HOME REFERENCES TIPS/TRICKS LINKS CONTACT
Electrical Computer-Aided Design Consulting Headquarters
Doug McAlexander, Inc.
Certified Autodesk AutoCAD Electrical Expert Elite
Tips and Tricks
Pre-paid phone/e-mail/video support contracts available (contact us with a question and receive a phone call, e-mail, or video with a detailed step-by-step answer)
This page includes some "freebies" to give you an idea of the kind of support you can expect from our pre-paid plan.
(Press your browser's Back button to return to this page)
INDEX (click text to advance to area of interest)
12 easy steps to creating your own custom "smart" border template for AutoCAD® Electrical
1. Develop the basic border drawing for your company. Type ATTDEF at the command prompt to insert attributes. Insert attributes with tag names such as SHEET, TOTALSHEETS, DESC1, DESC2, DESC3, REV, DWGNO, etc., setting such properties as text height, width factor, justification etc.
2. Create a project called Border_Template. Don't worry about putting any drawings in it. Inside the Border Template folder create a new text file named Border_Template_wdtitle.wdl. Note: AutoCAD® Electrical searches the project folder first for either PROJECTNAME_wdtitle.wdl or default_wdtitle.wdl. If neither is found in the project folder it will search the User folder for default_wdtitle.wdl. This WDL file controls the language of the prompts you get when you right click a project name in the Project Manager and select Descriptions to enter the project line label data. The default is LINE1, LINE2, etc. The syntax for this file is as follows:
Understanding the differences between AutoCAD® and AutoCAD® Electrical
Project-in-Project solutions for AutoCAD® Electrical
Quite often I need to assign a different document number to the various types of drawings in a project. For example, the schematic must be a unique document number with unique data in the title block, including page numbering that applies only to the pages that make up the schematic. I must also have a unique Document Number, Drawn By, Checked By, etc. for the panel layout, the wire list, and the bill-of-materials. After all, on a large scale project, these might each be created by different designers.
But I still need the intelligent connectivity between the schematic, panel layout, wire list, and BOM for editing purposes, and for a "global" view of the entire project. This can be accomplished within the Project Manager of AutoCAD® Electrical without any custom programming.
Create your master project with all necessary drawings, as usual. Next create another project for schematic drawings only, placing its respective .WDP file inside the same folder as the master project.WDP file. Hint: Keep all drawings in the master project folder. Right click the schematic only project and select Add Drawings. Add only the schematic drawings to this project. Repeat this procedure again for the panel layout, and again for the wire list, and finally for the bill-of-materials.
You now have one master project for performing master level edits and updates. But you also have 4 individual "sub-projects" which you can activate to perform a title block update, allowing each of these "sub-projects" to have its own unique project line label data (i.e. Document Number, Job Number, Drawn By, Checked By, Date, Revision, etc.). You can activate each "sub-project", right-click over it in Project Manager, and edit the Description lines to be unique for each "sub-project". Execute a separate Title Block Update for each "sub-project". See the screen shot below:
In the next screen image you will see the master project that already existed and the two sub-projects that Super Project Manager added to Project Manager. I can edit the entire project using the master project, for bi-directional updates, project-wide operations, etc. But I also have a separate project for the schematic which allows me to enter different project line label information and run a separate title block update, so the schematic can have unique page numbering, a unique document number, and unique description text. The same is true for the panel layout. I can also create sub-projects for the wire list, bill-of-materials, etc. and do the same for them.
Creating a preferred vendor parts catalog for AutoCAD® Electrical
When you share the vendor catalog (default_cat.mdb) across a network it is normal to experience a slower response time when performing a part number Lookup. This is due to network traffic/latency. The search-interval, or seek-time, for a part Lookup is also affected by the size of the default_cat.mdb file. The more manufacturers you select during the installation process, the larger the default_cat.mdb file, resulting in a slower seek-time.
There is an alternate method you can use if you would like to have access to all manufacturers from time to time but would also like to work from a smaller "preferred" list of manufacturer parts. First, make a copy of the default_cat.mdb file (normally located in the Catalogs folder) and rename the copy to complete_cat.mdb. Next use MS Access® to edit the default_cat.mdb and remove all manufacturers and/or part numbers you will never use. If you never use AB, then remove AB parts from all component tables (i.e. CR, LT, SS, PB, etc.). Note: If you know you will never us AB parts, do not select the AB checkbox from the manufacturer's list when installing AutoCAD® Electrical. Only check the boxes for the manufacturers you will actually use.
Once the catalog database is trimmed down to only your preferred manufacturer parts the seek-time for a Lookup will be less. The next thing to do is to right-click on your project name and select Properties. Click the button labeled "Other", then click on the radio button labeled "Optional: Define a secondary catalog lookup file for this project." Browse to the complete_cat.mdb file. OK out of all the dialog boxes.
With the "trimmed down" default_cat.mdb you should experience a faster response when performing a part number Lookup. Anytime you need a part number from the complete catalog, click the "Other" button from within the Lookup dialog (version 2010 and previous) and follow the prompts to temporarily switch to the complete catalog. For version 2011 or later click the arrow in the field labeled as Database and select the Secondary File.
