Schematic Software—Look Inside Clean, Productive Designs

Today's schematic software packages help users look inside electrical product and panel design by decreasing product cycle times, linking with other software, and preserving intellectual investments. Electrical computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided electrical (CAE) design software simplifies wiring layouts, lowers design and development costs, and decreases training time for those using...




  • Software and information integration

  • Standards and specifications

  • Automation design

  • Schematic, panel, wiring design

Computer-aided design software users seek features to boost productivity


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Today's schematic software packages help users look inside electrical product and panel design by decreasing product cycle times, linking with other software, and preserving intellectual investments. Electrical computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided electrical (CAE) design software simplifies wiring layouts, lowers design and development costs, and decreases training time for those using it.

One solution, connections

Software developers have made their offerings more compatible with other software and able to import and export information more easily, in response to customer needs.

Arthur Sawall, president, ECT International Inc. (Brookfield, WI), says customers increasingly seek ''an enterprise-wide solution, something that can be used for anything from simple schematics to advanced automated design generation.'' The software has to interface to external databases and ordering systems and automatically generate documentation for engineering, shop floor, sales team, and purchasing department, Mr. Sawall explains.

Martin Witte, Eplan 21 product manager, Eplan Software & Service Co. (Monheim, Germany; Southfield, MI), agrees that customers want ''a comprehensive solution for their unique and diverse electrical controls engineering needs.'' High-end software virtually eliminates time wasted on manual work. With Eplan 21, for instance, ''All diagrams, cross-references, and parts lists are clearly detailed and structured, providing an ideal basis for further in-house processes, such as purchasing, warehousing, and calculations for quoting.''

Microsoft Visio software has gained wider exposure for uses beyond schematics or panel design since Visio's acquisition by Microsoft (Redmond, WA) in January 2000. Microsoft describes Visio as a diagramming solution that helps people transform traditional business data into visual diagrams, giving them ability to better understand and communicate important information, to make better decisions, build consensus among peers, enhance communication, and make a more professional impact on an audience.

Greater productivity can found by avoiding rework when moving to the next stage of the product lifecycle.

Perry Weyant, engineering manager, Powell Electrical Manufacturing (Houston, TX), says, ''In today's competitive business climate, we always look for opportunities to improve quality and shorten lead-time in the frontend of our switchgear business. VIA Development [Marion, IN] has provided us with a tool to attack both of these issues. By driving the wiring diagrams from smart schematics, we get improved consistency between electrical schematics and detail wiring drawings and more correct wiring diagrams.

''The time savings really comes in the area of minimizing the time required to check wiring diagrams, which is very time consuming when the wiring diagrams are created manually. This is obviously a non-value-added process. Hence, we are able to shorten the engineering cycle time,'' Mr. Weyant continues.

Jason Weber, Rockwell Software product manager, Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, WI), concurs that ''The problems that these pieces of software solve are old ones-things like the amount of time it takes to develop wiring diagrams; the fact that electrical drawings are hard to keep in sync with control code, etc.''

To address that, Rockwell Software RSAutomation Desktop now ''takes the I/O configuration that users need to do for their control program and adds the connection of field devices to I/O points,'' Mr. Weber explains.

In addition to creating connections, automating steps within the design process also saves time. Mr. Weber says the Rockwell Automation offering can ''generate wiring diagrams in AutoCAD automatically. This eliminates the need to create these drawings, saving hundreds of dollars per drawing. It also eliminates differences that occur between wiring drawings and the control code, reducing startup times and costs,'' he adds.

Real-time, multi-discipline

Fixing things during design also saves time. ECT's Mr. Sawall says, ''ECT promise has strong real-time functionality. Cross-references update as you place symbols. Error conditions are flagged immediately the instant you make an error, even in a network environment.'' Further, the software unites efforts in various departments. ''Promis-e is a true multi-discipline product. You can incorporate electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, and PID drawings in a single project with links between them. Changes in one are instantly reflected in the other drawings and in the documentation reports.''

Keeping information current in drawings and related documents has always been a challenge. A bi-directional database in promis-e ''allows the user to update data from the drawing or from the database. When edits are made to the database, changes are automatically reflected on the drawing'' and vice versa. ''This functionality is especially important to those customers who want to integrate promis-e to other applications,'' explains Mr. Sawall.

Standards, data transfer priorities

Keeping to standards and easily transferring data remain a priority among many users, as some file formats aren't readily compatible with others.

Mr. Witte, with Eplan, says selling globally requires meeting ''different standards governing the use of symbols, drawing formats, and orientations-not to mention different alphabets and languages used in different countries.'' Eplan 21 is compatible with industry standards, such as DIN, JIC, and IEC, and ''allows for fast and uniform transfer of these standards from one to the other.' Eplan users include ABB, Bosch, and Siemens, with 'several hundred licenses worldwide.'' Automotive users include GM, VW, and BMW, among others.

Eplan offers Inter@View modules, a range Web-based tools, to support data exchange and project handling via the Internet, allowing CAE projects to be viewed, edited and revised from any location. The add-on DWF2PDF module enables users to convert Eplan projects to PDF format.

