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Q&A: Zuken

By Ralph Grabowski, Sep 26, 2012

Patrick Hackney is senior technical marketing manager for E3.series at Zuken. CADdigest's Ralph Grabowski interviewed him about the company and its E3.series software.

Patrick Hackney

Q: I suspect many of CADdigest's readers might not be familiar with Zuken, so let's start with a bit history of the company. Where and when did Zuken begin?
A: Zuken is historically an electronics CAD vendor, and was formed in Japan in 1976, making it one of the oldest PCB [printed circuit board] vendors. In Japan, we have the lion's share of the market among consumer goods.

In 2006, we entered the Electrical and Wire Harness arena by acquiring CIM-Team of Germany, a 25-year-old company celebrating its 25th birthday today, as we speak! They provided us with E3.series, the division in which I work.

Q: By acquiring CIM-Team, what did they give you that you did not already have?
A: There are two areas in our industry, (a) electronics and (b) electrical and wire harness systems. Our software handled electronics, such as the chips and other components that go onto PCBs in computers, washing machines, and so on.

The E3.series software is used to design electrical systems, such as the schematics and wire harnesses that go into power stations and vehicles. For example, an ECU [electronic control unit] in a car needs to be integrated into a wire harness, whose wires are routed throughout the vehicle; E3.series is used to design and document such systems.

Q: How do you compete against CAD vendors like Dassault Systems and Siemens PLM Software, who also provides such electrical design software?
A: With E3.series, electrical design is all we do, and we have been in this space for 25 years. We partner with all major MCAD systems. The primary concern of MCAD vendors is mechanical design; they realized that there is a need to interface between the mechanical design and electrical design, and over the years we have been able to offer a solution.

The market for electrical systems is not as saturated as the MCAD industry, for historical reasons. Electrical engineers have had to work with tools that are not originally intended for electrical, and so they tended to build their own tool set on top of the likes of AutoCAD. The exception is in Germany, where engineers prefer to use dedicated electrical software packages; but in other parts of Europe and North America electrical engineers tended to adopt MCAD tools. And so we are able to replace home-grown systems, or offer a solution where nothing is in use at all.

Q: Tell me about E3.series
A: E3 .series is the "mother" product, if you like. And then we have modules for specific industries. E3.series has a lot of capabilities, but fundamentally it is an electrical schematic tool designed by electrical engineers for electrical engineers. At its core it is optimized to help engineers design electrical systems, such as carrying out engineering design rule checks in real time - and not just drawing checks.

For instance, it automatically checks for inappropriate wire sizes in terminals, or short circuits between differing signal types. When the designer tries to add a wire that is not within the minimum-maximum range specified by the library part, our software prevents this and generates an appropriate error message.

It is scalable, being used by companies to design products from domestic appliances right the way up to complete power stations.

Q: E3.series runs standalone?
A: Yes, E3.series has its own kernel, and does not run on top of any third-party application. It is optimized for electrical performance, doing design checks for electrical designers.

Where many wiring applications depend on other graphics systems, such as AutoCAD or Visio, owning our kernel gives us complete control over the priority of enhancements, applying fixes, adding new modules, and so on.

Q: Is it truly stand-alone, or is there also a file server version for larger firms?
A: You can host the license on a central server, and the library of manufacturer parts can be centralized through an Oracle or SQL database; out of the box, the parts library is based on an Access database, which is handy for smaller customers.

Q: You mentioned that there are modules that E3.series comes with. What are some of them?
A: We have many. For instance, E3.3DRoutingBridge is our interface to MCAD systems. We have data management plug-ins for a number of major PLM systems, such as TeamCenter, SmarTeam, and SAP.

Revision management is another excellent tool used for comparing differences between two projects, and we have viewers and redliners for marking up drawings in the field.

Q: How does E3.WireWorks differ from E3.series?
A: E3.WireWorks is an edition especially tailored to run in conjunction with SolidWorks Premium and allows users to integrate their cable and harness data designed in E3.series with SolidWorks Routing.

 Q: You have mentioned fluids. What does it have to do with electrical deign?
A: We have customers who need to document pneumatic and hydraulic fluid designs that use electrical solenoids to control the valves and pumps.

As a result, we've integrated fluid, piping, hydraulics, and pneumatics design into E3.series to cater for "mixed-domain" systems, like automobiles, aircraft, and machinery. This lets us build a single bill of materials from all elements in the project, as well as cross-checking parts. For instance, E3.series shows fluid design in the fluid view and electrical design in the electrical view with automatic referencing between both, so designers see which parts have and haven't been placed in the fluid or electrical sheets yet.

Q: Who are some of your big customers in the world?
A: Our software was designed originally the for plant and machinery market, and so it is used to design the electrical systems for laser cutting machinery and semi-conductor manufacturing.

However through the years we have expanded the functionality of E3.series to support lots of industries, and so we have editions for specific sectors, like automotive, power, railway locomotives and cars, and a systems edition for interfacing electronics with wire harnesses in the military and aerospace sectors.

As we've brought in different types of customers, we've added more capabilities.

Q: Why would a firm buy E3.series instead of a competitor?
A: One of the main reasons is that E3.series uses an object-oriented design style. A project is a single file with multiple views: schematic, cable, harness, panel, fluid [hydraulics], and piping are fully-associative views on a single project file. Say the designer places a part: it gets located in multiple locations; when it changes, all associated drawings change, such as cable, harness, panel, and BOM [bills of material] views.

The great advantage of this approach is that engineers can begin their designs in any view - such as schematic, panel, or even BOM. If an engineer is designing a switch and is working on a schematic showing how it is wired from A to B, then E3.series shows it in the panel in 2D and in 3D. And when any changes are made, they're reflected in every view automatically.

Also unique in the industry is our library of parts. It is a design-rule-aware library of parts. This means that as parts come into the project, they already have built-in intelligence and symbology (2D electrical symbols). It knows where the physical, electrical, and fluid mating points are, so that connections are pulled in automatically. Examples include AWG (wire sizing) and predefined signals on pins, which lets the designer concentrate on the design, instead of the CAD tool.

Our file format has no links to other parts or databases or files. One file holds everything related to the project. In contrast, other software packages out there create dozens or hundreds of files for a single project, and then the software has to keep track of them all as they change. With E3.series, you can rename, copy, or email a single file, and nothing will break; it is self-contained.

The multi-user environment is useful for our larger customers. We take that single file and import it into an Oracle or SQL database, which holds all the data for the project. This allows real time processes, so that each user sees immediate updates as others change aspects of the project.

Q: You are not tied to the release schedule of any CAD packages, so how often is the software updated?
A: We have one major release each year, and one or two one minor ones in between, depending on the market needs.

Q: Which operating systems do E3.series run on?
A: We support 32- and 64-bit Windows, from XP onwards.

Licenses are available as floating [license is assigned to whichever user in the office needs it] and node-locked [license is locked to a specific CPU].

Q: What is the pricing schedule like?
A: It is similar to other CAD systems: you purchase a license, along with a 15% annual maintenance.

We are finding that term-based licensing is becoming more popular. It is like renting software, as the initial expense is lower, the software can be expensed on a per-project basis - and accountants can do magic things with it.

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About the Author

Ralph Grabowski is one of the leading CAD journalists and authors, with over a 100 books and many hundreds of articles. His upFront.eZine may be the industry's longest running newsletter. Ralph holds a civil engineering degree. More...

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