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AUTOMATION SOFTWARE – EPLAN E-CAE: Part 1


For the first time, I will be doing a three-part column. I have to, because the topic and software are so important!
EPLAN is a drawing tool that allows you to create electrical project drawings with minimal effort – that is, once you travel the learning curve. I’m here to help you with that curve, as well as tell you about the technology that it uses and why you need to get off of the ‘status quo’ couch and get moving.
EPLAN is a German company with a worldwide presence, including a major presence in North America. EPLAN Electric P8 is a brand-new product that EPLAN has redesigned, rewritten and reengineered to replace all its previous versions.
AutoCAD has always been the platform of choice for electrical drawing packages, except for those that are Visio-based, such as Engineering Base. The legacy of AutoCAD cannot be disputed, and most will still use it for mechanical drawing projects for the foreseeable future. Electrical drawings, however, lend themselves to the EPLAN Electric P8 paradigm shift.
Change is good! Here’s why.
EPLAN Electric P8 comes in many flavours and is fully stand-alone. It does not use AutoCAD for any of its operations, nor does it need it. You can buy a small package for less than $2,000, and I suggest you do so to begin.
EPLAN is a database-centric product design tool. It uses a proprietary object-oriented and relational database designed by EPLAN’s German engineers, which is ultra powerful. It is this database that allows EPLAN to automatically create, manage and produce drawings of varying complexity.
To give you an example of the power of this database, imagine that you create a three-wire multi-line drawing with five motors. These motors need starters, overloads and more.
When you design the panel payout and you forget one of the motor starters, EPLAN knows and can tell you about it.
EPLAN’s design philosophy is, “Design, Document, Done.” Simply put, you should only put in data once and you should be able to create most of your drawings from this data.
Installing EPLAN takes less than 10 minutes and uses more than 800 megabytes of disk space. When you go to the help file… well, let me tell you that it is a little intimidating. Because of the new design and implementation, EPLAN is retrofitting all of their training material, which will help with the general concepts and allow the user to work at his or her own pace.
I can tell you from experience that both the methods and the presentation are as different as different gets.
If you are a CAD guy, you will be in for a bit more of a learning curve. Starting from scratch may be easier.
Since it is a Windows application, there are some familiar menus, windows and functions. There are some really odd relationships; for example, you can only place part numbers (that you have in the database) onto a panel layout, but not devices or symbols.
But when you learn about the data model and database layout, this makes so much sense!
You can use EPLAN as a CAD station, using the provided IEC and NFPA symbols as well as the devices from various manufacturers. For those Rockwell users, EPLAN has recently entered into a partnership with Rockwell to port all of their hardware into EPLAN parts databases.
There is no save button in the software, like a normal database application.
Baroudi Bloor International, Inc., a strategic advisory company, talked about this type of hybrid object-oriented/relational database five years ago. They suggested it was in the future. EPLAN is there now.
Having an object-oriented database product design will allow the vendor to develop products for multi-discipline co-ordination. This will mean big benefits for all users.
As an example, EPLAN uses objects for all things. Sheets within a project typically have to be defined, such as Panel Layout, Multi-Line schematic, etc. There are specific properties that are associated with these pages which we will look at in the next two installments.
There are part numbers which define the actual vendor-specific product such as a relay or fuse block and can contain specific part attributes (voltage, current, available contacts, price, etc). Symbols are the graphical representation of standard electrical symbols, such as a three-phase motor and a three-pole fused disconnect.
And then there are devices, which are defined by having a device tag. A device can be made up of multiple symbols. A device can also be made up of multiple part numbers (called assemblies). This granularity allows the user to develop a spare parts list very easily and quickly.
Be aware that you can create drawings with normal AutoCAD-like methods, but without the benefits of the database-driven tools, including auto line numbering and automatic bills of materials, it defeats the purpose of migrating to intelligent design tools.
We will look at the components of EPLAN as a database-driven product in the next installment of Automation Software.

Jeremy Pollard is a 25-year veteran of the industrial automation industry. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and an educator in the field. Jeremy can be reached at jpollard@tsuonline.com.
PRODUCT SPECS:
Name: EPLAN Electric P8
Version: 1.8.5
Vendor: EPLAN (www.EPLAN.us)
Application: Electrical Computer Aided Engineering
Price: $1850.00 and up