Grandpa “PopPop“ Richard loves to tell stories, and quite often focuses on tales of his history in engineering and design. From his days on the drafting table to working with high-powered CAD systems, Grandpa has seen a lot of changes and some cool technology.
One summer day while watching his grandchildren play a video game, a frustration-fueled projectile event occurred and a game controller became “available for internal component inspection.”
Being the wonderful PopPop that he was, he rushed to help piece things back together. As he picked up the controller, he was reminded of many years ago. “Oh look, a printed circuit board.”
His youngest grandchild was curious and asked…
PopPop, what’s a printed circuit board?
Uh oh, here comes another story.
Help us all
Gather ‘round children and I’ll tell you a little bit about the printed circuit board, sometimes known as a PCB. They are something that affects you every single day whether you know it or not. Almost every piece of electronics that you have contains a PCB – the video game you won’t stop playing, the phone you never answer, even the watch you wear that will tell you your heart rate and body temperature, but apparently doesn’t have the one function that will ensure you are on time for things.
The PCB was invented in the 1920s, even before your PopPop was born. To keep a long story sho–
As I was saying, the basic function of a PCB is to send electrical signals to the right places to make things like your phone or game controller work. An electrical engineer decides what kind of electronic signals are needed so you can interact with screens, keyboards, and buttons, and then designers and manufacturers use the information to create the physical circuits to put inside what is now that ruined controller.
Yeah, it’s toast.
Anyway, there’s a whole lot more to this, so if you really want to know how it works, go to college, and become an engineer.
So what does this have to do with you?
Let me finish. I used to design PCBs when I was just a teenager. Things were a lot different back then – I did it by hand without a computer. I worked closely with the electrical engineer to produce artwork that was photographed and used to etch the circuitry onto a special piece of glass. I spent my days reading electrical schematics and transferring the information to mylar sheets using red and blue pencils, precision slit tape, and pre-printed appliques. It was a fun job, but eventually, computers took over and the days of working electronic puzzles were over for me. I remember the time fondly though, and eventually, I found other cool things to do.
Like what PopPoP?
Well, I became a mechanical designer and used computer-aided design tools to design and document things like postage scales, truck-mounted cranes, and big industrial equipment. And you know what, I still got to work with PCBs, but from the other side of the fence so to speak.
What do you mean PopPoP?
I give up. The game is wrecked so you might as well tell us the rest of the story.
How generous of you.
Like I said before, almost everything with electronics has some sort of PCB. Even the cranes I worked on had sensors and controls that were driven by electronic circuitry. An electrical engineer decided how the circuitry works, but the mechanical designer was the one who made the finished PCB fit into the product. That created a lot of room for delays and errors because the electrical and mechanical departments didn’t always work closely together. Changes to the PCB could affect the mechanical design, and vice-versa. There was no good way to collaborate in real-time.
Then, from the magical land of Ireland came a man called “Rob Lacey”. Rob recognized the problem and went to work solving it. He created an add-on software product that would allow interchangeability between the electronic PCB files and the mechanical CAD files. He called it CircuitWorks, and it was good.
But Rob wasn’t finished yet, there was still work to do. File-based CAD systems are notorious for crashes, data loss, and duplication of files. Since CircuitWorks was an add-on product, it, unfortunately, inherited some of those issues. So, Rob decided to look to the cloud and started development of a new product – PCB Studio for Onshape.
That’s a cool name PopPop. Tell us more about it.
With pleasure. PCB Studio translates and converts data from computer systems that are used for PCB design into data a mechanical designer can use in Onshape. The mechanical designer can also use PCB Studio to send design information to these “ECAD systems using a format called IDF. This allows the designer to accurately define a PCB shape in Onshape and send it to an ECAD system where it can be populated with electrical components.
Why is that important?
The main reason is to check that the board and components designed in ECAD will physically fit in the part designed in MCAD – like that game controller. But it gets even better because once you have a detailed PCB model in your Onshape 3D model, you can do additional testing like checking to make sure nothing gets too hot so your brother can hold on to that thing for eight hours straight and not burn his hands. And now that you have this complete and accurate 3D model, you can create pictures, or “rendered images,” for manuals or assembly instructions. Everyone ends up happy.
That’s a great story PopPop. When I grow up, I’m going to be an engineer.
That warms my heart, child. There are a lot of different types of engineering careers that you could pursue, let me tell you about a few of them.
ALL GRANDCHILDREN RUNNING FROM ROOM
Disclaimer: This story is only about 80% true. I am not a grandparent yet and I keep insisting to my grown children that I’m not quite ready for that. I did learn PCB design in my teens and enjoyed spending hours hunched over a light table with red and blue pencils, basically solving puzzles and getting paid for it. I’m grateful to have been around long enough for that and to have seen the enormous advancements since the days of light tables and burnishing tools.
Check out Onshape’s PCB Studio and listen to Episode 27 of Innovator's Insider to hear all about this new feature.
What's New in Onshape?
Check out the latest feature
updates to the Onshape platform.