How to panelize KiCAD designs for free

Panelization is the process of taking two or more PCB designs and combining them using tabs or v-scores that you would then separate into individual boards once they come back from manufacturing. It’s a way to get more than one design made in a single order. There are a few forum posts or other snippets on how to accomplish this out there already, but not a real guide. For my own sake, this is how you can do this panelization using all free tools. I implement this technique whenever I’m creating closely-related PCBs. The design highlighted in this blog post is a transmitter/receiver pair, meaning that there would never be a transmitter without a receiver, or vice-versa. Design is made simple by doing the layouts individually, and manufacturing is made simple by getting them made as a single board, not having to coordinate multiple orders. Let’s get started with the guide.

1. Download The Tools

You probably already have KiCAD. Next, make sure to download GerberPanelizer by This is not Rocket Science (site link) from GitHub. This guide uses the 2018-08-10 snapshot release.

2. Export your designs from KiCAD

Your designs have to be completely ready for production before starting this process. Components placed, tracks laid, zones poured etc. It is very “one-way” in that it is impossible to update an already panelized design once it has been exported.

Here’s one of the designs that will be added to the panel.
You’ll want to add a grid origin that is really close to your design. In KiCAD, select placegrid origin to do this. I am putting it in the top left hand corner of the board.

Grid origin placed
In pcbnew, select fileplot to adjust the gerber export settings.
  1. Make sure Output directory is set to an empty directory somewhere on your disk. In this example, it’s set to tx-gerbers.
  2. Check Use auxiliary axis as origin
  3. Check Use Protel filename extensions
  4. *Optional* Since I’m not using them in this design, I’ve unchecked F.Paste and B.Paste.
And then click Plot.
You should be greeted with a directory of files with dissimilar extensions:
Next, you need to export the .drlfiles. Select filefabrication outputsDrill (.drl) File... These settings will automatically be set to match the previous export, but make sure the output folder and the drill origin match the previous settings. Mine looked like this:
Here is my resulting output directory with all of the files:

3. Modify the exported files

This step is weird. You need to change the extension of all .gm1 files to .gko. For this example, flail-tx-kicad-Edge_Cuts.gm1 needs to be renamed to flail-tx-kicad-Edge_Cuts.gko as this is what GerberPanelizer expects. Here is my resulting directory:
Notice the .gko file

4. Load the designs into Gerber Panelizer

Open up GerberPanelizer, you will be greeted with this screen:
Select filenew to create a new project. Next, select board placementadd gerber folder and navigate to the output folder from KiCAD. In this example, it was tx-gerbers. You should be seeing something like this:

Where is the board?! Select board placementautopack: native and your design will leap into view:
Now, re-do the guide up until this point for however many unique designs you want to add to this panel. If you want to duplicate your design multiple times in the same panel, you can add an instance by right clicking on the instance in the right hand view and then clicking add instance.

5. Arrange designs and add tabs

Since you’ve been hitting board placementautopack: native after each board add, your designs should be properly arranged at this point. You can manually move the designs by clicking and dragging them, but I’ve found that using the autopack works really really well. Here’s what my design looks like at this point:
To join the designs together, you need to add breaktabs. Select breaktabsinsert breaktab, and a small red circle will appear in the top left hand corner of the workspace:
Click and drag the tab between the two designs. Make sure black dots appear on either edge of the design:
Continue to add tabs in the same manner until the text turns a bright green color, this lets you know that the boards will be secured. There is no way to automatically add the proper tabs, so make sure you use your best judgement.
Now we’re ready to export!

6. Export the panelized design

It’s a good idea to first save the design in GerberPanelizer so you can edit the layout later without having to start from scratch. Once you export the final merged gerber files, they cannot be edited or re-arranged. Select filesave as to save the project. Now to export the gerbers. Again, in GerberPanelizer, select fileexport merged gerbers and choose an empty output directory. The directory has to be empty because you typically send a zip archive of all gerbers to the manufacturer to get made, and this zip archive should just include this export. You should see this window pop up:
The contents of the merged output directory should look like this:
The merged output directory will include several image renderings of your merged designs, this is a great first check to make sure that everything went well.
Looks good! However before you send any critical designs off for manufacturing it’s best practice to visually inspect the layers with a gerber viewer. Save the merged output directory as a .zip file.