In addition to compatibility with Microsoft products, Microsoft Visio 2002 includes ability to publish diagrams as Web pages and display nongraphical object properties within a browser.

Ease of use

A high-end feature set can require training for users. Since many have less time than ever, ''simple to learn'' and ''easy to use'' have become highly touted mantras.

Mr. Weyant, with Powell Electrical Manufacturing, comments that VIA Development software was 'easier to learn and implement and was more user friendly than other products we had looked at for our particular applications. For example, the visuals that are provided-in seeing how wires are routed from device to device on smart schematics-really help the designers understand how a particular daisy-chain circuit is created.' So users can assess software themselves, VIA Development offers a free 30-day test drive of VIA WD.

There's a ''light'' version of the software available, as well. Alvin Stewart, industrial controls product manager, AutomationDirect (Cumming, GA), says his company's VIADirect UltraLite Schematic software suite is compatible with other VIA products, AutoCAD, and AutoCAD LT. It includes PLC libraries for the Direct Logic series, Allen-Bradley SLC 500, PLC 5, Block I/O, and Flex I/O. Additional I/O libraries are available.

Benefits beyond design include greater effectiveness, efficiency, clarity, and accuracy in communication, according to contract manufacturer Flextronics (Singapore)-maker of the Microsoft Xbox video game system. Flextronics software developer Tony Zheng says he's used Microsoft Visio to develop ''our own stencils with icons, which represent categories of machines. There is a drop-down list to select the machine type, and the information is saved to a database. This makes it very easy to model an assembly line and collect data.''

Mr. Zheng says Flextronics chose Visio, in part, because it saves a lot of development time. (See Online Extra sidebar to this article.) Other Microsoft Visio 2002 features to help users include personalized menus, smoother image import and manipulation, keyboard shortcuts, and Answer Help Wizard.

Partnerships, more libraries

ECT's Mr. Sawall says, ''ECT has partnerships with many key industry players. This allows us to incorporate a lot of valuable content into our product, including symbol libraries and parts databases that cover hundreds of thousands of components. This content is immediately available to our users. Our partners currently include Eaton/Cutler-Hammer, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Hoffman Engineering, Phoenix Contact, Entivity, Woodhead/Brad Harrison, and Weidmuller.''

Database connections help preserve assets, says Rockwell Software's Mr. Weber. ''RSAutomation Desktop is a Microsoft .Net-based application that acts as a central repository for design data. Multiple users can collaborate, share data, enforce standards, eliminate redundancy in data-entry, and automate tag creation for automation projects. Users can create reusable logic, HMI, documentation, and other data type templates from previous projects to speed program development. Since data are centralized, users can access personal views of the design project from any workstation. RSAutomation Desktop manages application versions and licensing, and reduces integration testing by eliminating tag mismatches and reusing pretested code.''

RSAutomation Desktop is the only product that can do this at present, Mr. Weber says.

Alarming future

ECT's Mr. Sawall says a future release will move beyond data-exchange capabilities with various PLC-programming packages. ''In future releases we will seek to make this interface as seamless as possible in both directions. Also, by having a direct interface we will be able to navigate to the exact schematic element if the PLC or PC-based control systems alarms a fault within its program.''

Mr. Sawall expects software development to be easier because revision tracking planned for the next release of promis-e. ''It saves users a great deal of time to see a report listing everything that has changed in their project since any previous version. This information will also improve the quality of designs by alerting users to potential problem areas.''

Eplan's Mr. Witte says, Release 4.0, expected to be launched by mid-2003, will enhance cable and plug processing, as well as improve project control and consistency. ''We've responded to our customers' specific need for a better DXF/DWG export function and made significant improvements in this new version to meet the requirements of the CAD end-users. The result has been the workability of typical CAD formats for graphical editing and data sharing with third parties,'' he says. ''Users will be able to write the desired Eplan 21 properties on selected layers, define blocks on the component class level, and of course, still edit line and font type and colors.''

Visual Basic will become a window to some packages. ECT's Mr. Sawall says, ''We will also seek to further open up our software's API [application programming interface], expanding upon our current ability to allow users to access promis-e functions through VB and VBA routines.''

Mr. Weber, Rockwell Software, says the next release of RSAutomation Desktop will add automatically populated title blocks and selectable templates for more customizable wiring diagrams.

Advances in schematic software seem clearly designed to enhance productivity and preserve investments. This happens, in part, by linking and extending good design into other areas of the product lifecycle.

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Computer-aided design software users seek features to boost productivity

Users immersed in electrical computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided electrical (CAE) design software clearly articulate needs and benefits for working on designs of schematics, panel, wiring, or circuits within products.

ECT International Inc., promis-e

Bob Yanniello, Engineering Manager, Eaton,

Eplan, Eplan 21

Jeffery Rosino, controls engineers with

In a separate development, General Motors Corp. (Detroit, MI) evaluated 13 software packages, selected the four best solutions for an in-depth assessment, and announced in 2002 that it would standardize on Eplan. Eplan touts the move as important for growth in North America; it says it holds a leading 55% marketshare in Europe.

VIA Development, VIA WD

Steve Clayton, owner,

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