Tag Archive | "veroboard"

Rapid stripboard prototyping made easy with Lochmaster

Introduction

As a beginner in the world of electronics, sooner or later you’ll want to make a more permanent project than what can be constructed on the solderless breadboard. It’s easy to say “make your own PCBs” – however this can introduce a steep learning curve, not to mention the cost and time involved in waiting for PCBs to arrive – and hoping they’re correct. Thus for many people a happy medium is transferring prototype circuits over to stripboard – it’s really cheap (check ebay), you can keep various sizes on hand, and it’s quick.

However planning more complex circuits can be difficult – so it would be much easier with the use of a software design tool. Which brings us to the subject of our review – the Lochmaster v4.0 software from Abacom. It’s an incredibly easy to use developer’s tool for strip board projects. No more loose pieces of graph paper, soldering parts “one row too far over”, or lost design plans – you can now design stripboard projects efficiently and with ease.

Installation

Available for all versions of Windows from XP to 8, Lochmaster is less than ten megabytes and is distributed electronically after purchase – so backup your installation file when received. Otherwise it’s a quick install, you don’t need any extra framework software and due to the size will run well on less-specified machines. Although we have screen shots in the review below, you can download a trial version – so it won’t cost you anything to check it out yourself.

Designing your circuits

Once installed, opening Lochmaster for the first time you’re presented with a blank example of stripboard ready for your components:

Lochmaster

However you can also use different types of prototyping board, such as varieties with all holes, edge connectors, mounting holes, different copper directions – or even make your own board to match a preferred style. Boar dimensions can be displayed in measurement units as well as “holes”. Then it’s a simple matter of selecting a part library from the drop-down list on the left of the window. For example, to add a 555 timer (which is an 8-pin DIL part) select the “ICs” library, click on the 8-pin enclosure and the following window appears, prompting you to fill out the appropriate details such as label, type etc:

Lochmaster 555

… then you can drop the 555 on the board. It then becomes an object which can be dragged around and placed where you need it. You can also create and modify the component libraries, and also create your own custom parts.

At that point, you might want to cut the tracks on the other side of the board. By clicking the “turn around” button the menu bar, you’re presented with the bottom of the board. Using the “add/split” button on the vertical toolbar between the library and the board, you can then virtually cut the tracks, for example:

lochmaster

You can also see the rounded circles which represent solder joints. After a few minutes we found dragging and dropping components onto the board very simple, and with the turn-around button you can easily flip sides until the placement looks good. After placing components, running the necessary links or wires is simple with the “draw jumper wire” tool. They can run in any direction, and also have corners, for example:

Lochmaster wires

You can also adjust the colours and thickness of the wires,  and of course can also be placed on the other side of the board – just flip it around and place the wires. After wiring things up and getting to the stage when you’re ready to build – you can test the connections to ensure you haven’t mis-counted holes or tracks. Using the “Test mode” tool you can click on tracks and the sections that are electrically connected to the point with the cursor are all highlighted – for example if you click on the point marked by the black arrow below, the connected tracks are highlighted:

lochmaster test

If you don’t like the 3D-rendered components, you can also work with normal 2D in colour or black and white:

lochmaster 2D

For final quality-control, you can also review the project at any time with “X-ray” view, which shows an outline of the parts on the other side, for example when looking at the bottom of the board, turning on X-ray results with:

Lochmaster xray

You can also generate component lists, which are great for documentation or simply making up a shopping list. It can be exported to .xls or text file, for example:

lochmaster list

And then you can export your project as an image (.jpg or .bmp), HPGL machine file – and print out both sides to serve as an assembly guide. There is also standalone file-viewer software, so you can share your designs with others who haven’t got the full Lochmaster software installed.

Example project

After experimenting with Lochmaster for a short while, we decided to test using it with a real project that a beginner might assemble. For example, a square wave oscillator from an old Talking Electronics magazine (click image for larger version):

square wave oscillator

Nothing too complex, but a useful tool for anyone experimenting with electronics. It’s a 555 astable with six different RC values which allows you to select from 1, 10, 100, 1 k, 10 k and 100 kHz outputs. The first step is to gather all the components together, so you know the widths and number of holes each needs on the stripboard:

lochmaster_components

The next step is to measure the board, as you can enter the dimensions via Board>Edit board layout… into Lochmaster to avoid having excess space in the design plan. Then after consulting the schematic and the single-layer PCB layout from the magazine, it’s a simple matter of placing the parts onto the virtual board after checking how the fit in on the real thing:

osciillator top

… and the flip-side:

