Neltner Labs

Tutorials and Projects from Brian Neltner

Converting Circuit Boards to 3D CAD


There are a lot of tools out there that allow you to design circuit boards, but anyone who has been doing engineering for a while has encountered the problem of integrating mechanical and electrical design. If you don’t design your mechanical system until your circuit board is done, it’s likely to be expensive and make no sense. If you design the mechanical system before the circuit board, it will similarly bump against silly constraints. So instead, it is critical to develop these things in parallel so that both mechanical and electrical designs have constraints from each other integrated at an early stage.

The nicest way to do this would be if I could take my existing circuit board software, click a button, and have it output a file including models of my components which I could import directly into Solidworks. And then be able to make mechanical design changes to the board in Solidworks which feed back into the circuit board software. This solution is, however, extremely expensive – so how do you do it if you’re a small business or hobbyist?

My conclusion is that it is completely unrealistic to get full bidirectional CAD conversion, but that it is possible (barely) to get unidirectional conversion from a circuit board to a 3D model.

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