Electrical Computer-Aided Engineering (E-CAE) software
Increases engineering efficiency, accuracy and lowers maintenance cost
By Özlem Falkiewicz
Engineering has grown with the evolution of technology. New disciplines and uses have emerged, demanding better methods and tools that help engineers and businesses to keep up. Electrical Computer-Aided Engineering (E-CAE) software has been shown to enhance controls hardware engineering in many traditional and new industries, as well as educational institutes.
An E-CAE example is the EPLAN Electric P8 electrical design software from EPLAN Software & Services that fosters inter-disciplinary collaboration by incorporating electrical, fluid power, and process control engineering tools in one solution.
What sets E-CAE software apart from traditional computer-aided drafting (CAD) tools is the integration of a powerful central database. When a database is incorporated in a CAE system, it has the ability to support more than one discipline. Such a system internalizes all of the design and reporting tools required by multiple disciplines like electrical, fluid power, and process control engineering. The results are improved design quality and turnaround times in product development and order fulfillment with significant cost savings. This is accomplished through a number of functionalities enabled by the central data backbone supported CAE tools. Typical gains are:
- Improved workflow among engineering disciplines. Separate departments are able to work simultaneously on a project instead of sequentially.
- Much closer collaboration among designers, manufacturers, customers, suppliers, and service technicians.
- The database enables storage and reuse of data that, to an extent, has not been previously possible. This encourages standardization and modularization of product content.
- The systematic reduction in errors and the amount of time devoted to error-checking. The system also minimizes data redundancy within and across disciplines.
- The ability to shorten design timelines and have a more reliable production schedule.
- Increased data consistency and tracking for more efficient part sourcing and inventory management.
- Automated setup of wire processing and enclosure manufacturing.
- The creation of a digital work environment for automation, controls, and mechatronic design.
- Providing engineers with the ability to merge data with 3D modeling software to create virtual prototypes. This allows for designs to be validated before manufacturing begins.
Companies using database-driven E-CAE software often opt to change how their workflows are structured for more streamlined engineering. From start to finish, projects are able to progress faster and with increased accuracy.
The database standardizes information and enables data sharing among different departments and processes, making it possible for all disciplines to work together and create an integrated build package. Using a company’s existing Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Data Management (PDM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), or other enterprise systems, CAE databases can be connected to multiple departments within the company such as sales, purchasing, accounting, manufacturing, and service. Since the same data is used across departments and disciplines, changes become transparent, providing contributors with a clear understanding of the project status. Collaborators separated by only a few feet or thousands of miles can share the same data in real time.
During pre-design, the CAE database permits necessary design and build data to be easily imported from a specified source or accessed from an archive of standardized design elements and modular product options. The archive is able to store data on frequently used parts or complex macros of entire product assemblies and sub-assemblies. These elements and options are already pre-validated, ensuring they are error free.
After incorporating the data, users simply insert graphical representation of the macros in the schematic page and then select the necessary data set from the predefined value table. The system then automatically re-sizes all variable elements and then propagates the changes in the data throughout all schematics and lists. E-CAE software cuts time spent on non-value-added tasks such as cross-referencing, wire numbering, device tagging, and creating project reports like bill of materials and wire lists by automatically performing them.
However, they do more, ensuring if a specific piece of data is changed that same piece of data will be updated everywhere else it appears in the project. For example, if a process engineer adds a solenoid valve, the fluid engineer needs to add it to the project design, and then the electrical engineer has to control it. With a traditional system, each engineer works separately, even possibly using different software tools. With a multi-disciplinary CAE system, each engineer would be able to work collaboratively at the same time, ensuring the final product is completed with greater speed and accuracy.
Once design is complete, CAE users automatically generate and send all project documentation and data to the necessary departments for production and further processing. These can include the cable list, terminal diagram, wire list, BOM and connection diagram, I/O, device, terminal and wire tags, and NC machining and wire processing data.
Using a CAE system with a comprehensive database, manufacturers can share project documentation with customers, vendors, and subcontractors by simply exporting it in several common file formats. For companies doing business internationally, the ability of a CAE system to automatically convert the project documentation into different languages or accepted standards of a region or industry can prove to be very valuable and open up new business opportunities.
Maintenance with a CAE system is simpler. The data is typically available in multiple electronic forms, meaning it can be pulled up instantly and can be consistently updated. This means faster troubleshooting, keeping machinery and systems from being down and losing valuable time. This is worlds away from traditional forms of maintenance where plans are printed and kept by the equipment in less than favorable condition and probably years out of date.
Considering a CAE system
When thinking about switching to a CAE system, organizations need to take certain factors into account. It is worth noting not all CAE systems are created equal, and it is important to research the level of technology and support that is offered.
- How robust is the system’s data structure? Does it have the ability to prevent redundancy and maintain consistency? Can it store necessary project templates, complex and scalable macros?
- What tools are offered? Can the system translate documents into other languages? Does it have the ability to automatically generate all the necessary documentation for production? Can it interact with other enterprise systems such as ERP, PLM, PDM, programmable logic controller programming and mechanical design software?
- Does the system depend on third-party software to function? This is a critical piece of information to know. If a CAE system relies on outside software to perform certain functions, it is likely both products will need to be maintained. This introduces the risk of eventual incompatibility causing product development and work disruption issues. To avoid this, look for a comprehensive and native CAE system, one that houses all the necessary tools to perform core functions independently of any other software.
- Is the CAE provider capable of offering support beyond the initial setup? Will they even provide support for initial setup? Do they offer continuous training opportunities for users? Do they provide custom solutions if you have a unique problem? There is a difference between a vendor who just sells a box of software and a business ally who will guide a company every step of the way. The key to getting the most out of a CAE system is to partner with a provider that offers a complete solution, which combines modern technology with an array of proven services. This will ensure all phases of implementation are successful from the start to future expansion.
Opportunity cost of inaction
As technology continues to grow, engineering and business practices must keep up to remain competitive. With the introduction of computer-aided engineering software, companies are able to better and faster design, build, and maintain electrical controls systems when working with transparent, consistent data. A professionally planned and executed E-CAE system implementation positively affects overall engineering experience and the bottom line. Past electrical design practices, while once effective, are no longer most efficient options. Organizations that are not benefiting from the newer technology and methodology of modern CAE solutions risk losing out to competitors who have already made the switch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Özlem Falkiewicz is the marketing manager at EPLAN Software & Services based in Farmington Hills, Mich.