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Integrated solutions for design with E-CAE

For many years, computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided engineering (CAE) systems have been around to help improve the productivity of engineers. Advances in CAE systems are now rendering these legacy tools obsolete, says Ian Pope, UK technical manager for EPLAN. Advanced systems like EPLAN are the catalyst for change in how engineering workflows are structured and how engineers share data in real-time with other departments.

Integrated solutions for design with E-CAE

Previous generations of CAE tools functioned as standalone aids for a specific engineering discipline, the latest generation, however, incorporates a powerful database that can support a suite of complementary products for electrical, fluid and process control engineers. Now, these disciplines can work collaboratively - locally or globally, in real-time, even in different languages. With unrivalled storage capabilities of a database, vast amounts of recurrent content can be re-used, prompting manufacturers to standardise product content to maximize productivity, ensure error-free projects, better manage costs and shorten order turnaround times.

Legacy CAD systems have exhausted their potential. They perpetuate traditional, rigid design processes and inefficient workflows. The data they generate is not compatible with systems used by other engineering disciplines, other departments, or with colleagues at other locations.
In contrast, the latest generation of electrical computer aided engineering (E-CAE) tools, that incorporate powerful database technology, have been shown to deliver cost savings of up to 70% and can offer significant improvements in product quality and turnaround time.

Imagine a manufacturing environment where…
A salesperson, with one click of the mouse, can generate a complete set of electrical engineering documents to fill an order because the unit has been pre-engineered and stored in the E-CAE software; an electrical engineer can create a new variant of a machine in minutes instead of weeks; there is virtually no risk of design errors impacting the build process or finished product.

This latest generation of CAE tools is creating a new operating model for product design and for facilitating unprecedented integration among the engineering, business and manufacturing departments for huge efficiencies. In the traditional model, each engineering discipline works separately. Project design work moves sequentially from discipline to discipline, going back and forth as content is added or changed. If the process engineer wants to add a solenoid valve, the fluid engineer has to design it in and the electrical engineer has to power it. Each does his work separately, yet the contributions of all disciplines must fit together seamlessly to create an integrated build package

Differentiating aspects and benefits of E-CAE
The advanced CAE concept creates a new paradigm for structuring projects. The database, or platform, supports the electrical CAE but also programs for other disciplines, like fluid and process control engineering. For example, the database for Electric P8, EPLAN’s state-of-the-art E-CAE software, also supports a suite of complimentary products - Fluid, for fluid power design; PPE for instrumentation and control engineering; Cabinet for enclosure design; and the EPLAN Engineering Centre for mechatronic design.

Instead of separating or localising data collection and retrieval, the database globalises it on a common platform. Engineering disciplines can now work concurrently and collaboratively rather than separately. Projects can proceed much faster. Data is cross-referenced within and across disciplines. Changes are transparent, and well understood by all participants. Electrical, fluid and process control engineers can share data with their colleagues locally or remotely. They canalso exchange data with popular mechanical engineering programs such as Solid Works, Catia, UGS, Pro Engineer and Autodesk Inventor. Engineers at different workstations can work on the same project simultaneously. The power of the database allows the system to convert project documentation in minutes to the language and technical standard required, and export it in many common file formats.

Common platform benefits
The CAE database can be linked via a PLM, PDM or other enterprise system to the sales, purchasing, accounting, manufacturing, service and other departments. The biggest benefits by far of these advanced systems are realised by manufacturers that leverage the database to change how design workflows are structured and standardise product content to exploit the capability of the common platform to store and re-use data.

Managing component inventories
Managing parts purchasing and inventory is an area where money can be wasted. Manually entering component specifications represents another opportunity for errors to infect a project. The advanced CAE allows the engineer to import third-party component data directly into a project and all schematics and lists adjust automatically.

Bills of materials and other lists required by production and purchasing can be transmitted to those departments even before the data is final. Lack of communication between engineering and purchasing or lack of a disciplined purchasing policy often leads to excessive stockpiling or a shortage of parts. One response made more feasible by the new design technology is the creation of a universal database of authorized components and available inventory on which engineers can draw. This database is located in the CAE database or linked to it, creating a level of transparency for all departments – engineering, purchasing, manufacturing.

The EPLAN advantage
Advanced CAE systems should not dictate goals… It should offer opportunities in the form of cost savings and productivity improvements.

EPLAN Electric P8 internalises all electrical design tools and list generators not part of legacy systems. Data is entered once and transmitted throughout all lists and schematics simultaneously. With the software’s cross-referencing and automatic error-checking capabilities, the chances of errors reaching manufacturing are greatly reduced.

EPLAN Electric P8 ushered in this new generation of CAE in 2006. Since then many upgrades and new options have been added. These options can augment the savings and efficiencies available with the standard packages, allowing companies to buy whatever additional capabilities they value greatest. For example, a multi-national manufacturer of complex machinery adopted EPLAN’s optional Schematics Generator module in conjunction with an upgrade to Electric P8 and is now generating standard schematics packages in minutes instead of the previous 40-70 hours.

Some companies fear that implementing changes of such magnitude would be disruptive and cost-prohibitive. However, EPLAN is able to assist customers in identifying the goals and steps for achieving their best case scenario. The incentive is compelling - manufacturers that use the EPLAN Platform as a strategic driver for increased productivity will strengthen their competitiveness in the national and global marketplace.

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