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Visualizing circuit boards with SketchUp and the PCB Converter

In the world of electronics, designing a stylish, functional and ergonomic product casing around a complex circuit board—with its chips, connectors, buttons and displays—is a critical step. As it turns out, SketchUp can help in this process.

Recently, RS Components (Europe's leading high-service distributor of electronic components) developed the PCB Converter plugin for SketchUp. Its function is to convert IDF files from most 2D circuit board design applications (like their own DesignSpark PCB) to COLLADA, which SketchUp can read and write.

Visualizing circuit boards with SketchUp and the PCB Converter
The PCB Converter plugin converts IDF v3.0 circuit files into COLLADA that can be brought into SketchUp to validate for proper fitting.

Mark Cundle of RS Components was good enough to help explain how the PCB Converter can help in the design process:

In the typical electronic product design process, the mechanical engineer defines the board shape, specifies important regions and pre-places critical components such as connectors, switches and displays in a 3D MCAD system. This information is passed to the circuit designer via an IDF file to be used as the basis for the board layout in a 2D ECAD system to create the circuit board (PCB) design. The PCB is sent back to the mechanical engineer as an IDF file to ensure the board assembly fits into the final product package. The design can go back and forth between the mechanical engineer and the circuit designer many times until the PCB is finalized.

IDF is therefore extremely important for electronic product design and becoming more so as increasing miniaturisation of electronic products means spatial constraints are of growing importance and the link between electronic and mechanical engineers strengthens.

An electronic (PCB) engineer using SketchUp in conjunction with the PCB Converter for SketchUp can decrease the number of time-consuming interactions with the mechanical engineer by doing a much of the groundwork (such as checking potential collisions with mechanical components) before sending the final board design to the mechanical engineer. The collaborative process becomes much more efficient and productive for both parties, which allows for faster development.

RC Components’ intention is to lower the monetary barrier to innovation by providing tools like PCB Converter and DesignSpark PCB. Hobbyists, students, and seasoned professionals can create products from board design through to mechanical design at little or no cost.

About the Author

Chris joined the SketchUp team in its infancy with @Last Software and has found ways to use SketchUp for just about anything. It's also important to note that he thoroughly enjoys scones, coffee, and the Colorado outdoors.

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