AUTOMATION SOFTWARE – EPLAN E-CAE: Part 3
This final column on EPLAN P8 will hopefully tie-up any loose ends so that you can go forth and create a new paradigm for your company.
I must begin by saying that a client of mine, to whom I suggested investigate EPLAN, went on a training course for the software. Three days later, he came back loaded with stuff. “We are going to have to do things differently,” he said. I smiled, since I knew what he meant.
The biggest light bulb was the automation of which EPLAN is capable. He estimated that he could save more than 80 per cent of his drawing creation time, or be five times faster creating a drawing. I suspect that the drawing package for a project will come in more like 10 times faster! Here’s why.
The focus of a project is devices and how those devices connect in the system. For instance, a motor has a starter, isolation switch, overloads and auxiliary contacts. It will also (typically) have a PLC output and multiple PLC inputs associated with it.
Normally we would put the PLC I/O drawings together. This allows for a central depository. You can still do it this way, but EPLAN has developed a better way. A PLC I/O block allows you to define an I/O point and keep that I/O point with the device, where it should be. A drawing now shows the device wiring as well as the control and PLC interfacing on the same sheet.
PLC drawings can be automatically generated using the spreadsheet import and schematics can be automatically generated using an add-in module called the Schematic Generator. The user defines certain tasks as standard, then EPLAN adds the schematics to the current project. The generator can also produce drawings from data that you have entered into an Excel spreadsheet.
The enterprise benefits of EPLAN are very extensive. Being able to exchange data using standard Windows facilities such as ODBC, and with direct database interaction, allows the user to interact with EPLAN’s database, an ERP or CMMS database and even simpler operations such as PLC description databases. Complete export functions can let you use data in non-supported applications.
EPLAN supports the export of its data into 3D modeling systems. While this may be an interesting feature, the need for it isn’t obvious to me at this point.
Once you have your standards created and your normal project drawings identified, creating a project drawing set is fairly painless. The type of project you are doing will determine the contents of that drawing set.
Using a non-database-driven product (not mentioning any names!) will force you into creating scripts or, in fact, creating some of the contents manually. The only issues that you have to deal with in EPLAN are the parts database for your project and the device database. Once you have created these, the software needs to know how they are wired and where they are located on the panel back plate. And with built-in revision control, your life is easier, since any change can be tracked easily.
Once you have created those relationships, the automation of EPLAN really comes to life. Running the built-in reports turns a tedious task list into a coffee break. Refer to the list of the reports in the illustration above for more information.
All of the required project drawings such as terminal block layouts, cable/wire connection diagrams and wiring schedules are generated automatically – with a menu selection.
What happens if you add a PLC I/O module into the mix after the drawing set has been completed? An automatic re-numbering utility takes care of re-numbering the complete drawing set. This is also very helpful when you insert a page into the drawing set.
Drawing updates is easy when you change a vendor for a certain part. The as-builts don’t have to be affected, but if you are in the middle of a project and the delivery path forces you to change from vendor A to vendor B, you need to change it in the database. All references in the drawings are automatically updated, with the wire paths automatically updated as well.
The level of automation in EPLAN will allow the user to have more time to do the things that matter. Being able to generate a 50 page drawing set in a few days may be an exaggeration in the beginning, but not in the post-learning curve world – depending on the content, of course.
The new paradigm is here. While it may require a different view of drawing creation, think of it as more of an investment in productivity. It will pay off big time! I would suggest that you get a demo CD, then go to the training to really make an informed decision.
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 email@example.com.
Name: EPLAN Electric P8
Vendor: EPLAN (www.EPLAN.us)
Application: Electrical Computer Aided Engineering
Price: $1850.00 and up