Understanding the enhanced catalog number Lookup capabilities of AutoCAD® Electrical version 2011
Version 2011 of AutoCAD® Electrical includes significant enhancements to the part number (a.k.a. catalog) Lookup tool. When you click Lookup you will see that the top left box under Catalog is blank. Click in this box and start typing a part number. The results in the window below will begin to narrow down according to what you type in. You can perform similar filtering for other columns, such as Description, Miscellaneous, etc. You can drag and drop fields left or right to order them according to your needs. You can also right-click above any field name and uncheck the box for any fields you wish to hide.
Hint: You can also type a portion of a part number into the Search Database field using an asterisk (*) for a wildcard. Then click the magnifier icon to begin the search. This will search across family tables so it is possible to select a part from the TRMS (terminals) table and assign it to a fuse, for example a fuse holder style terminal.
Understanding some of the various support files used by AutoCAD® Electrical
AutoCAD® Electrical obtains some of its functional rules from simple text files called support files. Most of the files are discussed in detail in the Help system built into AutoCAD® Electrical. The fact is that some files can be located in more than one location, depending upon the user. For example, the main parts catalog is the default_cat.mdb file, located by default at My Documents\AcadE 2008\Catalogs. You could copy this file to a specific project folder and rename it to
You could take a similar approach with the default.wdw file, normally located at C:\Documents and Settings\Doug McAlexander\Application Data\Autodesk\AutoCAD Electrical 2008\R17.1\enu\Support\User. Move this file to a specific project folder and modify as necessary to force the naming convention for wire color/gauge labels.
Another file in the User folder that might be modified for use with a specific project is the default_wdtitle.wdl file. This file controls the project line label prompts that you see when you right-click on a project name and select Descriptions. The one that installs by default will most likely need to be modified to meet your needs. If you use different title blocks, perhaps customer-specific, you may need to place a
If you choose to use the User Defined Attributes functionality AutoCAD® Electrical will create a
The bottom line is that AutoCAD® Electrical looks first inside the project folder for these files before it will use a default file from the User folder. During a project copy you will see a list of support files that AutoCAD® Electrical will search for. If any are found they are checked by default, assuming that you will want to copy them as well. You can uncheck if you wish not to copy the project specific support files.
There is one particular support file that I find particularly useful. You create this one yourself. It is a simple text file that you create and name wd_fam.dat. This file, if found in the project folder, will cause AutoCAD® Electrical to ignore the standard component tag designation found in the default field of the TAG1 attribute of a component symbol file. Instead it will use an alternate tag designation, as listed in the wd_fam.dat file. For example, if you are using JIC symbols but wish to have switches tagged with their IEC/ISO-81346 equivalent, you might have entries in the wd_fam.dat file like this:
According to the list above, selector switches (SS), push-buttons (PB), limit switches (LS), and thermal switches (TS), will all be tagged as S, in complaince with IEC/ISO-81346.
Note: The wd_fam.dat file is functional during component insertion and during retag operations.
Understanding some of the optional symbol attributes used by AutoCAD® Electrical
AutoCAD® Electrical does not interpret the graphical appearance of a symbol. The data stored in various attributes within the symbol gives AutoCAD® Electrical the information it needs to interpret what kind of symbol it is and what to do with it.
The CONTACT attribute may have a value of NO, NC, or NCNO for example. This tells AutoCAD® Electrical whether the contact is to be treated as a normally-open (NO), normally-closed (NC), or Form-C (NCNO a.k.a. change-over contact). See example below:
In the example screen image the solenoid symbol on the schematic has a TAG value of SOL2501 and a WDTAGALT value of FV100B. This signifies that the solenoid has a cross-peer symbol tagged as FV100B that is the pneumatic equivalent symbol representing the same solenoid. The pneumatic symbol would have a TAG value of FV100B and a WDTAGALT value of SOL2501.
This peer-to-peer relationship tagging indicates that two different symbols represent the same device. There is a method for creating these peer-to-peer tags in the Electrical Helps under Advanced Productivity, but you can simply click the Show/Edit Miscellaneous button on the Insert/Edit dialog of a solenoid or pneumatic valve symbol and enter the tag name for the related symbol directly if you wish.
Understanding the WDBLKNAM attribute in AutoCAD® Electrical
Allow me to clarify one issue that has confused many of us. It involves the WDBLKNAM attribute. You don't normally need a WDBLKNAM attribute to send the Lookup command to the appropriate table for schematic symbols, such as the CR table for a control relay. The Lookup operation looks at the 2nd and 3rd character in the symbol file name to determine what table to look in. If you wish to override this and direct the Lookup to open a different table, you can enter the alternate table name in the WDBLKNAM attribute, preceded by an underscore. Note: AutoCAD® Electrical ignores the first character in the WDBLKNAM attribute value so you must enter some value as a placeholder. I use the underscore character.
