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7th May 2018

4 reasons to use 3D PCB CAD

Over the last year I’ve increasingly found the benefit of electronics layout packages that have good 3D visualisation integrated.  It takes a few minutes more work when creating a printed circuit board (pcb) footprint to find and add a suitable 3D model to it but it is definitely time well spent.

It can be off putting to have to create 3D models for every component used in a schematic and then on a printed circuit board. Fortunately many of these have already been created either by the component manufacturer or by other engineers, reducing the task of creating a 3D model to a google search and download.

3D Component models are available from manufacturers or from places like https://www.3dcontentcentral.com/ , https://grabcad.com/ and https://www.traceparts.com/. If there are no models available for the exact component then it might be possible to use a similar part or to add a z-axis thickness to 2D parts on the board.  Engineering judgement needs to be made here to know if this approach is acceptable.  Clearly modelling a cylindrical battery as a rectangle might not be appropriate especially in a consumer product where space within an enclosure is at a premium and a sleek design is required.

To us, these are the benefits of using 3D PCB CAD:

  1. Adding the model during pcb footprint creation allows a degree of footprint checking as you have to line up the electrical pins on the model with the pcb footprint. Once this is done it can be automatically included in every job the component is used in. If there isn’t a component you can either draw it yourself with a suitable CAD package or extrude a simple mechanical rectangle to the correct height.
  2. When placing components, and negotiating with product designers and mechanical engineers, for pcb area major components can be placed either directly in 3D or placed in 2D and checked in 3D. This allows the designer to check for issues which might not be obvious when looking at a 2D plan view and as the full board can be exported the wider team can see how the electronics pcb fits within the product assembly and eliminate many issues with plastics enclosures before making a pcb or an enclosure.
  3. Every time I’ve output a 3D STEP file of a board the mechanical engineers I’ve been working with love it. They can ensure pcb fit before making boards, design and check end plates and fixtures and get everything ready to ease more smoothly into production.
  4. A further benefit is that 3D PDFs are now able to be generated and then viewed with free viewers like Adobe Acrobat. Customers without CAD tools or experience can then visualise and contribute to the end product and consider usability issues long before a prototype is manufactured.

We hope that this shows you why we use 3D PCB CAD applications. Perhaps they could be useful for you too?

If you have a question about PCB design ask us a question