friends whom I only knew through social media. Even though we are all electronics enthusiast or professional engineers, it is rare we end up at the same place at the same time. See what I mean about KiCad connecting liked minded people together?

With so much going on, I realized I couldn’t cover everything. Instead, this post’s focus is the tidbits I learned at the conference and stuck with me after a little bit of time passed. Here are the six things I learned at KiCon 2019.

A new project I have started working on involves the Apple IIgs. It was Apple’s last 16-bit (and 8-bit) computer. Inside are many application specific integrated circuits, or ASICs, that make the IIgs an extraordinary member of the Apple II family. One chip, in particular, is called the “MEGA-II.” This chip takes all of the individual logic chips from the original Apple II design and incorporates them into a single 84-pin PLCC.

The project I have in mind needs the MEGA-II. I need to design some printed circuit boards for it and a few other IIgs chips. That goal means I need at least one custom Kicad schematic symbol. I plan to create a custom library of Apple IIgs components.

Like other computers from the same era, complete schematics are available. However, they are not in a modern format. Since I need to create symbols for so many of the chips as it is, I may end up re-creating the entire IIgs schematic.

For now, here is the process I use to create custom KiCad schematic symbols and parts.

Continuing the DIY Arduino tutorial series, this AddOhms episode shows how to create a PCB in KiCad. I make a joke that the original design was a rectangle, which I found boring and pointless. So instead, I designed a triangle to give the board 3 points. Get it? Puns! I am calling it the Pryamiduino. To be honest, I found not having a constraint to be a problem. By forcing a specific board size and shape, many decisions were more manageable.

In the end, the video ended up more edited than I planned. KiCad is just so finicky and crashy that I could not make a coherent start to finish tutorial. At least, I could not work with a board at this level of complexity. Something simple like a 555 flasher would be easier to show from start to finish. I am planning some immediate follow-ups with quick tips on using KiCad. It is a frustrating suite of applications, but the results can be quite nice.

Dreaming of bringing a new hardware product to market?  Perhaps you think your product will make the world a better place, or maybe you just dream of making millions of dollars.

Developing a prototype based on an Arduino (Genuino outside the USA), or other development kit, is a great first step.  But there is still much work to do if you want to make your product into something that can be manufactured in volume and sold to the masses.

So I’m going to break down the process for you into a few manageable steps: