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Autodesk has been doing some work...
Hello and happy Monday! Today we've got a special announcement with our friends at EAGLE. EAGLE has always been the go-to PCB design tool for startups, hobbyists and students. Over the years we haven't been shy about our gripes with EAGLE as it's something we using daily, but lately they've been rolling out a huge number of changes that make us a lot less gripey. Since acquiring EAGLE in 2016, Autodesk has made over 10 updates to EAGLE. That’s pretty crazy to think about, considering EAGLE was lucky to see one major update every year in its pre-acquisition days. This week we were the first to get our hands on Autodesk EAGLE 8.3 and explore all the new features inside.
First up, our favorite feature in this release: new Design Blocks for our most popular SparkFun boards. Autodesk EAGLE 8.3 comes loaded with a new set of reusable circuitry for some of our most sought-after designs including the Xbee Explorer, LiPo Charger, LilyPad and more.
We took the Design Blocks feature for a spin and were able to quickly place an entire SparkFun Stepper Motor Driver into our schematic and layout. From there, it was a matter of customizing the board to our liking for a robotics project and having the PCB manufactured by one of our favorite fab houses, OSH Park.
It’s worth mentioning that the Design Blocks feature in EAGLE includes way more than just SparkFun boards. You’ll also find a ton of other reusable circuitry that ships out of the box, from audio amplifiers to voltage regulators and more. All of these sit nestled in the new Design Block panel in your schematic or layout editor.
Our impression? Design Blocks make it easy to share and reuse circuitry without reinventing the wheel. If you’re an avid SparkFun tinkerer but want to branch off on your own, this is the perfect opportunity to customize one of our existing designs without starting from scratch. In this release the Autodesk team is adding 10 of our most popular boards as freely available Design Blocks, including:
If you need to charge LiPo batteries, this is your board! It charges 3.7V LiPo cells at 500mA.
Customize this USB-to-serial base unit for the Digi XBee line and get access to serial programming pins on your XBee unit.
This is our smallest and most versatile GPS receiver around, and allows for limited on-chip and external logging.
Our open source data logger can store a massive amount of serial data for scientific or debugging projects.
This radio System-on-Chip (SoC) is half microcontroller and half multiprotocol radio – perfect for all of your wireless communication needs.
This board is a flexible, motion-sensing system-in-a-chip and includes a 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer.
This board is a perfect starting point to customize your wearable e-textile project, and provides a bunch of connecting pads to sew into clothing.
Customize this board to easily read load cells for precise weight measurements in scales, process control or presence detection.
The Thing can serve as the foundation for your upcoming IoT project and can be programmed like any microcontroller, even with the Arduino IDE.
This board is the perfect companion for giving some mobility to your robotics project, and can power stepper motors of any voltage.
All EAGLE Design Blocks can be found within the EAGLE 8.3 Paste Design Block dialog, or can be downloaded here.
Another SparkFun-specific feature! In Autodesk EAGLE 8.3, the development team has done away with the need to manually download and add SparkFun libraries to the EAGLE libraries directory. Instead, you can download all of our libraries straight from the new Managed Online Libraries panel.
The entire SparkFun library catalog is here, from LEDs, to ICs, to batteries and a whole lot more. Every single library you had to download manually from our GitHub page is now included by default in EAGLE – all you have to do is download the libraries you need.
Our impression? Libraries have always been a pain to track down and manage, regardless of what design tool you’re using. The new Managed Online Libraries feature in EAGLE provides an accessible repository of components that will satisfy the needs of most basic and intermediate electronic projects. For those of you that prefer to work offline, you can download the libraries you need when you have a connection and all your libraries will be saved on your computer.
Gone are the days of just making rectangular or square-shaped PCBs. If our LilyPad is any evidence of this, PCB design can be downright artistic! Let’s be honest - in the past it was difficult to distinguish cutouts in your board geometry; with the new board shape feature, you can tell at a glance.
The board shape feature identifies a closed board outline on the Dimension layer and then treats it like an object. Autodesk says that this new Board Shape object includes some built-in data, and will set the stage for future upgrades like 3D, customizable cutouts, embedded passive designs and more.
Our impression? This feature finally makes it more intuitive to create board shapes that think outside the box. Plus, with this new Board Shape object, you can set it up to interact with your design rules. This allows you to work with a defined board edge and component clearance - perfect for those times when you need space between your copper edge and parts.
The new Single Layer Mode is a simple but sorely needed addition to EAGLE. Any designer working on four- to six-layer boards knows just how tedious it is to toggle layers on and off in EAGLE. You have to stop what you’re doing, open the layers panel, sift through 52 layers and decide which ones need to be turned off, and only then can you go back to routing. Single Layer Mode has done away with all of this.
When this mode is turned on, only the layer that you’re currently working on will be highlighted, while every other layer settles into a gray backdrop. This makes it easy to focus on the layer you’re working on without having to disable layers individually. Another cool thing is that when you switch layers with Single Layer Mode on, EAGLE will highlight each new layer as it comes into focus, so you can swap back and forth between your top and bottom layers without ever opening the Layers panel.
Our impression? The new Single Layer Mode makes routing more intuitive, and involves way fewer clicks and windows just to get the result you expect.
Next up we have a bit of a game-changer for a problem that electronics designers have always struggled with - ECAD/MCAD collaboration. Without going on too much of a personal rant here, if you’ve ever worked with a mechanical designer then you know how much of a pain it is to do the import/export dance with your design files through email, then tracking those changes in spreadsheets and hoping you’ve got the latest file.
With Fusion 360 Interoperability, Autodesk made the giant leap to connect EAGLE and Fusion 360 together at the data level. What this means for electronic designers is that you can easily share a PCB design in Fusion and keep those changes in sync between both tools. For the mechanical design, you can edit the board shape and component placement in Fusion, and then push those changes back to EAGLE.
Our impression? We took this feature for a spin in our office and were surprised at how seamlessly it worked. We brought in a design block in EAGLE for our LiPo Charger and synced the design with Fusion. From there, it was a matter of opening Fusion to receive the 3D PCB model, making a change to the placement of a component on the board, and then sending those changes back down to EAGLE. We never had to import or export a single file, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Last but not least, we’ve got the new Fusion Team Collaboration. This feature isn’t actually in EAGLE, but instead finds its home in your browser. What this feature offers is a place to review, markup and communicate your electronics design to anyone involved in your design process. By loading up a design into Fusion Team Collaboration, you can share a link to your project with anyone you please, and they can see what you made right from their browser without ever needing to install EAGLE or Fusion.
Maybe your marketing team needs some assets from your latest project? Now they don't need to have EAGLE installed. Maybe your project manager needs to verify your design with the latest requirements? They don’t need EAGLE either. Perhaps your manufacturer isn’t certain about how your parts will be assembled? No need to install EAGLE. We’re still rather blown away by this; Fusion Team Collaboration is basically offering a complete design review tool without having to download one of those free viewers floating around on the internet.
Our impression? If there has ever been a sign of things to come for the world of ECAD software, this is it. Whether someone is on a smartphone, tablet or desktop, so long as they have a browser, they can view your design. And not only that, there’s some powerful markup and manufacturing tools nestled in Fusion Team Collaboration for engineers too. This feature solves a major issue of convenience. You can’t expect everyone involved in your project to have EAGLE installed, and now they don’t have to. Whether you want to share your design with your friends or colleagues, there’s something here for every engineer.
So is this update worth the cost? We’ve gotten four major features in this release, and two solid pieces of content (design blocks and libraries). Compared to where EAGLE was a year ago, this is one heck of a release. Our final impressions are this - if you’re a startup doing professional designs in a collaborative environment, then there are a ton of new tools in this release that provide some needed relief. If you’re just a hobbyist tinkering in your free time, the addition of the new SparkFun Design Blocks alone opens new possibilities without having to reinvent the wheel. And for every engineer, there’s a ton of usability enhancements that make EAGLE easier to use; from the new Board Shape tool to Single Layer Mode, there’s something here for everyone.
Overall, we’re giving our thumbs up to Autodesk EAGLE 8.3. This is the 10th release within a year of EAGLE joining the Autodesk family, and they’ve certainly proved their commitment to the future of our PCB design tool of choice.
For more details about the new features in this release be sure to check out the official Autodesk EAGLE 8.3 release blog.