Electrical Schematic Software Automates Wiring, Panel Design

Electrical schematic software—as an add-on to Autodesk AutoCAD, or as a stand-alone—saves time in creating and modifying schematics for controls by avoiding repetitive data entry and redrawing. This class of software and related packages, whether full-featured or "light," employs extensive libraries of symbols and products from scores of manufacturers that carry related attrib...




  • Software

  • Electrical schematics

  • Computer-aided design

  • Microsoft Windows

Two users' views on schematic software

Electrical schematic software—as an add-on to Autodesk AutoCAD, or as a stand-alone—saves time in creating and modifying schematics for controls by avoiding repetitive data entry and redrawing.

This class of software and related packages, whether full-featured or "light," employs extensive libraries of symbols and products from scores of manufacturers that carry related attributes with them, such as dimensions and schematics (see table). Software automates much of the tedious tasks associated with drafting, including:

  • Applying device and wire identification numbers (and preventing duplication);

  • Dimensioning;

  • Rerouting or rewiring;

  • Wire label generation; and for most,

  • Error checking; and

  • Automatic wire breaking and reconnection upon insertion of a device.

In recent years, user demands have required software to accept files from a wider variety of sources and to export information and files to more sources, including to some PLC programming software environments.

Vendors expanded functionality to automatically create bills of material with part numbers, manufacturers, and cost; design panels that hold the wiring; and cross into pneumatic and hydraulic controls and process control, with most imaginable parts: wire types, PLCs, I/O devices, motors, transformers, pushbuttons, switches, fuses, relays, terminals, signaling, and other components.

Microsoft conventions

Features that simplify learning and use include Microsoft interfaces and related software (Access, Excel, Word, etc.), automatic prompts, pull-down menus, search and help functions, styles, formatting, macros, cut-and-paste, drag-and-drop, undo-redo, hyperlinks, and similar conventions. Internet capabilities include on-line interactive training, maintenance help, and technical support.

Some incorporate object-model technologies, with properties, methods, and an ability to incorporate ActiveX functions, and VBA programming.

Users within global companies find advantages when designing on multiple continents; some packages automatically translate words and phrases for multiple languages and also translate among JIC, IEC, and DIN standards. A cited benefit from users is greater ease in following global standards and internal company standards, applied across multiple sites.

Specific packages

Arthur Sawall, president, ECT International Inc. (Brookfield, Wis.), emphasized changes that could benefit control engineers without computer-aided design (CAD) software experience. "ECT has expanded its Promis-e family of products from the AutoCAD platform to include the new Actrix Technical diagramming software from Autodesk. Our new Actrix Technical-based software, called Promis-e Diagrams Plus, provides a simple, drag-and-drop interface that has a shorter learning curve and will make it easier for those who aren't CAD professionals to create and edit control system schematics and bills of material." Promis-e Diagrams Plus, available in July, is priced at $495.

Rockwell Software (West Allis, Wis.) adds an 8-million port database to Promis-e functionality, among other features, says RSWire product manager, Jim Baker, says users struggle with standardization of electrical designs, even using traditional computer-aided engineering (CAE) software. "RSWire software will help define the company standard and maintain it. In the past year CAE software technology has changed dramatically. Built-in ActiveX automation helps automate drawing generation. Demand for lower development costs and faster time to market dictate the need for intelligent software." In the "very near future," Mr. Baker predicts, designing with CAE software will be required.

Dirk Meyer, Visio (Seattle, Wa.) technical product manager, agrees that ease of use is paramount for fast creation of precision technical drawings and diagrams. "Unlike CAD software which requires extensive training and drafting skills, Visio Technical employs unique intelligent object technology enabling non-CAD experts to get their work done in record time." There are 400,000 Visio Technical users.

EPLAN (Brookfield, Wis.) describes itself as the "established high-end CAE solution" and says its 1984 implementation was the world's first electrical CAE system. The company claims the lead globally in that niche, with 22,000 licenses sold in 30 countries. Project-related organizational features are among touted abilities.

VIA Development Corp.'s (Marion, Ind.) controls design and schematic software ranges from $395 to $5,400, says company vp Sherri Bartrom, a wide range compared to other offerings. VIA Electrical Controls Design Software, set to release this month, is said to include over 70 new features, including a setup wizard to simplify setup of project configurations; a module builder option that will allow users to easily create new, and edit existing, I/O modules; an ODBC Parts Database; and a locator function, which will allow users to search multiple drawings for a specific value such as device ID's, catalog numbers, and panel names. This 6.0 release adds more power and speed to the software, while simplifying use, says Ms. Bartrom.

Automationdirect.com (Cumming, Ga.) responded to customers who wanted to draw schematics and do panel layouts using its Direct Logic modules. Alvin Stewart, field devices product manager for Automationdirect.com, says a relationship with VIA Development led to offering VIA Direct UltraLite. Mr. Stewart says, "The package includes PLC libraries for the Direct Logic series, Allen-Bradley SLC 500, PLC 5, Block I/O, and Flex I/O." It is compatible with all other VIA products, and additional I/O libraries are available. This summer's scheduled upgrade will support AutoCAD2000.

For more about Autodesk's AutoCAD, use the table's numbers at www.controleng.com/freeinfo .

Two users' views on schematic software

While the following views are for one vendor's implementations, the comments are typical of reasons cited for using this class of software.

Schematic software "greatly reduces the amount of time required to generate electrical drawings and allows us to standardize our drawings," Kyle Carter, manufacturing engineer, Briggs & Stratton (Wauwatosa, Wis.), who develops electrical control drawings in AutoCAD with VIA Schematic software.

Fred Hourigan, plant engineer, Kawneer (a Norcross, Ga., unit of Alcoa), says, "During times of increased standardization and 'sustainment' operating concepts in the manufacturing environment, complete confidence is necessary when making commitments to procedures and systems." Mr. Hourigan uses VIA Electrical Controls Design Software.

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