We’ve got some great news to share. We sat down with our good friend IDF, and, well, we decided it just wasn’t working out anymore. So long story short, IDF is going to go its separate way. But man, what a journey it has been. For as long as I can remember we have been doing the IDF export/import dance every time we want to get our ECAD files over to our mechanical tools. I think we’re all a little tired of this, right? I sure am, which is why we’re very excited to offer the new One-Click MCAD conversion feature in Autodesk EAGLE.
Times Change IDF, We’re Sorry
IDF, or Intermediate Data Format files, have been the file format of choice for ECAD/MCAD integration since the early 1990s. The original idea was excellent – create a simple, text-based file format that includes all the data we need to translate our ECAD designs into 3D MCAD models. But the crazier and complicated our designs become, the more apparent it became that IDF is way too limited for what we need these days. Here are three reasons we’re happy to part ways with IDF:
- Which files do I use again? This is a common complaint amongst nearly every engineer. Not only do you need two separate files for IDF, one for your PCB and one for your libraries, but many PCB design tools also use different naming conventions for the same type of file. We are definitely not going to miss this file juggling nonsense.
- Where’s the detail, man? IDF files provide a super simple representation of your board, so when you pop it into your mechanical tool you only see a little bit of the real design. Need to view your copper areas, routes, vias, or silkscreen in 3D? It’s not happening with IDF.
- When was the last time you were updated? The latest version of IDF, version 4.0, was released back in 1998, and basically tanked. Since then, IDF is officially no longer actively developed, so this is as good as it will ever get. Can you think of any other technologies you are using from the 1990s?
So yeah, IDF had a good run. I’ve been using it since the late 90’s (does that make me old?), but now it’s time to cut out the middleman in this whole ECAD-MCAD operation.
Native file formats, you’re up!
Using Native Files is the Way to Go
As intermediary file formats like IDF head for the sidelines, we’re starting to see a much bigger adoption of native file formats that are straight from the source. This is perfect for engineers that need to see the complete details of their PCBs in a mechanical tool.
The visual difference between IDF and native file formats is like night and day in your MCAD tool.
The benefits go beyond just visual. Native files also provide direct access to much more data about our designs that IDF files just can’t compete with, allowing for new possibilities in deep analysis and simulation. The next time you pop your design into your mechanical tool with One-Click MCAD, prepare to be greeted with copper, silkscreen layers, and some gorgeously detailed components. Let’s check out how it works.
Getting Started with One-Click MCAD
To get started with this beautifully simple feature, you’ll want to make sure you’ve upgraded to the latest version of Autodesk EAGLE. If you’re already an EAGLE Subscriber, then you should be good to go! We’re going to walk through all of this good stuff step-by-step, so you can get a practical view of how this will work on your next project.
MCADifying Your First File
First things first, let’s open an existing EAGLE board. You’ll notice we’ve recently added some new additions to the interface, and the one you want to focus is labeled MCAD at the top of your UI.
Push this MCAD button, and in a few simple steps, you’ll have your design uploaded to ecad.io, where you can start playing around with it in 3D.
3D PCBs In Your Browser?!
With your design uploaded to ecad.io, you now have full reign to twist and turn your creation in beautiful 3D. This is important if you want to see how your board will look in its physical form. But wait, something seems to be missing, all of our components have no height! We have a quick fix for that.
Adding Those Component Details
Next up, let’s give all of those flat and bland looking component blocks some needed height. From your ecad.io interface, select Tools, then choose Detailed Components View.
When the progress bar completes, you should have some excellent looking component models on your board. And the more you use this detailed view, the more the ecad.io wizard learns about your choices and adapts to what part models it places on your future designs.
You might find that you have a few components where detailed models weren’t added. This is a quick fix. Simply choose a generic component shape on your board, select Choose Component Package, and finally select Use Component for the listed component package of your choice. Ecad.io will then automatically add the new component package to your design.
It’s Conversion Time!
Our board is looking ready for prime time, so let’s get it over to our mechanical tool. To do that, try the following:
- Select My ecad.io to see a list all of the designs you’ve uploaded
- Select Actions next to the design you want to get into your mechanical tool and choose Create MCAD File.
- Lastly, choose the file type you need and select Create.
The ecad.io server will now get to work on converting your file to an MCAD-ready format. There’s no need to wait around for this to finish; we’ll email you when your file is ready to download!
To download your new MCAD file, head back into My ecad.io, select the Action button next to your generated MCAD file, and choose one of the many download options as shown below:
Now take that MCAD file and pop it into your mechanical tool like Fusion 360. There are much more options to play around with in ecad.io and we don’t want to spoil them all. Be sure to check out these tutorial videos for more options:
One Step Into the Future
We hope you love the One-Click MCAD as much as we do. And as sad as it is to see our dear friend IDF go his separate way, this change is bringing the engineering world one STEP closer to true ECAD/MCAD integration that we’ve all been dying for. What’s next on the horizon of changes? Take a moment to imagine the world where your PCB design tool is fully integrated into the ecosystem that your mechanical tool lives. We’re talking a universal file format future. Yeah, we can’t wait. Until that time arrives, One-Click MCAD will be standing by, ready to make your MCAD conversions.
Want to take the new One-Click MCAD for a test drive? Try EAGLE for free today to see how it works.