Free electrical design software targets smaller users
RS Components has launched a free electrical design software package which, it says, will bring the benefits of design software to those not already using electrical CAD (computer-aided design) tools. The global launch of DesignSpark Electrical follows RS’ earlier free packages, DesignSpark PCB (which has had 230,000 activations since its launch in 2010) and DesignSpark Mechanical (which has had 175,000 activations since its launch in 2013).
RS has spent two years working on the new package, which has been developed by French-based Trace Software International and has similarities to Trace’s Elecworks electrical CAD software. Schneider Electric has contributed to the cost of developing the software, and 80,000 Schneider products are included in the 250,000 components that make up DesignSpark Electrical’s launch library. Schneider products are presented as the default when using the software, but users have the option of choosing items from other suppliers. The library will update itself automatically.
Peter Smith, who joined RS 2½ years ago to help develop the electrical CAD package, says that many potential users of such software – especially in SMEs – are put off by the high costs and complexity of existing packages, which are “cost-prohibitive” for many smaller users, and take too long to learn.
As a result, users often end up using non-specialist software such as Microsoft Visio or AutoCad. According to RS’ research, around two-thirds of electrical designers are not using “genuine” electrical CAD packages at the moment.
“Users are having to make do with unsatisfactory products,” Smith says, adding that this can slow down the design process and allow errors to creep in. “DesignSpark Electrical will bring truly functional electrical CAD to them, at no cost.”
Smith adds that RS is not competing with established providers such as Eplan. “DesignSpark Electrical is aimed at people who would not otherwise invest in electrical CAD,” he explains. RS is aiming for around 10,000 activations within 12 month of releasing the software.
According to RS, DesignSpark Electrical is a fully specified electrical CAD package that will save time and avoid errors when designing control panels, machinery and electrical systems. It offers schematic design, wiring line diagrams and 2D panel and cabinet layouts, and manages terminals and reports with data stored in an SQLite database, which is updated in real time.
Key functions of the new software include:
• Real-time cross-referencing and design validity checking to assure the quality of designs before the build stage. The software checks designs as it proceeds.
• Automation of tasks such as device and wire numbering, which can be re-sequenced to achieve logical ordering. (This alone could save “hours” per day, says Smith.)
• The ability to create accurate scaled 2D panel layouts to optimise panel sizes.
• Automated reports including a bills-of-materials (BOM) quote function that allows users to order parts from RS, quickly and easily.
A project manager allows users to open existing projects or to create new projects from templates containing a standard configuration along with project data and documents. The time-saving templates come with defaults such as units (metric, imperial), symbol libraries (IEC or ANSI), graphical options and more. Users can also create empty projects with no data or documents, which they configure before starting a project.
The software also contains a library that allows users to store elements of schemes, called macros. Subsystems can be selected, dragged and dropped into a macro browser window, where they are numbered and stored automatically, or can be customised. Once created, they are classified using filtering criteria and are available for use in any project, allowing re-use and upgrading of commonly used systems and subsystems.
Revision management keeps track of when documents are created or revised. Work can be shared either via hard-copies, or using an import/export function and generating a file in the PDF format or the DWG format used by other CAD programs. DesignSpark Electrical cannot import full drawings from other packages, but can import symbols and templates in the DWG format.
Help is available offline through help functions and tutorials, as well as online. There is also the option to access tutorials and videos via a browser.
The software supports a choice of 14 languages including English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional). Any two languages can be displayed simultaneously, which will help in multinational projects.
“The high cost and the learning time that is required of existing commercial electrical CAD tools have been major barriers to adoption for many companies,” says Glenn Jarrett, RS’ global head of product marketing. “Now, the introduction of the highly intuitive DesignSpark Electrical removes these cost barriers in a single stroke and passes on the key benefits of electrical CAD to all engineers, allowing them to design more quickly, accurately and effectively.”
RS and its partners will continue to develop DesignSpark Electrical. At present, the package doesn’t offer functions such as 3D design or heat calculations, but these may be added later. RS may also offer paid-for add-ons for the package, as it introduced recently for the DesignSpark Mechanical package.
DesignSpark Electrical is now available for free download and is accompanied by tutorials and support to help users get started.