Electrical design software gaining more acceptance

Electrical design software gaining more acceptance

 
By Bill Lydon - Editor
 
I recently spoke with Thomas Michels, Product Manager and Dominik Gunkel, President of EPLAN USA, an electrical design software leader. Electrical design software has been proven to improve engineering and project efficiency and save time and money.  In the past, Gunkel and I have discussed the slow acceptance of electrical design software in the United States. He indicated that this is improving as companies are starting to gain a better understanding of their costs and risks on projects.   This shift has led to a greater focus on efficiency and systemizing knowledge – ideal for what these systems accomplish.
 
Organizations that deploy EPLAN set up rules based on their business requirements and these rules create a guided engineering environment for personnel to maintain efficiency, quality, and consistency.   The rules also help to capture and systemize experience and best practices. Gunkel noted that this setup process forces a company to really think about and understand their engineering and project methods. A side benefit of this process is this information can then be used to improve their internal procedures.
 
EPLAN has introduced a number of new features in its latest release. Here are just a couple of those features.
 
Panel layouts can now be done with 3D views. From these drawings, production documentation of panel layouts is created with EPLAN Pro Panel. Thomas Michels explained that, “Anyone that has laid out an electrical panel for controls and later realized that some device is taller than the box can appreciate this capability to avoid problems.” The product is designed for electrical people, who have not been trained as 3-D mechanical designers. Users can switch between 3-D and 2-D views with one mouse click. The software will work with EPLAN electric, piping, or fluid products. This is fully integrated into the EPLAN Platform providing a better tool to make optimum use of available mounting space. The result is increased quality, lower cost, and efficiency gains.
 
PLC components can also be designed in a channel-oriented manner relating directly to physical PLC I/O card terminals. In EPLAN Electric P8, users define detailed connections within a network at the database level, irrespective of the graphical representation. In the schematic, logical point wiring instead of target wiring is shown. The advantage is that both working methods, netbased wiring and target-oriented wiring, can be used in the project to suit the best working method.
 
PLC Data Interchange
EPLAN has an open XML bi-directional interchange for information with PLC programming software from a number of vendors. In April 2010, they announced an interface to Rockwell Automation.
 
Efficiency Checkup
EPLAN has developed an Engineering Performance Factor (EPF). EPLAN provides an Engineering Performance Factor (EPF) questionnaire and a free analysis of results to users. The objective is for companies to understand how productive they are today. This engineering check determines the strengths and weaknesses in the project process. It starts with a 12 item questionnaire that sheds light on all phases of the engineering process. Each of the 12 questions has four potential answers that represent a certain level of development in the respective phase. Users provide weighting factors for each question to tailor the EPF to their operations.
 
Gunkel explained that EPLAN consultants have shown that significant savings potentials are definitely attainable. Often these results appear from seemingly insignificant improvements such as an optimal connection of parts/parts lists with business systems. Or, results appear by simply standardizing documentation that is used repeatedly.  Alternatively, a change of engineering method, or an optimized data transfer between disciplines is often the key to success. Standardization and automation - already used throughout production - have to be pushed along in the product engineering processes as well. EPLAN has services to help with process analysis, standardization concepts and productivity workshops which are designed to give very concrete help in process optimization for companies.
 
Gunkel noted that sometimes there is a lack of receptiveness to adapting new engineering methods such as using parallel processes or functional engineering. But this is changing. Today's standard is to use sequential processes in a company. Engineering tasks like preplanning, design, design project phase, manufacturing and assembly are all handled sequentially. Data has to be input repeatedly; changes are maintained manually in several places within the system and it is hard to keep everything up to date and synchronized. Some companies have recognized the advantages of parallel engineering and have already set up parts of the process to run parallel. The goal is to synchronize and integrate workflows and data across completely separate locations to improve project execution efficiency.
 
Efficiency Analysis
EPLAN also provides consulting services users can purchase to improve operations. The EPLAN consultant works with the company’s staff to evaluate all phases of doing projects including hardware, IT infrastructure, systems structures and working methods.  The key aspects and weighting of the individual process steps, as well as the short-term, medium-term and long-term goals are mutually defined.  EPLAN creates a report of the analysis with a specific action plan and profitability analysis including benefits and return on investment analysis.
 
Founded in 1984, EPLAN is a subsidiary of Rittal with World headquarters in Monheim am Rhein, Germany. EPLAN has U.S. headquarters in Farmington Hills, Michigan and, in March, 2010, they opened a regional office in Chicago.
 
Thoughts & Comments
The controls and automation field has been much slower than mechanical design and other areas to adopt design automation. In order to compete in the world markets, companies need to adopt higher level software tools to improve quality and efficiency.
 
Lowing project labor, increasing quality, and lowering execution time of the project engineering process is a determining factor in competing effectively.
 
These systems are also used to capture and systemize the knowledge of experienced people which is becoming increasingly important with aging workforces.