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Hot-wired software

19 August 2014

Andy Pye visited EPLAN, the Rittal subsidiary which has been developing the electrical CAD software for over a quarter of a century. He found a totally different product to the one he last saw – probably the best part of a quarter of a century ago!

EPLAN boasts more than 40,000 users - from international corporations to sole traders. The product is based on the philosophy that the key to maximising productivity is to choose design tools that can be implemented throughout the entire engineering process. This saves an enormous amount of design time, improving productivity and ensuring project quality.

Unlike traditional CAD systems and CAE software, EPLAN can hold extensive amounts of engineering information in a central database. This facilitates the seamless data exchange throughout various engineering disciplines, including hydraulics, pneumatics, instrumentation and mechanical design, which, at the detailed engineering stage, use different systems and data formats.

Synchronising data via interfaces is at the heart of this process. So it is the customised interfaces to other CAD systems, PDM, PLM and ERP, which make the software stand out - see the sidebar for some definitions!

For example, in close collaboration with affiliated company Cideon Software, the newest member of the Friedhelm Loh Group, fully automatic data synchronisation between EPLAN Platform and SAP PLM and SAP ERP has now been realised. The integrated workflow between these leading systems supports controlled throughput from the initial design to production and through to delivery and maintenance.

The new direct EPLAN SAP integration enables the secure storage of projects in the SAP system, down to the exchange of parts lists and bills of materials. Additional advantages for companies include project data availability across departments, access controls through the SAP authorisation system, backup of older versions of projects, status and approval management, and accessibility of PDFs and other neutral formats for all SAP users. All of this is possible without an additional PDM system.

The interface makes it possible to link to customer orders and SAP project structures in maintenance and other SAP objects simply via drag and drop. This integrates EPLAN projects with subsequent SAP processes, but more importantly, it makes it easier for designers to find the SAP objects relevant to them via the pertinent EPLAN project. Integration into the SAP update service offers additional opportunities to manage historic status according to date or effective serial number in the EPLAN Platform environment.

Data portal

But perhaps the most exciting element of EPLAN is the data portal, which gives users access to a wealth of component information from over 60 prestigious manufacturers, including Siemens, Rockwell Automation and Phoenix Contact. Siemens offers one of the most extensive ranges of parts information – allowing users to access 12 CAx data types including dimension drawings, product master data and circuit diagrams.

The latest addition to the portal is GE's addition of 700 high voltage switchgear components. Murrelektronik have integrated field distributors, cables, protective devices, voltage sources and PLC components into the portal, allowing users to access over 270 records including 2D and 3D parts drawings. Phoenix Contact has added over 20,000 new parts, whilst B&R have added 2500 parts, including voltage sources, generators, PLC and plug connectors. The largest addition is American company Numatics, which has added over 100,000 fluid valve records.

Users can access the 377,000 device data at any time, from anywhere in the world. It is accessible online, via the EPLAN platform and through Data Portal application if using a mobile phone or tablet – thus making it easy and convenient to use.

The portal enables users to drag and drop up-to-date parts drawings into a project, thus significantly reducing design time and the chance of error.

To assist in project development, the portal provides technical specifications, ordering information, logical systems for design and graphical representations. This information can be directly integrated into EPLAN Fluid and Electric P8 to insert into electrical schematics or fluid diagrams. There is therefore no need to spend time searching through extensive product catalogues or creating the data manually, creating considerable time saving advantages.

All Those Acronyms (ATA)

PDM: Product Data Management is the use of software or other tools to track and control data related to a particular product. The data tracked usually involves the technical specifications of the product, specifications for manufacture and development, and the types of materials that will be required to produce goods. The use of PDM allows a company to track the various costs associated with the creation and launch of a product.

PLM: Product Lifecycle Management is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products. It thus goes beyond the basics of a CAD/CAM drawing. Whereas In practice, the terms PDM and PLM are often used interchangeably, and much PDM software (though not all) has evolved to cover all aspects of PLM.

ERP: Enterprise Resource Planning is business management software - usually a suite of integrated applications - that a company can use to collect, store, manage and interpret data from many business activities, including product planning, cost and development, manufacturing or service delivery, marketing and sales, inventory management, and shipping and payment.