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By Jason Brett, December 18, 2012
It was a case of putting a square plug through a round hole, and it wasn't going well. As my students were rapidly discovering, the 10mm-square plug for the motors needed a little bit more space than the 10mm-round hole passing through the control panel. Thankfully, this was a one-off competition robot, and so the problem was solved with a few strokes of a metal file, along with some good-natured banter about who exactly was unclear of the difference between diagonals and diameters. It was symbolic of the type of miscommunication I've seen on projects where electrical and mechanical designers can't fully integrate their designs.
Integrating the electrical and mechanical design process is the inspiration behind Zuken's E3.WireWorks edition for SolidWorks. It combines the extensive electrical and fluid power design abilities of Zuken's E3.series with the mechanical design abilities of SolidWorks. When the electrical team changes a plug or adds a wire to a cable, the new parts and cable diameters are added to the SolidWorks model automatically. When the mechanical team reroutes a cable or moves a socket, the new cable lengths are also automatically updated inside the E3.series software. This allows the electrical and mechanical designers to work together, optimizing the end product long before reaching the step at which they might be trying to squeeze a square plug through that round hole.
The core power of E3.WireWorks is based upon Zuken's stand-alone E3.series electrical and fluid power design software. I had the opportunity to review E3.series earlier (see www.caddigest.com/exclusive/Zuken/101612_E3.series_electrical_CAD_software_review.htm), and found it to be an exceptionally powerful CAD solution. It is designed from the ground up to relate the logical aspects of schematic designs with the physical aspects of implementing those designs.
It has an object-oriented structure, which means that when I place a symbol in a schematic view representing a circuit component at the end of a wire, the symbol object also contains all of the physical information describing the component and its connections.
Figure 1 shows an example of a typical screen of the E3.WireWorks Schematic software. It illustrates a cable and its connectors. The connectors are shown three ways: symbolically, graphically, and in a table listing thee connections. Even though there are multiple views of each connector, each view is simply a different representation of the same object within the database. Likewise, the cable is shown symbolically and in cross-section, complete with an automatic calculation of the optimum cable diameter.
|Figure 1: E3.WireWorks Schematic view showing a cable and connectors with physical, logical and tabular representation|
It is easy to develop drawings like this with simple right-clicks of the mouse. I can go from viewing a schematic representation of the component, to viewing it in a physical diagram, to a table listing all the connections to the component. Another click, and I can track the component and its connections back through all associated drawings and documentation. As I do, windows open automatically with the selected objects already highlighted.
The object-oriented model eliminates the risk of components having duplicate names or incorrect connections in different drawing sheets, because it is the same component that shows up in each sheet; the sheets are just views of components displayed in different ways. This makes it easy to export the electrical design for use in SolidWorks. I can simply select the components that are ready to export (as shown in Figure 2, highlighted in pink), and then create an .xml file for use in SolidWorks using the E3.3D Routing Bridge.
|Figure 2: Preparing cables for export to SolidWorks using the E3.3D Routing Bridge Interface|
Zuken provides an extensive library of industry-standard parts. New components and connectors can be designed easily, existing ones modified, and the library of components can be locked down to ensure that designers work only with pre-approved parts.
E3.series includes an extensive range of tools for designing electrical control panels and wire harnesses. It can generate product documentation packages that are easily translated into multiple languages.
One aspect of E3.series that truly impressed me was how seamlessly it handled pneumatic and hydraulic designs. This capability is carried over to E3.WireWorks. Even though I'll spend most of this review discussing the electrical side of E3.WireWorks, it also integrates fluid power design and documentation processes into the overall design flow with ease.
Zuken brought a wide range of tools from E3.series over to E3.WireWorks. For instance, E3.WireWorks Schematic handles the logical design of circuits, tracking materials and developing documentation in the process.
E3.WireWorks Panel takes this automation a step farther, by implementing logical diagrams for control panels, and automatically routing wires when needed to optimize the design. Once my design is approved in the Panel module, I can export the wire data directly to wire labeling and cutting machines; this makes for easy and accurate panel construction.
E3.WireWorks Cable is optimized specifically for developing cable harnesses, and can work together with E3.WireWorks Formboard to develop the nailboard drawings necessary for the rapid development of wiring harnesses. E3.WireWorks also works together with the E3.view tool for electronic document distribution, and the E3.redliner tool for recording and reporting modifications and variances observed in the field.
Mechanical designers who are familiar with SolidWorks' existing cable routing tools will see little change in their workflow when they start using E3.WireWorks. They may even see an increase in efficiency when they route cables, because all of the technical information of the cable is included in the .xml file they exported. This is shown in Figure 3, where the cables exported from Figure 2 are imported into SolidWorks by selecting the “Electrical” tab in SolidWorks and then loading the .xml files from E3.WireWorks. Rather than recreating the cable himself, the mechanical designer simply imports the data. The imported data is complete with models of the connectors, wire names, wire colors, and wire diameters; he can then begin routing the cable in his mechanical design.
|Figure 3: Routing the imported cables in SolidWorks|
When the cable is routed, the mechanical engineer then exports the routing data back to the electrical engineer, who uses the data to check that cable lengths and bend radii are within allowable limits, and then transfers the data to E3.formboard to begin the process of laying out the wiring harness.
While I had expected E3.WireWorks to be a monolithic program combining SolidWorks and E3.series into one giant software package, I was instead impressed by how independent the two programs are. It is quite common to have only E3.series software installed on computers of the electrical engineers and only SolidWorks on the computers of the mechanical engineers.
The interface between the two programs is handled by E3.3D Routing Bridge; it moves data back and forth through .xml files. The .xml files can be shared across the network or managed through SolidWorks' Enterprise PDM (product data management) package. This represents an opportunity to save money on software licensing and on training, because it presents very little change to the established workflows.
This approach makes it easier to actively collaborate between offices that are separated. Through the use of the E3.redliner tool, it's pretty easy for field engineers to report back on as-built designs and track site-specific modifications.
The E3.WireWorks edition is specifically optimized for use with SolidWorks Premium edition, but here is a secret: the E3.3D Routing Bridge makes it possible to share data from E3.series with all major mechanical CAD packages.
I was impressed at how smoothly and efficiently E3.WireWorks combines the strengths of the E3.series software with the strengths of SolidWorks. If the mechanical engineering department already includes cable routing as part of their design process, then they will find essentially no learning curve required to adopt E3.WireWorks. They simply load the .xml description of the cables and connectors and route as normal, and then export the routing data back to the electrical team.
If instead the electrical team is already using Zuken's E3.series software, then again the only additional step to using E3.WireWorks is exporting the cable designs. If the electrical department is not using E3.series software yet, then it might wish to consider it by looking into the solutions offered by Zuken.
In short, I liked how easily E3.WireWorks manages to bring electrical and mechanical designs together. With a minimum of additional effort, the designers can work together to develop a common model, which allows for a significant amount of optimization of the final design.
If you've ever tried to fit a slightly too large square plug through a slightly too small round hole, or experienced one of the other infinite variety of errors that result from miscommunication between design departments, then you owe it to yourself, your colleagues, and your customers to investigate Zuken's E3.WireWorks edition.
|Jason Brett teaches electronics and materials science in the Technology Teacher Education Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He 13 years of experience in technology education. More...|