ELECTRONIC DESIGN AUTOMATION Five EDA tools to empower your next PCB design
Designing top-notch Printed Circuit Boards “PCB” is a crucial step to serve various industries like consumer electronics, power electronics, industrial equipment, and medical devices. Besides cutting-edge manufacturing technology, the design process is a challenging aspect of the industry as it involves continuous research, effort, testing, and knowledge. The article lists five EDA tools used by engineers for effective PCB design.
What is an EDA Tool?
An EDA- “Electronic Design Automation” Tool or ECAD- “Electronics Computer-aided Design” is a software/program that develops, designs, analyzes, and verifies electronic systems. The EDA software provides electronic simulation, schematic editing, layout design, 3D modeling, auto-routing, and many other features for electrical and electronics engineers to pre-develop and design components online. In simple words, EDA tools save time and cost and enable the production of efficient electronic products. Some of the areas where electrical/electronics engineers can use these tools:
- 1. Schematic Capture Tools
- 2. Simulation Tools
- 3. PCB Design Tools
- 4. FPGA Design Tools
- 5. IC Design (Semiconductor Chips)
Why does PCB design need an EDA Tool?
Before fabricating a PCB, the manufacturer needs to have the “design file”. An efficient PCB design is prepared digitally to offer accurate PCBs for specified applications. The PCB design life cycle starts from schematic design, simulation, analysis, component selection, component placement, routing, rule-checking, verification, and documentation. All these steps are completed digitally with the help of a reliable EDA Tool. The final design file is handed over to the manufacturer where physical processes start.
Top 5 PCB design software tools
1. Altium Designer
One of the most popular EDA tools, Altium Designer enables the designing of complex electronic systems. Altium Designer features large libraries with components from various manufacturers, an intuitive schematic editor, a circuit simulator, 3D PCB design capabilities, a PCB editor, and design rule checking. The collaborative design tool supports FPGA development (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) and multi-layer board designs. It provides imports to various other PCB design software like Allegro, OrCAD, Eagle, and many more. However, it only offers the least export options and is only limited to Windows and Wine operating systems.
The EasyEDA design tool is a combination of PCB design and circuit simulation. The software enables engineers to gain access to 5 million free public libraries and design and customize them. The components are added with the option of data sheets and pricing quotations as well to make the manufacturing process easier. The software provides the option to design, simulate (digital/analog/mixed-signal), analyze, and share circuits and PCBs. One of the main features of EasyEDA is that it allows the user to choose between the public and private scope of the project for effective collaborations and discussions.
3. EAGLE PCB
The Eagle PCB Design by Autodesk is a scriptable EDA tool used by economically small firms and budding engineers. Commercially, most hobbyists and engineers use it for college and DIY (Do-it-for-yourself) electronic projects. The software is available on four major operating systems - Windows, Linux, Mac, and POSIX. Compared to other software for PCB design, Eagle has its own files with extensions of “.BRD”. However, it has capabilities to export Gerber, HPGL, PostScript, and various other layout files. One of the main benefits of using EAGLE is its computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) features.
4. Allegro PCB Design Flow
The Allegro PCB Design Flow is an industry-standard EDA tool by Cadence Systems to create effective designs for high-speed, complex, and multi-layer circuit boards. Usually, enterprises use this software for the high-level development of PCBs in RF, complex-signal, and DFM technology. The software provides ease of miniaturization as per the industry standards because of its exceptional design rules and options. The main feature of Allegro PCB Design Flow is that one can use it without much prior knowledge because of its detailed and user-friendly interface. Other features include FPGA System Planner, Allegro Analog RF, etc.
5. DesignSpark PCB
The DesignSpark PCB is an EDA tool used by engineers, hobbyists, and early-level professionals to create efficient PCBs. Developed by RS Components with an initial release in 2019, DesignSpark PCB is one of the latest software in the market for PCB design. The software provides features like a pre-built library, drag, and drop options, schematic editors, hierarchical design, etc. DesignSpark PCB has an automatic router that saves time from manual routing and relocating. It can export PDF, Gerber, DXF, Excellon, IDF, and various other files. However, the software has limited importing capabilities with EAGLE, DXF, and EDIF.