By Dan Hebert, PE, Senior Technical Editor
The automation system designs, drawings and documents of machine builders are so intertwined that a small change in one design area can ripple through to multiple areas. Change a tag name in a PLC, and a host of other changes become necessary to panel drawings, electrical schematics and possibly mechanical drawings.
For that and a few other reasons, specialized electrical CAD (E-CAD) software has a home in many OEM toolboxes. The right software not only can produce drawings and documents automatically from spreadsheets or even web-based order forms, it also regenerates drawings to automatically and accurately propagate changes throughout the design.
Eplan Software and Services (www.eplanusa.com) provides multi-discipline design tools that are database-driven. "Electrical, fluid power and instrumentation and control engineers can achieve maximum efficiency and accuracy with a single solution, both individually and collaboratively," says Özlem Falkiewicz, product marketing manager at Eplan.
For example, Eplan bi-directionally synchronizes controls configuration data with leading suppliers' PLC programming software products. "This improves time-to-production and eliminates errors due to manual data entry," Falkiewicz says. "Other features cut enclosure production time by automatically transferring drilling and cut-out data to CNC machines, and wiring data to wire processing machines. Add to that the automatically generated point-to-point wire list, BOM and the 3D panel layouts, and the end result is accurately built enclosures in significantly shorter times."
For parts selection, Eplan offers the Data Portal, which makes a web-based library of suppliers' parts data available for incorporation into designs with only a few mouse clicks. "Because these parts data are manufacturer-supplied and Eplan-certified, the parts selected are accurate and never obsolete," Falkiewicz concludes.
Many OEMs produce machines that are variants of prior designs, rarely starting from scratch, but at the same time almost never turning out a cookie-cutter product. For those situations, E-CAD software can provide the quickest path to production.
"Our Project Builder software allows the user to generate a machine design automatically by combining options defined and stored in a template project," notes Arthur Sawall, vice president of the global electrical business at Bentley Systems (www.bentley.com). "The Project Builder template project contains all portions of the design common to any variations of the machine. The user defines options that specify which macros to place in the template project and on what pages." These options can consist of elements such as different motor sizes, PLC vs. manual controls, etc.
"The users don't need CAD experience, as one simply selects the desired template project and options, and Project Builder creates the necessary pages," Sawall notes. "The automatic functions in our promis•e software for ID assignment, wire numbering and cross referencing eliminate the need for manual editing of the generated drawings. Part numbers are also assigned automatically via the macros, allowing accurate production of bills of material and other documents."
Industry leader Autodesk (www.autodesk.com) offers an example of how its AutoCAD Electrical software helps OEMs cut design time: "An industrial machinery OEM successfully integrated its web interface for quoting and order entry with the creation of electrical design drawings for production," relates Jose Santos, product manager of system engineering at Autodesk. "For approximately 90% of the orders, the electrical design of their material flow system follows a pattern that can be guided by the selections made at the time of the order. With a rules-based system tied to the electrical design software, the OEM can process orders and configure electrical schematics for production with no human intervention, leaving about 10% of the orders to be processed by the electrical engineering staff."
Automating the oft-tedious tasks of detailed design can free control systems personnel to focus on the fun stuff: solving tough technical problems, troubleshooting ghostly glitches and integrating their machines with their customers' other manufacturing systems.