10 reasons to use panel or schematic design software

Just as computer-aided design (CAD) software offers many advantages over a drafting board, computer-aided engineering (CAE) software specifically for electrical or panel design tops generic CAD software. Advantages include faster and more efficient wiring layouts, lower design and development costs, and less training time for users.


Just as computer-aided design (CAD) software offers many advantages over a drafting board, computer-aided engineering (CAE) software specifically for electrical or panel design tops generic CAD software. Advantages include faster and more efficient wiring layouts, lower design and development costs, and less training time for users. Some of this software integrates with Autodesk AutoCAD; others stand alone. Advantages, with examples (not all inclusive), include the following.

1. Eliminate repetitive drafting functions by use of libraries or database of specific symbols and functions, including manufacturer-specific devices. Enable greater reuse of information and codes. Menus help organize information to speed selection and use. Associations and groupings permit creation of larger or new objects. Panel view and schematic views are available. Some, such as Autodesk AutoCAD Electrical 2004, can generate PLC code and I/O drawings.

2. Preview/undo: Apply changes to multiple/related documents and see the outcome before committing to a change.

3. Maintain compatibility with existing DWG files, DXF format, IEC/DIN and ANSI/JIC page and symbol formats, among others.

4. Collaborate with secure, Web-based features to allow simultaneous modifications with notations of who modified what and when, allowing information sharing with other parts of a project design team.

5. Use project management features to help coordinate various phases and parameters.

6. Add features or libraries to scale/expand as needed. For example, ECT's promise is said to fit electrical, process control, hydraulic, and pneumatic applications.

7. Support multiple languages. Microsoft Visio 2003 is available in 17 languages, including enhanced support for Asian and bidirectional text.

8. Integrate tightly with other software, enabling easier import and export of information from other software, or to create a bill of materials. For instance, Eplan 5 software is certified for ABB's "Industrial IT" product lifecycle management framework, having met ABB requirements for "globality, flexibility, productivity, standardization, and security." Microsoft Visio integrates with other Microsoft Office-based tools allowing integration of its Outlook calendars or generation of reports to Excel.

9. Automate many functions, such as cross-referencing (also aids in navigation), searching, wire numbering, list generation, dimensions, and error checking/alarms. SCADA Systems Ltd. EDS (Elecdes Design Suite) takes information from 2-D control drawings and produces 3-D layouts for electrical panels and cable trays. Alstom uses that information to calculate wire lengths before a panel is built and, with automatic wire cutting machines, eliminates manual wire cutting.

10. Gain features through regular upgrades. In general the longer vendors support old software, the fewer resources they can devote to improving current product. Therefore, as hardware platforms and software operating systems advance, there comes a time when a next-generation leap must be made to the newer framework. It pays to pay attention when vendors offer an upgrade because incentives often are provided.

For instance, Autodesk "retired" AutoCAD 2000-based products on Jan. 15, 2004, and offered financing upgrade incentives from Nov. 1, 2003, until then. Also by that date, "Autodesk will discontinue service and support for AutoCAD 2000, the full line of AutoCAD 2000-based products and for Autodesk Inventor 4." That may seem abrupt, but it's a widely used method to keep development moving.

Vendors have demo or sample software available for test drives and many offer tutoring, user groups, and Web-based training.

For more information and links to related vendors, see this "Technology Update" online at www.controleng.com .


Acronyms at a glance

ANSI/JIC American National Standards Institute/Joint Industrial Council

CAD computer-aided design

CAE computer-aided engineering

IEC/DIN International Electrotechnical Commission/Deutsches Institute für Normung (German Institute for Standardization)

PLM product lifecycle management

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