By Phil Burgert
Improved schematic-design efficiency, improved quality, error checking and sharing of documents and data are among the advantages that controls engineers cite for working with current-generation electrical computer-aided design (E-CAD) systems.
E-CAD can provide the tools to contain a complete design in a single project.
In addition the software can let users navigate quickly through the schematics and take advantage of automatic referencing, error checking, searching and other tools across the entire set of pages.
Database Has It All
"An E-CAD project database also can contain background information such as part numbers, engraving text, PLC and functional data that can be searched and extracted in reports or data sets for various end users." says Bruce Davey, electrical drafter with Curt G. Joa (www.joa.com), manufacturer of machinery for production of disposal products such as diapers and sanitary napkins. Based in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., the company designs and builds machines (Figure 1) that require upwards of a thousand pages of electrical schematics, says Davey.
Joa also uses the basic copy-and-paste advantage of CAD for leverage by having all the pages merged and organized under a single project, adds Davey.
Packaging machinery manufacturer Elopak (www.elopak.com), New Hudson, Mich., uses E-CAD to standardize designs and maximize efficiency (Figure 2), says Michael Ballinger, electrical engineer. "With an E-CAD system we can regulate and maintain specific circuit designs as we apply them across different machine functions," he explains. "This enables us to build a macro library of circuits to improve efficiency and shorten design time.
E-CAD software extends the capabilities of a single designer by improving his design and validation efforts, says Ballinger, adding that these systems also can handle part standardization and management, which is important within repeatable hardware designs and project budgets. "An E-CAD system not only gives a single designer an advantage, it enables the company as a whole to achieve consistency and uniformity throughout the designing process," he says.
Dave Sprague, electrical engineer with Stolle Machinery (www.stollemachinery.com), Sidney, Ohio, says E-CAD has helped improve the company's output in the six years the company has been a user. "We've reassigned a third of our electrical engineering workforce, and we've basically doubled our workload with just using two-thirds of what we had before," says Sprague. "It tremendously increases your productivity.”
Speed, Accuracy and Appearance
E-CAD also can step up the accuracy of the drawings through use of automatic cross-referencing and automated parts. "Let's say you're adding another contact for a motor starter that you have defined already," offers Sprague. "In the past and you might have forgotten you used all your contacts already. With this software it clues you in that you've used them all and that you might want to add an outer deck for that. It keeps you out of trouble that way.”
E-CAD has worked well for Stolle. "This is more of a personal opinion, but I've heard it said many times that the looks of the drawings have improved. They are a lot more polished and professional," says Sprague. He notes that Stolle moved directly to its current E-CAD system from manual drawings. "These packages now automate so many functions that it speeds you up and it makes it a whole lot easier to do, and product looks a lot better," he explains.
Rodney Price, manager of electrical engineering for Belvac Production Machinery (www.belvac.com), Lynchburg, Va., has used E-CAD for several years to create schematics and to make input/output (I/O) assignments for translation to PLC programs. "E-CAD provides speed, accuracy and standardization," he says. "The goal is to have it also generate our bill of material. We haven't quite gotten there, but we're driving toward that point. We'll do a schematic and, from the schematic, the bill of material is then generated.”
The key difference between manual design and using the intelligence in E-CAD programs is accuracy, says Price. "You get the intelligence with it so you have error-proofing that allows you to be more accurate with referencing," he says. "That's what we were looking for. We wanted to get accurate drawings out to the customer in a timely manner, and this is helping us do that.”
A Global Advantage
"Through our current E-CAD product, Eplan, sharing design data across our global organization has become effortless due to the use of multilingual database translations and PDF exports," says Elopak's Ballinger. Eplan has a database language translation that enables Elopak to translate documentation into as many languages as necessary, he adds, while noting that PDF exports from the program have improved documentation-sharing by shortening the time needed to create a PDF document. "This function also maintains the navigational links that are used inside Eplan, allowing the user full navigation control throughout the documentation," he says.