How does the investment in software training compare to the returns?

March 3, 2016
How can you convince management that the investment in eCAD software will provide a return that exceeds the initial costs?

A Control Design reader writes: We’re still using CAD software and start templates to create electrical schematics for power distribution, safety circuits and I/O. But upper management is hesitant to invest in both the software cost and the training cost for us upgrade our software.

How can I convince management that the investment in eCAD software will provide a return that exceeds the initial costs? I need to know which functions are automated and where specifically we’ll realize savings. 


Supply and demand

It all comes down to supply and demand, if your office is using the software that you have right now and the jobs are getting out on time and the drawings that you are sending to the customer look good and your manager is happy and the customers are happy with what you are doing, then keep doing what works. Now if the customer is looking to have you drawing in eCAD format because they are trying to stay with the times and your office is trying to keep up with today’s standards, so the customer can read and work with the drawing, then I would make the jump. But be careful, if you are not up to taking on doing your work and learning a new CAD system at the same time. You could be changing over at the wrong time.

First, I would try to do a set with an eCAD trial CD and show my manager what you can do on the software. Tell him what you think about it, and then show him how it works. See if your manager likes the way it works and how the drawings come out. If the company you work for is not looking right now to upgrade, hold on. In time, I’m sorry to say, they will have to, because companies out there need to be able to send drawings to other companies in a format to keep up with the times. Faster, cheaper, better— if you can do a set in, let’s say, a week, when it use to take you two or three, then there's your answer.

- Aaron Horvath, CAD department developer, Chicago

Familiar with Microsoft Office

The days of justifying high software and training cost are over. Anyone who is already familiar with Microsoft Office can complete their circuit diagrams 300-500% faster, compared to conventional CAD software. There are no associated training costs, simply because you will not require training, using Microsoft Office.

Also read: How design software impacts development time, predictive modeling and thermal management

The initial cost are also super low, and a free trial can let you see for yourself and show management if the software is really increasing your productivity as claimed. Should you decide that it works well for you, a subscription service lets your software cost convert from high capital expenditure to low operational expenditure, with no other hidden cost. In addition, you can ramp up to more licenses as you increase your team, or scale down to less at any time.

Most good eCAD software allows automatic tagging of symbols and wires, reusing of circuits, generating terminals and cross references, generating panel layout, bills of materials and other reports.

The savings can be substantial and not necessarily limited to the engineers who have access to the software. Improving their productivity, so they spend more time solving problems, making customers happy, concentrating on design and safety rather than drafting, is a given. For a software that's based on Microsoft Office, it also means the administrative staffs get easy access to bills of materials, where they can be easily converted to request for quotations and invoices. The sales team gets easy access to the latest drawings and designs. And the technical support team gets access to accurate, detailed diagrams that help them solve problems on a customer's location far easier and quicker. If you're subcontracting panels to third parties, accurate drawings ensure less miscommunication and problems, all in all, a big win for the entire company.

- Thomas Yip, CEO, Radica Software,

The needs of the many

A current and available eCAD system is one that will allow you to take advantage of multisupplier standards to make quotes and provide standards-based drawings and information in a timely and easy-to-design-and-implement manner. The best-selling tool is to reduce costs to engineering and to improve supplier integration.

Find out the top five suppliers of hardware for your electrical business and find out what software they use to do their pricing and lead time quotes. Then get them to agree to a price reduction if you provide the data to them in their native formats to provide you pricing information and quotes.

These things will help you get the buy-in of purchasing and also the buy-in of the suppliers. The argument is never about needing the latest software, but it is about making the business practices for everyone move smoother and faster.

Engineering cannot think of itself in view of its own cost center needs, but it needs to leverage the other departments’ needs with engineering to make their job and yours easier.

- David Arens, senior instructor, Bosch Rexroth Drives and Controls Division,

Exceed investment

An electrical design application delivers significant efficiency advantages and recurring cost savings that typically far exceed the initial investment. Intelligent design and drawing automation are the key capabilities that enable this efficiency and distinguish it from generic 2D CAD. There are three primary sources of cost savings:

• automated drafting leveraging intelligent circuit templates

• improved quality resulting in less time identifying and correcting errors

• automated reporting that eliminates time-consuming manual takeoffs.

Generic CAD-centric design focuses on creating the set of standard electrical drawings through independent drafting efforts. This process, though, wastes significant time and introduces errors as designers must manually create drawings, establish consistency and manage changes across multiple drawing files.

In contrast, electrical design focuses on an intelligent project structure that associates all drawings through a project database. The project is built using a catalog of intelligent circuit templates and ANSI/IEEE or IEC electrical symbols, as well as a database of manufacturer parts.

Automation features, which are specific to electrical design, speed up project creation by eliminating the tedious and error-prone work required with generic 2D CAD. Automation examples include I/O drawing generation, device ID and wire numbering assignments, balloon callouts, PLC addressing, length-optimized wire routing and self-healing wires.

An intelligent project consists of single line diagrams, detailed schematics, panel layouts, cutouts, wiring diagrams, wire labels and name plates. All drawings are associated with one another such that changes in one drawing propagate automatically across related drawings. It allows real-time cross-referencing and error-checking that saves time and increases design quality.

Lastly, the drawings in the intelligent project can be linked to a parts database. This enables automatic and accurate generation of project deliverables including the bill of materials, wire lists, cost estimates and other documents. This saves significant time by eliminating time-consuming and error-prone manual takeoffs and allows rapid updates as often as necessary.

In summary, automating drafting, reducing errors, and automating reporting make it possible to save substantial time and recover the initial software costs in your first few projects.

- Todd Lenhardt, senior application engineer, electrical solutions, Bentley Systems,

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