3D CAD Circuit Models: How to Use and Download

3D CAD circuit model components in a PCB
Who wants to spend time creating all these 3D CAD circuit models?

I remember the first 3D CAD circuit model I ever built in AutoCAD. It was messy, had unfilled areas, and had a minor resemblance to the component I wanted to build. The model was a nice representation of the size of the component I needed to place in a board, but that was about it. This first draft of a model didn’t even have pads assigned on it! Over time, my 3D CAD skills improved, but only with significant practice and effort. 

It wasn’t until I discovered 3rd party parts services that I realized my time spent drafting could be put to better use. 3D models for PCBs and their enclosures need to be extremely accurate, especially in products that have some movable elements. Manual 3D CAD circuit model creation is a time-consuming process. There is always the potential for mistakes, and a minor error on the corresponding 2D footprint can create a manufacturing defect that will ruin the device. It is time to find reliable footprints you can trust to be accurate in every design. 

The Challenges of Finding 3D CAD Circuit Models

Imagine this: You’ve been given the task of creating 3D CAD circuit models. A component manufacturer would release 2D footprint or 3D models files for their customers. These models would then be compiled alongside 2D footprints and symbols by a PCB Librarian, and they would sit in a company’s database until they were needed. Your design team could hold copies of these models on local machines or access them through a repository in a local network. 

Or, perhaps you found 3rd party component services, whose job is to aggregate 3D CAD circuit model files from manufacturers and/or other designers. You find an error-free 3D model you needed from one of these online services. Often, you’ll only find the schematic symbols and 2D PCB footprints while the 3D models remain elusive. Then you are still left with the time-consuming task of creating the 3D model corresponding to the footprint and schematic symbol. 

There are a number of component search engines and model aggregators that can give you limited access to component footprints and models. These collections resemble file sharing services; designers can upload their models and make them publicly available. If you’re lucky, these community-provided footprints and models won’t have any errors; though, sometimes you don’t want to rely on luck. Component search engines are great for locating component distributors and quantities in stock, but you’ll seldom find component models, even for common components. The search then becomes: how can you find the component search engine you can rely on provide trustworthy footprints and models?

Accessing Accurate and Reliable 3D CAD Circuit Models

In contrast, the best parts aggregators work directly with component manufacturers to obtain data files for new components. These platforms work just like a component search engine, but they supply data files to you directly rather than directing you to an outside resource.

The example below shows the process for downloading a schematic symbol, 2D PCB footprint, and 3D component model for the nRF52 Bluetooth IoT module from Nordic Semiconductor. This module has become quite popular for newer IoT products with low computational workloads and multiple peripherals. This type of BGA component can take a significant amount of time to create, but downloading these verified component models helps prevent any mistakes during 2D PCB footprint and 3D model creation.

Downloading a 3D CAD circuit model from Ultra Librarian

Accessing and downloading 3D CAD circuit models should be this easy.

Simply download the component you need and import it into your favorite PCB CAD application. Different CAD applications will have different import processes. If you have never imported a component into your CAD application, be sure to check your application’s documentation and tutorials to save time and ensure all component information is imported correctly.

The best of these component libraries will also give you pricing and availability information from authorized and unauthorized distributors. Any distributor with an API can integrate with these part aggregator services. This type of service is an ideal one-stop shop for symbols/footprints, 3D CAD circuit models, supplier information, and pricing information.

3D CAD circuit model distributor information from Ultra Librarian

Distributor and pricing information for the nRF52 Bluetooth module shown above.

How a Component Service Can Help You

Designers working on advanced products can take advantage of these parts services to reduce their design time and focus on more complicated aspects of product design. For electromechanical products, the wrong dimensions can lead to wrong clearances, which forces a redesign. Component wizard tools and services are great for generating ICs with standard 2D footprints, but they may not generate a 3D CAD circuit model, and designers will still be forced to create them manually.

When your component search engine also provides verified 2D and 3D models directly from manufacturers, you’ll know your models are correct. You’ll also have access to multiple file formats (STL, STEP, etc.), giving you plenty of freedom to import 3D CAD circuit models into your preferred PCB CAD application.

When you use Ultra Librarian, you’ll have access to a huge library of components from major manufacturers and worldwide distributors. Rather than manufacturer websites for component data or subscribing to a component data supplier, you can access millions of verified components alongside distributor information for free. You’ll be able to instantly download part data and immediately import it into popular ECAD tools.

If you’re interested in making your design process more efficient, work with Ultra Librarian today. We have the footprints, component parameters, and models to make your design and production life a breeze. Register today!


The Ultra Librarian Team

Ultra Librarian offers the world’s largest PCB CAD library, putting cutting-edge materials at your fingertips so you can build better products faster—all for free.

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