The globalisation of design and automation has made it critical for companies to reduce costs and increase quality to stay competitive and, in the electrical engineering field, many are turning to Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) software to strengthen their competitiveness in the marketplace.
However, not all products are the same and care must be taken when choosing electrical design software, says Ken Christie, EPLAN UK director.
Computer aided engineering software is an essential tool for electrical engineers and designers, and the latest generation of innovative CAE tools have been shown to deliver cost savings of up to 80% while offering significant improvements in productivity, design integrity and project turnaround times.
In addition, the benefits associated with modern CAE software are clear: it significantly eliminates costly rework by enhancing quality, provides uniformity through standardisation, offers a high degree of flexibility, it has the ability to interface with other enterprise systems, and it goes beyond just the design capability by generating important data for use in other functional business areas such as purchasing and manufacturing.
However, to realise these benefits, it is critical to choose the right solution.
Legacy systems, while once effective, are no longer the most efficient electrical design option available and companies that are not utilising the newer technology and methodology of modern CAE solutions risk losing out to competitors who have already made the switch. But before implementing a CAE system, the following factors need to be taken into account:
• Is the system’s data structure robust? Can it store necessary project templates, complex and scalable macros?
• Does it offer the necessary tools to perform core functions?
• Does it have the ability to automatically generate the bill of materials and all necessary documentation for production?
• Can it interact with other enterprise systems such as ERP, PLM, PDM, programmable logic controller programming and mechanical design software?
• Can the system automatically convert to different international electrical design standards e.g. IEC to NFPA?
• Does the system depend on third-party software to function? If a CAE system relies on outside software to perform certain functions, it is likely both products will need to be updated and maintained. The key is to look for a comprehensive CAE system that houses all the necessary tools to perform core functions independently of any other software.
• Is the software provider capable of offering support beyond the initial setup? In order to get the most out of a CAE system, it is essential to partner with a provider that offers a complete solution that combines modern technology with an array of proven services.
The case for CAE
Legacy computer aided design (CAD) systems have, since their introduction over 25 years ago, been well accepted by businesses worldwide, with each successive generation of electrical CAD software empowering users to be much more productive. However, these legacy design tools function as standalone aids for a specific engineering discipline while modern CAE tools facilitate unprecedented integration, meaning that engineering disciplines can now work concurrently and collaboratively rather than separately. It also allows data to be cross-referenced within and across disciplines, so electrical, fluid, mechanical and process control engineers can share data with their colleagues locally or remotely.
In addition, CAE software can effortlessly convert project documentation in minutes to the language and design standards that customers, vendors and subcontractors require, and export it in one of many common file formats. This high level of integration is one of the main reasons that advanced CAE products are proving to be a catalyst in the relationship between electrical engineering and other project stakeholders.
The latest generation of CAE software also incorporates a powerful database that can support a suite of complementary products for engineers. With the unrivalled storage capabilities of a database – the scope of device data and components that can be accessed is extensive and includes macros of sub-circuits, assembly drawings, function templates for an intelligent device selection, international designations, preview images and entire manuals – vast amounts of recurrent content can be re-used, which maximises productivity, ensures error-free projects and shortens turnaround times.
With a database that contains every type of component from the IEC symbol library, from a simple fuse to information about a PLC, intelligent macros can be created that allow common sub-assemblies like motor drives to be inserted into projects within seconds, generating all wire and terminal numbering and greatly simplifying production of product variants. In addition, schematics can be built up using intelligent symbols and component representations containing all relevant technical information and, as a component is inserted into a schematic, all BOM, reports and documentation are updated and cross-referenced.
The ability to automate the creation of recurrent content effectively negates the need for the time-consuming creation of master data and provides integrated data for intelligent design, precisely fitting back panels and cabinets, virtual wiring and sustainably shortened product development and production cycles. Add to that the software’s automatic error-checking features, which make it virtually impossible for errors to slip into project build packages, and the time consuming error checks necessary with legacy systems is also largely eliminated.
Ultimately, the right CAE software will enable you to design, build, and maintain electrical controls systems better, faster, and more accurately. So, will you embrace the technology that is available and necessary to grow and succeed, or get left behind?