CircuitMaker is a CAD software for electronics, specifically intended for schematic drawing and PCB design. Launched publically by Altium in January 2016, it is a web connected software available for Windows as a free download. As the newest member of the Octomyze team, I reached out to Altium’s CircuitMaker evangelist and guru, Ben Jordan, to learn more.
Anthony: In one sentence, what is CircuitMaker used for?
Ben: It’s used to design the electronics that go into new products.
A: Who uses CircuitMaker? What is the target audience?
B: Electrical engineering students, Educators, Open-Source Hardware (OSHW) Design Engineers, Electronics hobbyists, Artists, and tech entrepreneurs.
A: What makes CircuitMaker different from Altium Designer?
B: 1) It’s free. 2) It has a modernized user interface. 3) It is simpler and easier to use, without limiting design size or complexity.
A: How does CircuitMaker benefit from its relation to Altium Designer?
B: CircuitMaker benefits from its compatibility with Altium Designer, including multi-sheet schematics. The PCB design editor is also the same, so it supports Native 3D and push-and-shove routing, as well as the autorouter.
Plus, they both make use of the Octopart library, which saves time for the user because 70-80% of the parts they need to use are already there.
A: Would you consider CircuitMaker a beginner or educational software?
B: CircuitMaker is still a professional tool, but it’s free because it’s for Open-Source Hardware. However, it is easier to use and learn than Altium Designer, so it’s also very popular in schools and maker labs.
A: Why does CircuitMaker use an online community for centralized project management, storage and library?
B: Open Source Hardware only works when people work together. To work together effectively, Altium needed not only to create the software for designing the electronic products, but also provide a free hosting service with all the necessary management features that OSHW developers need. In our case, the project manager is almost always the same person as the developer.
The community at CircuitMaker.com, the web site, and all the project management tools, are designed not only to encourage sharing and collaboration. They also exist to allow users to push electronics into the future by giving them the option of building new devices on the work already done. There's no sense in reinventing the wheel, but there's a lot of sense in improving the wheel.
Also, we want community members to have a sense of pride in what they've shared, so there's a social aspect to the projects, and the ability to manage the auxiliary content around the design project. For example, users can "thumbs-up" a project they like, they can share links to projects on Facebook, Twitter, etc. They can build a project's rank in the system by voting on it and keeping the project fresh (ie. updating it from time to time or making new revisions). Most importantly, they can use the project page at CircuitMaker.com as a kind of blog post about the project, with rich text descriptions, embedded youtube videos, or any other content that can sit in HTML <iframe> delimiters.
The goal is, in the end, to create a vibrant design community where CircuitMaker is the hub, and the community-driven content is so rich that even big companies using Altium Designer for non OSHW projects would be envious of the content
A: What’s something in the works for CircuitMaker that will help engineers do more?
B: Interactive collaboration is in closed beta now. Soon design teams will be able to interactively work on the same design documents in real-time, so engineering teams can divide and conquer.