KiCad / Altium schematic-capture / pcb-layout workflow?


#1

Has anyone found a way to do schematic capture in KiCad and hand-off layout to a contractor using Altium?

I’ve been using KiCad now for several years for schematic capture and pcb layout, and now find myself wanting to contract out the layout for a relatively complex pcb. Altium is the local favorite of enterprise and contractors, but I’ve been told Altium no longer (since Protel99) provides an import path for netlists from other tools. It seems if Altium can’t import the native third-party project, then capture must be done in Altium (which IIUC could be either AD or Circuit Studio).

There is little justification for me to purchase an AD license for laying out mostly test and breakout boards, that I’ve been using KiCad for, but what is my alternative for more complex boards when I’d still like to do the capture but contract out the layout?

Does anyone have a hybrid capture/layout workflow?

Cheers,
Dale


#2

http://www.unisoft-cim.com/services.html these guys have a sub or service to do it.


#3

Thanks @charliex for your recommendation. It appears Unisoft can re-create a design from Gerbers generated by KiCad, but they list the only import format into Altium is also Gerbers, so in this case it seems there is no value to using Unisoft (see screenshot from http://www.unisoft-cim.com/cad-to-cad.htm).

I was hoping someone could confirm there was a way to import a schematic netlist also containing component metadata into Altium, but it seems Altium is a bit of a walled garden in this regard.


#4

Is there, by chance, an export to Eagle? That might be a roundabout way of getting a conversion into Altium, as I know that importing Eagle and OrCAD does work well enough for me to have used the conversions on many client projects.

Not that this is immediately helpful, but AD does support the “ASCII Protel” format – so in theory, it should be possible to make the conversion. There are some examples of people doing work with the ASCII Protel format – https://github.com/vadmium/python-altium for one, and https://geda-user.delorie.narkive.com/TbmDoFcs/geda-pcb-to-protel-ascii-file-format for gEDA to Protel (I don’t know how close KiCAD and gEDA are related in this respect).

In case you’re curious, here’s how this schematic looks in the ASCII format.

BTW - I was surprised that netlist import no longer existed – I first learned Protel circa 1995, and definitely remember seeing a netlist import functions back then – I checked and, sure enough, you can’t do it with AD.


#5

Hi @ToyBuilder. Thanks for advice. Fyi, the ASCII format for the schematic appears to be not available.

The gEDA to AD via “Protel ASCII” script transfers the layout (not schematic) but could be the conceptual start of a KiCad netlist plugin. Transferring the layout instead of schematic may work better because it would allow designing the mechanical board outline and doing critical component placement in KiCad and then final layout in some other tool (one-way though).

I also found AD can re-create a design from a Gerber set, but I don’t know if this would work for a work in progress or essentially un-routed design. I’m also wondering if it would be necessary to have footprints for all the parts, which could be extra effort but would be lost if the contractor doing the layout is expected to provide the footprints and be responsible for them.

I’ll investigate both paths further and post updates if anyone is interested.


#6

i’ve used altium to RE gerbers for clients back to something i could edit. it is workable but with no netlist it can be a mess. it doesn’t do anything clever on the gerber import where it looks for a polygon in a fill, so if the gerber is just a row of lines to fill the poly shape, altium will just do that. which kills the speed of altium to a crawl.

it does figure out all the connections so you end up with something you can edit. I chopped off 1/3 of a pcb in it for a client, made some routing changes, hole changes etc and re-exported.


#7

Gerber to PCB works - for straightforward boards without polygon pours, it works quite well in reconstruct the netlist and then exporting out into a PCB. Since gerbers (like PDF) do not carry the underlying data used to generate it, there is no notion of a component footprint - so you have to reconstruct that as well. For anything large, it would be tedious. I think it’s best suited for making quick changes to boards, or for being able to follow the netlist quickly – which brings up another issue: the netlist names are also not present unless the gerber shipped with the netlist that can be brought into the Gerber viewer. I have not tried that.