Designing electronics devices doesn’t end with building a PCB board. Most of the finished products are placed in enclosures. Even if you don’t use enclosure – the board has to sit somewhere or has some mechanical attachments like heat-sinks, holders, etc. One way to be sure everything fits nicely is to put everything together in mechanical CAD like Google Sketchup which is free. The problem is – how easy to transfer PCB image into Sketchup. There is no direct export to format that 3D CAD would understand.
So RS Components (EU electronics component distributor) have put all pieces together. They developed a simple solution that clears the gap between PCB and 3D CAD formats. Their small software takes IDF file format (Intermediate Data Format) that is supported by most of PCB software packages. Then with the RS program, this file is converted to Collada (.dae) file which can be imported in most CAD packages like Google Sketchup. Once imported, the board can be made to look realistic with additional 3D models of electronics components and put into enclosure virtually. This way your design can be finished virtually before anything is manufactured and it costs nothing.