Fabricating my first PCB for the Bio-Digester

I have been extremely busy with school work and side projects to update my personal side, but I think that today’s accomplishment deserves its place on this blog.Since the last September, I have been working on a control system for a Bio-Deigester. We were required to design the circuit and to build a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) for it. After multiple iterations and corrections the final design has been approved by our supervisor and it has later been milled at the Concordia University. Here is an overview of the process.

As the leader of this Capstone Project, I began by laying out the schematic of the circuit in KiCad; the team ran into multiple issues and complications which were corrected within a couple of weeks.

After we had our schematic approved, it was the time to start laying out the PCB. The biggest challenge for me was creating new footprints since the datasheets provide mechanical drawings which I never encountered prior to this project; as an Electrical Engineering student I find that we are not at all exposed to any mechanical work which made this very challenging. However, after reading a few online guides I was able to figure it out. The next challenge came when I had to make every single trace on the board; KiCAD offers an online auto-tracer, but from what I was told it is extremely unreliable and is unable to handle multiple thicknesses of traces. It was long and tedious to finalize all the traces, but after a couple of hours I had a nice looking board with traces everywhere.

As expected there were mistakes in my board and after having it checked by the supervisor multiple times, I had the finalized design. Here is what both layers looked like:

KiCAD also provides a 3D Viewing tool which I think is extremely useful to visualize what the finalized board will look like, so here are some shots of what I could expect as per the 3D Viewer from KiCAD:

The University has a milling machine which will make these boards from the Gerber files you feed them. The technicians at Concordia are extremely helpful and run you through the basic requirements for the board such as the minimum clearance between the traces. My PCB was milled in only one day which was much faster than expected; I was very excited to pick it up in the morning and see the final results.

This is how it turned out:

Now comes the time to test all the traces and to install the components where they belong…