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Checking under the bonnet

Electrical Engineering

11/04/2012

When selecting or working with electrical design software it’s worth ‘looking under the bonnet’ to be clear exactly what features are available. Philip Grace, Senior Support Engineer at Amtech, explains

How many times have you been using a piece of software and thought “I wish it did that, because it would make my life much easier”. Or perhaps you’ve been carrying out everyday tasks in a fairly laborious manner for ages, only to find that your software offered smarter ways of doing it but you just hadn’t realised they were there.

These are certainly experiences that many of us have had, and they emphasise the importance of understanding what particular software programs can and can’t do – ideally before you buy it. Purchasing software that only does half the job can be a very frustrating experience!

Even if you’ve already invested in software, it may be worth checking whether it can already do something you think would be helpful. Often a quick call to the technical support people will make you aware of features you didn’t know existed, with the potential to save a lot of time.

For example, if you’re designing a project you will probably design the whole scheme in your design software. So the schematic will include all of the key information such as cable sizes, busbars, loads, protective devices etc.

However, there is a strong likelihood that something will change with the project that will necessitate a change after you’ve completed the electrical design.

In many cases this may entail re-visiting the schematic to change a particular setting several times over.

In such cases, it can be very time-consuming to go back to each element to change them one at a time. Some software developers have recognised this and included a tool to speed up the whole process – but you have to know the feature exists (assuming it does in the software you are using). In our software, for example, it is called data entry spread control.

The way this works is that the data embedded in the schematic can be viewed in spreadsheet format, so that many of the data management tools found in spreadsheets can be applied to the design. Ideally, the information should be broken down into component types, each with its own tab. The settings available are generally the same as those in the cable, load details and motor details dialogs and are contained in the same tab pages.

In this way, all of the key information is visible and can be managed using spreadsheet features such as ‘sort’ and ‘filter’. This means that the components that are going to be subjected to the same change (e.g. cables that are to change length) can be selected together. They may be adjacent rows, so they can be selected with a ‘click and drag’, or by clicking the first row and shift-clicking the last row to select all the rows in between.

If they are not adjacent, multiple items can be selected by hold down the control key and clicking on each of the rows to be selected.

Once all of the selections have been made the required change can then be applied to all of them in a single action, thus eliminating the tortuous process of working through them individually.

This process can be repeated for every type of component that needs to be changed. Then, when those changes are saved they are represented in the schematic. Of course, it’s useful if the software flags up a warning when you are about to change multiple components, just in case. However, even if you do something wrong, the ‘undo’ feature in the spreadsheet will allow the original data to be restored one step at a time, up to 10 previous steps – so it’s difficult to go wrong.

This process can be used for all sorts of information. For instance, it may be necessary to change the cable type for armoured cable due to unanticipated factors on site. Again, the process described can be applied so that many changes are achieved in one action.

In fact, this is just one example of the sort of features found in some design software that can save a lot of time. So if you’re thinking of buying software it’s certainly worth taking the time to check that it’s going to do everything you want, rather than just some of it. And if you are already using design software it might be an idea to check just what it’s capable of; perhaps taking some extra training to maximise the return on your investment.

www.amtech.co.uk

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