Archive for Experience

Tutorial: Custom 3D models for KiCad 3D viewer

Posted in Tutorials with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by sethkoberg

One of my favorite features of KiCad is the built in 3D viewer functionality. A lot of your standard components will have a 3D model already assigned to a module, like resistors, capacitors, IC’s, etc., so when you fire up the 3D viewer, you will get a nice approximation as to what your finished, populated PCB will look like. In the image below, all the components came bundled with KiCAD, with the exception of the USB connector. When it comes to modules you’ve download from the web or have created yourself, you may have to create a custom 3D model for that module.

Case in point, my FT230X breakout board uses a Mini USB-B connector which I needed to create a schematic component and PCB module for. Clearly, creating these files didn’t magically generate a 3D model for viewing in the 3D viewer.

Rendered 3D model of my FT230X from KiCads 3Dviewer

Rendered 3D model of my FT230X from KiCads 3Dviewer


  1. 3D modeling software – I used Wings3D for this project to import an OBJ file to edit and export to VRML (*.wrl) for KiCad. You can use any 3D modeling software you like – another good, free one is Blender3D. Whichever modeling software you choose, make sure you know the basics so you can clean up the model you’re modifying. Also, this extra piece of software is needed because the VRML export doesn’t work from FreeCAD, so we need a middle man to take care of that.
  2. CAD software- I’m using FreeCAD to export CAD files to OBJ to modify in Wings3D (you didn’t think I was going to make you actually model anything, did you?). You can use this software to modify the CAD model before exporting to the OBJ format, but since I’m only using it to convert the files, I’m not bothering with learning another piece of software this week.
  3. 3D CAD drawings of your component – You can find these on the manufacturer websites for the part your creating. For this USB connector, searching the part number (67503-1020) on the Molex website will lead you to a link to download 3D CAD Models – they’ve already done the hard work, so why should you.

Downloading CAD Models

For this USB connector, Molex has provided 3 formats for the CAD model: PRO/E, IGES, and STEP. The manufacturer may offer more or fewer formats for the component you’re working with, but a cursory glance at the capabilities of FreeCAD suggests most standard file formats should work. If the manufacturer hasn’t supplied a file format that can be imported into FreeCAD or doesn’t supply 3D CAD models, you may need to find a similar component from a different manufacturer that does for the purpose of this tutorial – you don’t need to use the secondary component in your project and rework your schematic and PCB, as this is just for a 3D rendering, not the final product.

Download the 3D Model file from the manufacturers website and save the file, typically a *.zip, to your computer, then extract the file from the archive to a location that makes sense – I extracted my file to the project directory for the FT230X breakout board.

Delayed, but not forgotten

Posted in Blog, Gadgets with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2014 by sethkoberg

Another weekend has passed and I have neglected to post anything; however, this time around, I have been busy working on a little side project that will ultimately interface with the Anemometer. In my last post, I had mentioned the use of KiCad, which I’ve been working on learning to take my mind off of the anemometer for a bit so when I do continue work on it, it will be with a pair of fresher eyes. One of the things I hate is working on a single project and essentially getting burned out before its completion – one of the reasons, I’m sure, I fail to complete many of my projects.

I had decided to move onto learning KiCad so when a project gets to the point of fabrication, I’ll be able to tackle the schematic and PCB design without delaying the process any further than necessary. Eagle cad, a schematic and PCB generating software I’ve used before, is still a superior piece of kit, in my opinion, however, the limitations in the free version was something I wanted to break away from. If I ever do decide to sell anything I design, I would have to purchase a licensed version of Eagle. On top of that, using KiCad will support the open source community by using open source software to develop open source hardware.

So, onto my little side project…


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Checkout Registers

Posted in Blog, Gadgets with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by sethkoberg

After wiring up the DS1337 RTC with its respective crystal to my Arduino, I needed to learn how to communicate with slave devices over I2C – which is a serial bus designed by Phillips to allow a master device (Arduino) to communicate with a multitude of slave devices with only two wires. The benefit of this protocol is the preservation of I/O pins, both analogue and digital, to communicate with up to 100+ devices while only occupying two pins on the master device, either the Arduino or other micro controller. Another added benefit to the I2C protocol is the ability to a) hot swap devices, and b) add in more components without having to re-wire or change the code already being used.

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A rare Mid-week update

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2013 by sethkoberg

Last week, I attempted to mount a photograph to some foam board for a tutorial I was planning on publishing here at The Professional Dork; however, things didn’t go as planned, and I was left with a time lapse video of what amounts to me playing in my parents garage. The goal for last week was two fold: One, have a finished product that I could write a tutorial on, and two, have a time lapse video of the process so I could write a second tutorial on how I created the time lapse. Continue reading

Mounting the Lincoln Memorial

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by sethkoberg

Well, folks, in keeping with my “promise” of writing an entry every Sunday, here I am with what was supposed to be my first published tutorial on The Professional Dork.

This evening, I had tried to mount my “Lincoln Memorial” photograph onto some 1/4″ foam board I had purchased at a local hobby shop. Failing that, the only thing I have is a time lapse video of me not doing what I had attempted. Not a terrible loss, honestly, as I know now how not to mount a photograph to foam board. Continue reading

Work to be done

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by sethkoberg

Well, as it seems, I have a tendency to neglect my blog and post only once every few months; however, I am hoping to change that.

I have decided to christen 2013 as “the year of production.”

Being someone that makes a habit of inadvertently creating virtual lists of things I need or want, I am attempting to have this year be the year most, if not all, of those things gets finished. This list consists of projects that I have assigned to myself for the sole purpose of being able to say, “look at what I have made! Bask in all its glory!”

These projects range from wood working to electronics, gardening to photography, and almost every craft or hobby in between.

A lot of these projects could be finished simply by throwing money at them. For instance, one thing my husband and I need is a new entertainment center, but going out to the big box store and buying one would defeat the purpose of getting my hands dirty and actually creating something.

Like Nikola Tesla said, “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.”

Now, it is time for me to get to work.


Posted in Blog, Gadgets with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2012 by sethkoberg

Finally finishing, or, rather, mostly finishing a project, I figured it would be a good time as any to update my almost forgotten blog.

My firefly project, for my sisters wedding, has been completed as far as the technical portion goes.  All that is left is to put the board and dangling LED’s into a pretty container and dress it up to make it look good.

Getting this thing to work took a long time to figure out.  It goes without saying that I also got a lot of help online from the Adafruit forums.  Without the help from those kind people, I would have been dead in the water.

The wedding is this Saturday, and I will take some photos and some video of the finished product to post so I can show off my labor of love.

One other thing I’d like to add to the project is an LDR, or Light Dependent Resistor, more commonly known as a light detector, so the LED’s will begin flashing after the sun sets.  Once I get this put on and added to to the code, I think I’ll stuff the birds nest of wires into some paper lanterns and hang them up around town, guerrilla style.