7. Verify using GerbView

KiCAD ships with a program called GerbView to inspect gerber files. Open that gerbview and then open your zipped merged output directory with fileopen zip archive file. There will be an error message which you can ignore.
You should see something like this:
There’s the design as we expect it, you can uncheck the different layers on the right pane just like in pcbnew to inspect them one by one. I’ve uploaded this design to oshpark (a domestic PCB fab service) to see if their preview also looks correct and again, there are no problems.
You’re now ready to send your panelized designs out for manufacturing. Congrats!

8. Wrap up

Thanks for reading! Did this guide work for you? Let me know in the comments below this post.

Note: This is confirmed to work with KiCAD 4 and 5.

Sources

BlinkBox – A test tool for addressable LED development

This project got featured on the official arduino blog as well as hackaday! Thanks to everyone that shared!

I work with addressable LEDs a lot. For all that they’re great for, they’re kind of hard to debug when you have a lot of them connected up at once. This is especially apparent when you have many small single modules in hard to reach spaces.

Here’s my solution:

This lets me set the color and number of LEDs in a strip, and then displays a color pattern. This way I can tell if an LED has become disconnected in a strip, or if a channel  inside a particular has died.

Features

  • Select LED type with the type switch, 4 positions
  • Can test up to 400 LEDs at a time, if you can find a worthy power supply
  • 3 Test modes
    • RGB – 1 second red, 1 second green, 1 second blue
    • HUE – Lock strip at HSV (x, 255, 255) and x loops from 0-255
    • WHTE – Set the strip to RGB(255, 255, 255)
  • Count and Mode are saved into eeprom, so you don’t have to keep resetting the strip if it powers off
  • Wall mount fittings

Design Explanation

All of the raw code solidworks, and KiCAD have been posted on my github. You can look at the 3D models on thingiverse as well.

Mechanical

Here are a couple of quick renders of the assembly design:

The screw mount behind the pushbuttons is extended to be able to support the pressure without flexing:
I added a ridge so you can grab onto something as you interact with the switches / buttons.

Electronics

Here’s the circuit:

There really isn’t a lot going on here, the parts are probably the coolest part of the project. The 5V jack is a 6mm DC barrel jack, the pushbuttons are illuminated 16mm pushbuttons from adafruit,  the on/off switch is a locking toggle switch, and the 4 position rotary switch can be found here.

I wired up the circuit on a spare piece of perfboard.

Software

My code is available on my github.

The LED driving part of the code is based on FastLED, a beautiful library for driving these types of addressable LEDs.

The rest of the code is mostly just a hardware UI problem, and isn’t all that interesting. LED count “ramps” as you hold the button down. The longer you hold the button, the faster the

Wrap up

That’s pretty much it! I’ve already gotten some use out of this tool and have found great satisfaction in taking the time to make it look nice as it will be a permanent addition to my lab.

I’ll post any updates I make to this project as edits to the top of this post.

Thanks for reading, and here are a few more photos:

Forcing a screen resolution of an Ubuntu guest OS in VirtualBox

I figured that doing this would be nontrivial but turns out it took a little work:

I’m trying to emulate an official 7″ Raspberry Pi Touch Display in a VM, so for this post the target resolution is 800 x 480. If you want to change it to another resolution swap in yours for the rest of this guide.

First, make sure Auto-resize Guest Display is deselected in Virtualbox:

Run the following command in your terminal:

The output should look something the the following, starting with Modeline

Copy the text after Modeline so in this case it would be

And paste it after the following command:

NOTE! You may want to change the 800x480_60.00 to something without an underscore in it, it was causing problems on my system. I changed it to pidisplay. The resulting command for this example is:

You should be able to run the above command without error. Next, run:

You’ll be greeted with output similar to this. Note the name of the display device, in this case VGA-1.

With that output name, enter the following two commands:

After running that second command, the window should jump to it’s new resolution! You’re done!

CHAMP: Compliant Hook Arboreal Mobility Platform (Senior Thesis Project)

For my senior thesis project at WPI, myself and two colleagues (Rachael Putnam – RBE/ME and Mead Landis – RBE/ME) designed a tree climbing robot. I was in charge of designing and implementing the electronics and controls software. I was the most intense project I have ever worked on, both in terms of difficulty and potential impact. Here is our poster for project presentation day:

Here’s a video of the prototype climbing:

We did a blog during the project, here is the best post I wrote:

The report is massive, check it out below:

CHAMP_REPORT

 

Find distance between two zipcodes, dump the result in an excel file

I recently wrote a piece of software for a friend working on a project, you can find it on github here. The following is from the README.md:


zipcode-distance-excel

This is a command line utility to automatically calculate the distance between two zipcodes and then put the results in an excel (.xlsx) file. It works for US postal codes only.

