I’m not talking about swimming; I mean the new ECAD functionality that’s coming to Fusion 360. I’ve heard some “markety” type videos say “Fusion 360 is the complete Product Innovation Platform.” Today, this statement sums up the direction Fusion 360 is heading. I mean it has tools for industrial designers, mechanical engineers, drafters, analysts, CNC programmers and more. That said, even with this thorough product toolset, it seems like the playmakers of Fusion 360 forgot about the people creating the intelligence behind the product: the Printed Circuit Board. That’s like designing a cell phone without service; all you can do is play games.
Well, I’m happy to say the Eagle has landed at Autodesk!! For us mechanical engineers who cringe at the word electronics, Eagle is a professional-grade schematic and board layout tool for electrical engineers. This is just one more step toward being able to design, engineer, and manufacture the “whole product” within a single tool.
This is good and all, but what does that mean for me, the mechanical engineer? As a mechanical engineer, I don’t care where the traces, vias, and other EE responsible components reside. All I want to know is:
- Is it going to fit in my enclosure?
- Where do I mount to the board?
- Where does my connector go?
I regret to admit, in a previous gig, we would set the footprint of the PCB as a big black box in the 3D CAD model. Unfortunately, this workflow is the lazy man’s approach and did not ensure that we designed tightly to the board, nor did it establish the correct location of the board standoffs. In certain projects, we would start importing the DXF of the board, but who wanted to take the time to extrude the board and all of its components manually? This was just a 2D representation that helped locate mounting locations.
After some time, my old company started experimenting with several ECAD to MCAD solutions, but the cost of entry to those packages was extremely high. Soon in Fusion 360, we will be able to select a board file(IDF, BRD, etc.) and have it translated in the cloud. This will then be a 3D Fusion 360 design in a selected project that can be used in other designs.
BOOM!! The inevitable happens…a board change occurs. No need to worry, you will be able to upload the new board file again and Fusion 360 will notice the design changes and create a new version of the board. Since versioning is inherently built into Fusion 360, the next time the design referencing the PCB is opened, all you will have to do is hit the “Get Latest” button. Yes! This means that referencing standoffs or mounting bosses that are connected to the non- plated through holes will update accordingly.
I must confess, I’m about as unorganized as the next guy. So when I hear the words maintain and organize, I am the first to bail on that product. Building and maintaining an electronic component library was one of the biggest pain points of many desktop ECAD to MCAD solutions. This becomes increasingly hard when multiple electrical and mechanical engineers are contributing to the same library. The number of duplicate files and out of date components alone will make me punch a hole in my monitor. Since Fusion 360 is connected to the cloud, we will be able to use cloud libraries to populate the boards with common detailed 3D electronic components. Of course you will also have the ability to upload your own custom components to build out a complete library for the strangest of boards.
Importing a board into Fusion 360 is freaking awesome, but what more can we do to integrate the ECAD to MCAD workflow? Since Fusion 360 is trying to integrate the entire product development process, the ability to import the board into 3D will impact different workflows all across Fusion 360. For example, now that we will be able to get a detailed 3D board in Fusion 360, what’s stopping us from doing FEA (and maybe CFD one day =]) with the board. Who wouldn’t want to ensure that their design doesn’t over heat from improper ventilation?