Update on 17 March 2018: Nelma is no longer actively developed. Last release was in 2010 and should be considered a working prototype. For similar software, please see OpenEMS and GSvit. If you are interested in developing Nelma further, a good place to start is the paper that describes the mathematical background and the README and read_first.em files in the source distribution.

Nelma is a (command line) tool for numerically calculating various electrical properties of printed circuit boards or similar objects composed of conductors and dielectrics (however code is optimized for circuit board-like geometry).

It is currently capable of calculating capacitances between objects - nets on a PCB. It returns a spice-compatible description of an equivalent circuit of stray capacitances that can be for example used for more accurate circuit simulation. Alternatively it can also produce field data that can be plotted for example with Gnuplot.

Support for calculating resistances existed for a while but was later removed because it didn't receive much testing.

Nelma is available under the GNU General Public License version 2.

What you need to run it

You will need:

How it works

The capacitances are calculated by:

  1. Connecting one net to a known voltage (1V) and other nets to ground.
  2. Calculating the electric potential throughout the object with finite difference method.
  3. Calculating the charge accumulated on nets by calculating electric flux. Electric flux is calculated through a surface that is one grid unit away from the net. This means that different objects in a net should be at least three grid units away from each other to get reliable results.
  4. Dividing charge by voltage.

The algorithm is therefore of O(n2) time complexity regarding the number of nets. This way we also get to calculate each capacitance twice. The difference between these two calculations is used as an estimation of numerical error.

The finite difference method allocates memory that is proportional the cube of dimensions. The field solving algorithm itself is of O(n3) time complexity.

The system of linear equations that is produced by the finite difference method is currently solved with a SOR iterative algorithm with a constant extrapolation factor.

This is a result of my term project. I have written a paper (in Slovene) that explains in detail methods used by the program to calculate the capacitances and methods I used to verify the results.

Where to get it

You can get source code of stable releases from the following location:

Nelma is also available from NetBSD's pkgsrc collection:

Keep in mind that this is a work in progress. Read the README file for installation instructions and a list of known problems.

Any Feedback is welcome.


nelma-cap crashed

Most likely there's an error in your configuration file. Run with "-v 256" option to turn up verbosity. Look for any error messages before the crash

It's also possible that you don't have enough RAM.

Do you have a material with 0.0 permittivity defined in your config file?

How can I get my PCB layout into nelma-cap?

There's a Nelma export HID for PCB. You can currently get a patch from the SourceForge tracker.

In the patched PCB select File - Export layout - Nelma.


Please send bug reports or anything else related to Nelma to the author's email address tomaz.solc@tablix.org