It was developed to help a colleague and is very application-specific.

Prerequisites

Downloading is easy git, which is already on most systems, on ubuntu use:

For everyone else:

Installing

A step by step series of examples that tell you have to get a development env running

Say what the step will be

Usage

in a directory with the .xlsx file that you want to modify, run:

The program skips the first row in the spreadsheet to avoid headers.

Example Usage

Before:

Before

Terminal output:

After:

After

Authors

  • Devon Braysite
  • Miranda Lawellsite

License

This project is licensed under the MIT License

StripPi – Software Demo, Roadkill Electronics

I’m constantly loosing the remote for my RGB LED strip lights, and I have a few days for spring break, time to get hacking. Here’s a demo and explanation video:

I don’t mention it in the video, but the cool part of this project is how the different processes communicate with each other. Rather than interacting with the different processes through pipes, or something like stdin, I’ve decided to use a TCP websocket server:

StripPi High Level Diagram

Processes on the device send RGB values to the Strip Server via a TCP packet. This very very easy to implement, and almost all of the hard work is taken care of via the socketserver  module included in python3. This also allows for interactions with that main process (the StripPi Server process) to take place off of the Raspberry Pi as well. I plan on writing an Alexa integration for this project moving forward, and this should make that a lot easier.

The analog to digital conversion is handled by an MCP3008, exactly the same way as I did it here.

Thanks for reading, more soon.

Multiplexing Composite NTSC Video

This was one of those rare times where I had a hunch, followed it, and had a great result.

So for a project I’m working on for school, we have a robot with multiple composite video cameras onboard. We will be using those cameras seen on DIY drones or in simple security systems. We will be transmitting this video feed via a 5.8GHz video transmitter meant for a drone. We want the operator to be able to switch which feed they’re viewing at a given time, but we don’t want to have to use 3 transmitters and receivers. So to get around this, I thought we might just connect video feeds to a simple analog multiplexer I had laying around from a previous project and see if you could switch the feed that way. Turns out, you totally can. Here’s the eventual block diagram of this part of our project if you’re interested:

The following is the code running on the arduino. Remember, this isn’t doing anything special other than driving the mux:

Raspberry Pi Digital Hourglass

Trying to get the most out of a day has been big theme of my life lately, as I’m sure it is for many people. I’ve found that I always manage my time better when things are urgent; I’m considerably more productive when I have to be.

I want an ascetically pleasing way to be able to represent how much time is left in the day at a granular scale, like an hourglass. Watching individual seconds disappear will look cool and (hopefully) create that sense of urgency that I want to induce.

Technically, this is a really simple thing to accomplish thanks to python and pygame. Here’s a video of a proof of concept running on my laptop:

At the start of each day, the display is filled with squares at random locations, with a random color. As each second elapses, a square will vanish.

To make it easier to see for the video, I’ve made the squares much bigger than they will actually be for the final build. This is what the display looks like with the squares at their actual size:

The code really really simple, like less than 100 lines simple. Here’s how it works:

Here’s the version of the code running on my computer in the video:

Let’s walk through some of the design decisions of this code. The first thing that’s worth talking about is how the data for the squares is handled:

It’s just an object with no methods, and on initialization, all the parameters of the square (location and color) are generated randomly as opposed to just floating the raw numbers in arrays around (even though that’s basically what is happening). This let’s us fill the squares array very easily later on in the file here:

and here:

When it comes time to draw these squares, it also makes that pretty intuitive:

Again, very simple stuff, but worth it to talk about.

I’ll be back at my place that has the Raspberry Pi and display I would like to use for this project, so more on this then.

Thanks for reading!

The Maker Stack (Self-Hosted Server Configuration)

There are many maker/hackers out there like me that operate little blogs just like this one and would like to expand but spend absolutely no cash. This post is for that kind of person.

This is what my network looks like now for the diagram oriented:

Basically, this configuration allows me to host two websites (they happen to both be wordpress installations) with different url’s out of the same server on the same local network, sharing the same global IP address as well as host email accounts across all of the domains I own.

The backbone of this whole system is virtualbox controlled by phpvirtualbox. This is a preference thing. You could install each of these components on the same server but virtual machines are an easy way to keep things conceptually simple. All of the traffic from the web is ingested through a reverse proxy on a server running ngnix. It identifies where the user would like to end up at (using the url) and directs them to the proper hardware on the network.


