Old, but Good, Technology Brought Up To Date

The waves of nostalgia I have felt digging through the stuff in my old workshop keep washing things to the shore of my consciousness. One is electronics. I used to do electronics with vacuum tubes and point-to-point wiring in the 1960s. When ICs became available, I did the point-to-point wiring but printed circuit boards were the way to go. I never had the patience to draw them though…

I came across a programme that’s already in the Debian repositories, Fritzing, which does a lot for electronics designers and builders like me.
“Fritzing is an open-source initiative to support designers and artists to take the step from physical prototyping to actual product. We are creating this software in the spirit of Processing and Arduino, that allows the designer / artist / researcher / hobbyist to document their Arduino-based prototype and create a PCB layout for manufacturing. The complimenting website helps to share and discuss drafts and experiences as well as to reduce manufacturing costs.

Fritzing is essentially an Electronic Design Automation software with a low entry barrier, suited for the needs of designers and artists. It uses the metaphor of the breadboard, so that it is easy to transfer your hardware sketch to the software. From there it is possible to create PCB layouts for turning it into a robust PCB yourself or by help of a manufacturer.”

Fritzing is created by a rather large team and has global contributors. I expect it to grow and increase in performance.

It’s not fancy but auto-routing for the schematics and PCB layout is absolutely wonderful compared to figuring it all out one line at a time. The breadboard layout does not have auto-routing, but that’s OK because wires have two ends and that’s mostly what matters there. The huge feature for me are finished PCB layers in SVG or PDF output. Print it on a transparency and etch copper.

Fritzing circuit layout application with workspace, parts bins and navigator.

A neat feature of the application is that it allows one to download parts designed and shared on the web. I found a 741 operational amplifier that way and it appears in the system complete with pinout. I can create a set of icons matching my inventory and just drag and drop the circuits together.

Now, I have to figure out what to do with it. I plan to build a greenhouse this fall for use next spring. I could design a control and monitoring-system using the parts I have and this application. I need to do things like raise an alarm if the temperature drops too far, but I could also do some automatic watering or ventilation. The possibilities are endless. There are COTS systems for doing such things but I have the parts and like to do things my own way. For example, thermostats tend to be on/off devices. I like proportional control because it reduces temperature-excursions. I should also set up a deer-repelling system to keep them out of my garden. A motion detector activating a wind-mill should do the trick. I can combine a COTS motion-detecting lamp with an output for a motorized threat. Deer treat sudden motions as threats. Of course, a dog would do but I am not a dog-person. I could possibly record the voice of my daughter’s dog…

see also Fritzing, the Hot New Electronics Designer for Real People

I like that title… The licence for this software is GPLv3, so I expect it to be around for a while one way or another.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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6 Responses to Old, but Good, Technology Brought Up To Date

  1. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson
    There are some very decent build-able PCB mills that build for under 500 dollars.

    There is even a chance you would have most of the frame laying around somewhere for one of the two major styles in home built.

    Threading rod acts are a super effective down ratio gear. Not good for 3d printing because does not move fast. But for pcb milling were you want fine movements absolutely perfect.

    mantis and other methods using matched drilling are the fastest to get exactly right.

    The motors to a point can be recovered from items.

    Yes its one of those surprising things most people don’t know how cheap a very decent pcb mill really is. Or the fact most of the time they have the parts require for frame laying around as scrap.

  2. oiaohm wrote, “I have not used FeCl3 in over 10 years. Between silver inks and PCB mill why would I. PCB mill the board comes out all drilled. Having to etch then drill is just extra pain in but.”

    Now that I am retired, the little woman will probably not allow me to purchase new toys. I have to use my old technology salvaged from the workshop. I can make FeCl3 if I cannot buy any and a SharpieTM marker might have to do if my etch resist is dead… I have a “dentist’s drill” (the little woman bought it as her toy 😉 I kid you not…) The renovations of the old homestead brought a mixed blessing of fatigue and trial-and-error combined with a few new technologies like an air-compressor and nailer.

  3. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson Multi layer at home that is safe. Is silver based ink printing circuit boards. This is where you print on thin plastic sheet with a silver based track ink. About 4 to 5 layer boards can be done this way safely.

    Simpler than solid board multi layer.

    This is where it gets funny. What you are using is standard off the shelf ink-jet printers particular models and you have replaced the black ink with silver conductive(of course you want a brand new clean head so forget everyone where the head is integrated into printer tank). The base plastic your normal overhead projector plastic will do.


    Yes you can print resisters straight into the circuit by having multi ink tanks with different inks with different conductivities.

    Less toxic chemicals. Does have a downside you have to glue parts on not solder(hang on how is this a downside with kids the glue is strong so kids really connected to the circuit board is a issue if you use it with kids) and you cannot use IC chips that get very hot. Also you have to worry about mounting the sheets stable.

    Robert Pogson I know this method because I was renting somewhere and was not allowed to etch but I still wanted to mess around with boards.

    Silver you can do in the same room as you no toxic fumes to worry about.

    2 layer can be insanely fast on a duplex printer with silver inks.

    Really this takes less skill and time etching. I am also lazy I also have a PCB mill. Again no major toxic chemicals.

    I have not used FeCl3 in over 10 years. Between silver inks and PCB mill why would I. PCB mill the board comes out all drilled. Having to etch then drill is just extra pain in but.

  4. oiaohm wrote, “Fritzing does not do multi layer boards. Two sided yes multi layer no.”

    For a lot of fit-in-the-hand gadgets, two-sides works pretty well. Imagine my gadgets with a few discrete parts and a small number of up to 16-pin ICs. I have a box of thin clients if I need more complex devices. You could probably manually combine two-layer sections to make up a multi-layer board with Fritzing but making multi-layer boards is beyond the capability of many. Two-layer can be done in the garage workshop of anyone using spray-on etch-resist, FeCl3, two transparencies, a bright light or Sun and a tiny drill.

  5. oiaohm says:


    Phenom there are a lot of different EDA.

    The thing is Fritzing is not a generic do everything EDA. Its been design with the Arduino in mind. Fritzing does not do multi layer boards. Two sided yes multi layer no.

    You can copy you circuit layout from a breadboard into the program and it will produce the circuit diagram and shield design. AutoTrax Design not that useful for that. Neither are the rest of the EDA really. Most of the EDA are design to go from circuit designs to boards or from boards back to circuit designs. Not from breadboard to circuit design to shield for anduino.

    Fritzing still lacks good simulators.

    Fritzing is interesting from the point of view that a prototyping solution is now getting custom software to expand it. Maybe raspberry pi might get the same thing.

  6. Phenom says:

    Version 0.6.3… Is this the best you can put on the table versus Cadence? Or even against the free express version of AutoTrax Design?

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