oscillator bottom

Not a work of art – but it works.  (We didn’t fit the 100 kHz setting, as the capacitor wasn’t in stock). And that’s the neat thing – you can experiment with placement until you’re happy, then double-check connections before soldering. You might find even after some planning, that you may deviate from the plan. Fair enough, but just double-check what you’re doing. And a short while later, the results, top and bottom:

oscillator PCB top

oscillator PCB bottom

Conclusion

If you’re a beginner and don’t have the time, money and patience to design your own PCBs – Lochmaster is ideal. It’s a neater way to visualise physical circuits, as well as filing and sharing them with others.   To order your own copy, get the trial version, or if you have any questions please contact Abacom. Full-sized images of the screen-shots can be found on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – Lochmaster software license was a promotional consideration from Abacom]

Posted in lochmaster, software review, stripboard, tronixstuff, tutorial, veroboardComments (1)

Project – ZIF socket Arduino-compatible board

In this tutorial we make an Arduino-compatible board that holds the microcontroller in a ZIF socket.

Updated 18/03/2013

Today we are going to make a different type of Arduino-compatible board, one that has a ZIF (“zero insertion force”) socket. Our reason for making this is simple – now and again you may need to program more than one bootrom with a sketch, for example if you were planning to make your own electronics kits that were based on the Arduino system. Your alternative would be to use a chip puller and constantly insert and remove microcontrollers from your usual Arduino or compatible board – which is bad for the board, bad for the chips (the friction and pressure on the legs, as well as possible static build-up), and bad for your wrist.

So here is our problem – we need a board with a ZIF socket:

1s

The Eleven board is great, but we just cannot squeeze in the socket. So instead, let’s make our own. Like any project, the first thing to do is plan the circuit and make a schematic:

schematicss

You have to hand it to the Arduino team, they have made things very easy for us. As we are not using this board for day to day use, all we need is enough circuitry to enable programming. In this case, the connection between the board and the PC will be made with an FTDI cable (these offer an interface between serial and the USB port):

ftdicabless

Furthermore, we will use the 5 V power supply from the USB port via the FTDI cable as well. Easy! So now it is time to collect the required parts:

3s

You will notice in the photo above there is a button, originally I was going to have a reset button, but after testing it proved unnecessary. Our required parts consist of:

  • one 28-pin ZIF socket, 0.3″ width (don’t fall into the trap of ordering the wide one)
  • An Arduino bootrom for testing, etc
  • one 16 MHz ceramic resonator (easier than using a crystal and two capacitors, timing is not critical as this is only a programming board)
  • 6-pin header strip to connect the FTDI cable to the board
  • an FTDI cable (the 5v one)
  • two 0.1uF ceramic capacitors
  • one 10k ohm resistor
  • some rubber feet (to protect your desk when using the board
  • some veroboard
  • hookup wire, some solder, and the usual tools

Before soldering away, it pays to test the circuit on a breadboard. At this stage you can test the operation, program the microcontroller, and test that microcontroller in another board:

2s1

Again, you can ignore the button. For testing purposes, I uploaded the “blink” sketch to the microcontroller, then tested that unit in the Eleven. The LED blinked as expected, so all was good. I repeated the process a few times, but uploaded a different sketch every second time, and re-inserted the bootrom between every upload. After ten cycles of doing this, I was confident with the design, so transferred the lot to the permanent veroboard:

4s1

The black marks on the board are to help me navigate, for example the arrow means the 5 V rail, etc. Now for the rear end:

5s1

There are high-resolution photos in flickr if you want to follow this design exactly.

Before using the veroboard, experience has taught me that they are always dirty and solder doesn’t take too well. If possible, try and clean your veroboard first with some cleaning spray, usually an aerosol package available from most electronics retailers. Or even just a damp cloth, then dry the board afterwards with a dry cloth. Moving on…

Before testing the completed board, please double check the routing and that you have cut the correct PCB tracks. If you are unsure about some solder joints, use the continuity function or resistance function of a multimeter to check for shorts between tracks.

After the board passed those tests, I stuck on the feet – and admired the finished product:

6s1

However, it was time to repeat the testing. If I may make a general observation, try and test things as you move along, step by step. For example, with this project, don’t skip the breadboarding step. It is important to check the design works. Don’t skip checking for solder bridges, or not double-check your routing. It is always much easier to fix a mistake when it has been made, then to have to troubleshoot a ‘completed’ project.

But at the end of the day, I now have something that is useful and will save me time during kit production (still in design stage people), making a few blinky offspring,  and prevent damaging my regular boards. High resolution images are available from flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, atmega328, COM-09420, freetronics, microcontrollers, projects, PRT-09175, tutorial, zif socketComments (6)


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