Installation

I have done detailed posts on each part of this installation, I’ll glue it all together here.

  • First thing’s first, everything runs out of Ubuntu, particularly Ubuntu 12.04.3 LTS. To do any of this you will need a computer capable of running Ubuntu, this is my hardware configuration. To install Ubuntu, the official installation guide is a good place to start, if you have any trouble with it leave a comment.
  • Once you have Ubuntu, install virtualbox to host the virtual machines, and phpvirtualbox to headlessly (no need for a monitor or mouse and keyboard) control them. Instructions here.
  • Next you need to install Ubuntu inside of virtualbox on a virtual machine. Navigate to your installation of phpvirtualbox and click new in the top left.

  • In order to get our new virtual machine on the internet, we must bridge the virtual adapter in the vm with the physical one. This is very easy to do. Click the vm on the left, and then go into settings then into network. Set “Attached to:” to Bridged Adapter.

  •  Once Ubuntu is installed on your new virtual machine inside of phpvirtualbox running on your Ubuntu server (mouthful!), to make the whole thing work, we must install and configure a nginx as a reverse proxy server. Say a project of yours deserves its own website, since your already hosting a website out of your residential connection, you would have to pay to host somewhere else as well right? Wrong. I have written this guide to do this. Once this installation is done. Make sure that you assign a static IP address to this server (as well as all other VM’s you create) and forward your router’s port 80 to the nginx server. The port forwarding is specific to the router, if you have no clue how to do it, google “port forward nameofrouter”.
  • You will then have to point the DNS server with your Domain Name Registrar to your router’s global IP address. Obtaining this IP address is easy.

And the foundation is set! Now that you know how to install a virtual machine and you have a nginx reverse proxy up and running, you should point the proxy to things!

In my configuration, I point it at two different  I use this routine to do wordpress installations all the time. On my server, I run two VM’s with two wordpress installs. One of them is for this blog, and the other for another website of mine, www.blockthewind.com.

To get a simple email server up and running, follow this guide which goes a little more in depth on phpvirtualbox but results in a citadel email server. I decided to go with citadel because of how easy the installation was and how configurable it was through the GUI. I use email accounts hosted with citadel for addresses that I would use either once or infrequently. It’s free to make these addresses, but citadel is older and probably not as secure as it could be for highly sensitive data.


That’s it! Do you have any suggestions as to what every small-scale tech blogger should have on their server?

Thanks for reading!

Hey! This post was written a long time ago, but I'm leaving it up on the off-chance it may help someone, but proceed with caution. It may not be a good idea to blindly integrate this code or work into your project, but instead use it as a starting point.

Host Multiple Webservers Out Of One IP Address (reverse proxy) Using Ngnix

It’s easy enough to host a single website out of a residential internet connection. All you have to do is open up port 80 on your router and bind it to the local IP address of your server as follows:

But say you’re like me and have multiple domains and therefor want want to host content for mutliple domains on the same IP address like this:

Say you want to further complicate things further and have unique physical computers for hosting each site. The quickest and easiest way to do this (so I’ve found) is using a Ngnix Reverse Proxy.


The topology for accomplishing this looks a lot like this:

The ONLY things we need to deal with in this diagram is the Ngnix Server and the router. For my setup it is a virtual machine running Ubuntu 10.04 x64. Setting up the software is pretty simple as well. First we need to install Ngnix:

After that we need to add the configuration files for each server. The procedure for doing that is as follows. You need to do this for EACH server you add to the reverse proxy.

For this example I’ll be using example.com as the domain and xxx.xxx.x.xxx as the IP address on the local network of the machine I’d like to host example.com on.

Create the config with:

The create then fill it in:

Note the line

This limits the file size that can be transferred through the reverse proxy to the target server. If you are transferring larger files, you will need to increase this value, but 64M is more than enough for most applications.

From there, you need to “activate” the new redirect by symbolically linking it with a config in the enabled sites directory in Ngnix with:

Restart ngnix and we’re done!


Now to configure the router.
It’s pretty easy, all you need to do is forward port 80 on the router to the local IP address of the Ngnix server. On my router that looks like this

Where 192.168.1.217 is xxx.xxx.x.xxx in my example.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions leave them in the comments.

Hey! This post was written a long time ago, but I'm leaving it up on the off-chance it may help someone, but proceed with caution. It may not be a good idea to blindly integrate this code or work into your project, but instead use it as a starting point.