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JUST ABOUT every machine, robot, and skid builder OEM uses Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) to some degree to create the drawings needed to build its products. The use of CAD to expedite and improve product design is a given these days, but this was not always the case.
As recently as the late '80s, CAD applications were considered too complex and expensive for many machine builders. There were many skilled board drafters who understood machine, robot, and skid design from both a mechanical and an electrical perspective. It was very hard to find people who understood machine builder needs, and who also knew how to navigate complex CAD software.
CAD software was very expensive, filled with bugs, and the hardware to run it was pricey. Substantial investments that many industrial OEMs just had made in PCs were not sufficient for CAD software, so new or upgraded hardware was required. Printers capable of producing quality drawings were large, finicky, and very expensive.
We all know how this story eventually unfolded. CAD software improved, PC price/performance ratios leaped ahead, and designers jumped on the CAD bandwagon. Virtually all industrial OEMs now use some form of CAD to produce drawings, and many also use CAD add-ons to automatically generate related electrical design drawings such as wiring diagrams, I/O ladder drawings, and panel layout drawings. The CAD dilemma has been solved. CAD won and manual drafting lost.
A New Chapter: Advanced CAD
A few years ago, another story began, and CAD again is a participant. It involves what might be called advanced CAD, and it encompasses the use of CAD to accomplish high-level functions such as collaboration among machine builders, their customers, and vendors. It also uses CAD to perform complex functions such as automatic drawing and document generation, and automatic on-line updates of multiple cross-referenced drawings and documents (See Figure 1 below).
|FIGURE 1: MORE THAN A DRAWING|
AutoCAD was used to automatically generate a bill of materials for this control panel.
Collaborate With CAD
CAD enables industrial OEMs, customers, and vendors to collaborate in ways that were not possible or too unwieldy to manage with manual drawings. Chief among these collaborative tools is the simple but effective function of sending drawings via e-mail.
"The ability to transfer electronic files from one work station or vendor to another and obtain near immediate feedback is extremely important," says Michael Weigandt, vice-president/CTO of Osgood Industries. "This helps reduce the cost of manufacturing, shortens the time required for design, and minimizes lead-time for new product launches or incremental improvements to existing products."
Osgood Industries is a design/build fabricator of filling, sealing, and capping systems used primarily in the fresh, refrigerated food industry. The company is longtime user of AutoCAD software for control panel design. "Another benefit of using CAD in our design process is the ability to integrate our drawings into the total scope of the factory automation system where our products are installed," adds Weigandt. "Our customers and their system integrators now can perform in seconds what used to take days or even weeks to accomplish."
File sharing via e-mail has come along way in the past few years because of high-speed Internet connectivity. Downloading CAD files over a phone modem is possible, but large files download slowly at best and not at all at worst.
Even though many e-mail servers limit the size of e-mails and attachments, very large files can be transferred by posting to a web site. The URL where these reside can then be e-mailed to others so they can access and download information more easily.
Good Reasons to Use Advanced CAD
A huge advantage of file sharing via the Internet and e-mail is near instantaneous information transfer, even internationally. "CAD is very beneficial when collaborating on machine designs with our parent and sister companies in Germany and Brazil respectively," says Rod Kettels, controls designer with Grob Systems. "All three companies can share the same drawing standards and designs quickly and easily, which eliminates repetition, reduces errors, and saves time."
ControlDesign.com is the only multimedia source dedicated to the controls, instrumentation, and automation information needs of industrial machine builders, those original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that build the machines that make industry work.