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E3.series Electrical CAD Software Review

By Jason Brett, Oct 16, 2012

 

If mechanical CAD packages are for designing the skeleton of a machine, then the E3.series software from Zuken is for designing its soul. It is a comprehensive set of electrical, pneumatic, and hydraulic design tools for creating the cabling, connectors, and controls that bring machines to life. One prominent application of E3.series is in the design and documentation of wiring harnesses in automobiles. Several major auto manufacturers have been using E3.series software for years, but the breadth of applications goes far beyond vehicle design. Stationary machinery, control panels, consumer products, even entire power sub-stations are designed using industry-specific configurations of the software.

Figure 1: Zuken E3.series default screen layout

The default screen is shown with an open project in Figure 1, and this gives an overview of the interface. To the top left is the list of drawing sheets contained in the project, and a catalog of components available to add to the project.

Figure 2: Sheet layout window showing tabs

As shown in Figure 2, the E3.series uses a tabbed browser to present a wide variety of information in a relatively compact space. While the sheet view is great for selecting the drawing sheets I want to have visible, a quick click of a tab allows me to pick from the devices that I selected for the project. Double-clicking on the device brings up the relevant sheets with the device highlighted.

Along the bottom is the Messages window, providing text-based feedback, along with a Preview window. I found the Preview window quite helpful, as it showed me a compressed version of the entire sheet; highlighting indicates which portion is currently zoomed-in, like a bird's-eye view. This is shown in Figure 3, where the circuit diagram window shows the part of the sheet highlighted in the preview window. Zooming and panning is accomplished by moving the highlighted box in the preview window.

Figure 3: Preview window and related sheet view

The interface windows can be easily undocked and moved to a second monitor, freeing up space for the drawings on the main window. The drawing windows, however, cannot be undocked from the main window, but I was able to work around this by stretching the main window across two screens. (Being able to undock the sheets and assign each sheet to an individual monitor would be a useful feature when cross-referencing many intricately detailed sheets.)

Zooming in and out in a drawing window was not intuitive to me at first. I had to check the help files to discover that zooming is a combination of CTRL+middle-mouse-roll, while panning requires SHIFT+middle-mouse. At first, this slowed me down, but as I got used to it, it didn't take long before my keyboard hand and my mouse hand were working together.

Once I got up to speed, I found the interface reasonably easy to use. Clearly, they were designed to make projects of hundreds of different sheets easy to manage.

Figure 4: Four views of one device

I found the help files exactly that: helpful! They are well-written, thorough, and easy to search. While vehicle wiring harnesses offer a way to visualize the multitude of sensors, motors, connectors, and displays that E3.series can manage, the most common use for the software is in machine design. Figure 4 shows multiple views of a single component (a Siemens contactor) in a pump control mechanism. The contactor is highlighted in pink in the 2D views, and red in the 3D view. The other views provide the following kinds of information:

E3.series offers auto-routing of the connections inside the control panel, as well as the ability to output the wire information directly to cable cutting machines allowing you to have all the wires cut to length, stripped, tinned, labelled and ready to go when you assemble the control panel.

As for the software itself, it was built using object-oriented programming. This means that a cable or component viewed in one sheet is the exact same object as displayed on other sheets. This approach also makes it easy to find all references to a particular component across multiple data sheets.

Figure 5: Multiple views of a cable object

Each object can also be viewed and manipulated in different ways. For example, in Figure 5, a cable is shown as follows:

Figure 6: Cable cross-section: calculated for the cable from figure 5

As I construct the cable, the software calculates the most efficient way to pack the connectors I have selected so as to achieve the least overall cable diameter. Figure 6 shows a cross-section and area calculation based upon the cable from Figure 5.

It is possible to group individual objects together to create larger, logical objects. These block diagrams can then be connected to form an easy-to-read overview of my circuit and connections, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Logical block diagram and connections

I was pleased to see that the software comes with an extensive inventory of components in its parts library. If the exact part I need is not included in the library, I can either open an existing component and edit it, or create a new component from the ground up. The parts library can also be “locked down” to restrict designers to working from a pre-approved list of parts only.

The library is structured in a logical manner and offers extensive search functions, which allowed me to rapidly find the parts I needed. An example of this is in figure 8, showing the Component window, which I have customized to search the library based upon motor type (AC 3 phase) and RPM. The software quickly offered three motors that met those requirements, and displayed their symbols in the preview window. Right clicking on any of the components offers the choice of viewing an expanded description of their properties, including power ratings and other key factors.

Although Zuken is a Japanese company with 30 years' experience in Electronic Design Automation software, the core E3.series technology was acquired from a German company 6 years ago. This has resulted in a software package with a keen eye for the international market. Particularly interesting, I found, was the translation table shown in Figure 9. When entering descriptive text into a drawing, rather than typing “cover panel”, you select the cover panel option. When it comes time to sell your product overseas, you simply select the output language for your drawings and the drawings will be automatically translated into the desired language. The translation table is stored in a database, making it easy to add terms and languages to meet specific market needs.

Figure 9: Translation table

Figure 8: Searching for components

Due, in part, to the object-oriented nature of the software, entire projects are stored within a single file. This makes it easy to back-up or share projects with colleagues, as well as making it easy to publish electronic documents. Zuken makes an E3.series file viewer available for free so that end users can view the schematics, wiring diagrams, and part lists in the field as they perform troubleshooting and maintenance work. The software includes a “redline” function and version management tools so field engineers can mark up “as built” drawings and request revisions as needed.

I was very impressed by how easily E3.series handled a wide range of electrical design tasks. I didn't have nearly enough time to explore its hydraulic and pneumatic abilities as I would have liked, but based on what I did see, I would expect they are as thoroughly thought-out as the electrical tools.

The E3.series software has clearly been designed from the ground up to address the challenges inherent in electrical and fluid power design, and to ease the production of both the end components and final documentation for a wide range of devices. I had a few minor issues getting used to the interface, but once I got going, I found E3.series to be fast, powerful and efficient. If you need an electrical CAD solution, or are currently using a mechanical CAD package to do electrical design work, you would be well-advised to explore the abilities of Zuken's E3.series software.

 

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Additional Information

http://www.zuken.com/en

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About the Author

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...

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