To further illustrate this let's consider the terminal-block-style SPDT relays as an example. The catalog data might actually be located in the TRMS table, along with other similar devices from the same supplier, like terminal blocks, fuse holders, etc. You could add a WDBLKNAM attribute to the HCR1 and VCR1 relay symbol blocks and enter a value of _TRMS to redirect the Lookup to the TRMS table. I would prefer to create an alternate relay coil symbol and add _TRMS to the symbol file name in order to differentiate it from the standard relay symbols. This way I only look into the TRMS table when the relay coil is a terminal block style relay. So I would copy HCR1.dwg, rename it to HCR1_TRMS.dwg, and add the WDBLKNAM attribute with a value of _TRMS. I would also copy VCR1, rename it to VCR1_TRMS, and add the WDBLKNAM attribute with a value of _TRMS. See illustration below:
Managing auxiliary contacts with AutoCAD® Electrical
Suppose you have a contactor that is available with or without aux contacts. There are two ways to approach this. You can simply enter the L1/T1, L2/T2, and L3/T3 pins in the Pin List Database and consider the auxiliary contact pin numbers as something you assign manually when used. Or you might permanently add the aux pins to the end of the Pin List for the contactor, making them automatically available as needed, as illustrated in the following screen shot of the Pin List Database edit dialog.
Adding auxiliary contacts to the BOM on an as-needed basis with the ASSEMBLYCODE
Suppose you have a contactor that you sometimes add a normally-open auxiliary contact to, or a normally-closed contact, or both, on an as-needed basis. Enter an assembly list value of NOAUX in the record for the NO aux contact. Enter NCAUX for the assembly list value of the NC aux contact. Don't add the assembly code to the main part in the catalog database. You will enter it "on-the-fly" as needed. When you insert or edit the main part, type in NOAUX in the ASSEMBLYCODE field if you want a NO aux contact added, type NCAUX if you want a NC aux contact added. Type NOAUX;NCAUX into the ASSEMBLYCODE field for the main part if you want both. You can even add a quantity if you prefer more than one of either. For example, NOAUX;2,NCAUX will get one NO aux contact and 2 NC aux contacts. I like playing with assembly codes. We explore all options in my training to cover the various scenarios, such as with this contactor scenario. A sample screen shot from my training course is attached.
Using the Fan-in/Fan-out feature to document cables and cable cores
I have my own way of using Fan-in/Fan-out to document cables and cable cores. I document the cable cores and then sum into one line, passing the cable to another page and breaking it back out again into individual cable cores. The Fan-in/Fan-out supports my method, but my particular workflow isn't covered in Help. First, insert the wires that will be summed into one line. You can assign them to a specific wire type layer as desired, but if they will be summed into a cable, I recommend creating a wire type called Cable Conductor and assign the wires to this layer/type. When you insert cable markers, they will define the cable core color or number. You can insert the cable markers either before of after you insert the fan-in/fan-out source or destination. After the fan-in/fan-out symbols are inserted, the wire type on the side that will be summed into one line will be assigned to layer _MULTI_WIRE. Connect these _MULTI_WIRE segments to one plain drafting line and assign this line to layer _MULTI_WIRE. You can use a Fillet at the join point if you wish. Hint: You can use Match Properties to copy the layer assignment from one of the _MULTI_WIRE segments. If the _MULTI_WIRE must break and continue at another location, use Stand-alone Cross-references at the break points, because standard Source and Destination arrows will not function with the _MULTI_WIRE layer. The attached screen shots, from my advanced training course, illustrate my method.
AutoCAD® Electrical allows the Schematic to also serve as a Wiring Diagram
I like it when the same documentation that was used to build it can be used to troubleshoot it. When the schematic is also a wiring diagram it is easier to understand the route a wire takes. For example, think of a 14AWG wire branching off from a main circuit breaker to feed a control circuit. There is also a 10AWG wire connected to the breaker from a main disconnect on the door. If I use a dot (the typical schematic only approach) I am only showing the panel shop, or the troubleshooting technician, that the branch wire is connected to the same node as the wire from the disconnect to the breaker. That's fine if I only want to know the electrical potential on the wire, or if I am analyzing the logic of the circuit. (see example below)
But what if my production line is down and I am trying to trace the wires during troubleshooting? Did they use a wire-nut, or is the dot a solder joint? Maybe it's a terminal block? Which wire-ways do I uncover to trace the wire? Does the wire cross the door hinge and connect to the main disconnect or does it connect to the circuit breaker on the mounting plate? Our European friends would use an angled wire symbol on the schematic to make it clear that the branch wire is connected to the breaker, along with the wire from the main disconnect. (see example below)
Using AutoCAD® Electrical to create a power bus from terminal blocks
So you wish to create a power bus by installing a jumper-bar down the middle a terminal strip. The following is the method I have used since 1997 and it works perfectly. It has been further enhanced since the introduction of the Terminal Strip Editor (a.k.a. TSE). This method applies to either vertical or horizontal power rails. In this example I will use a standard ladder diagram. Insert the ladder and rungs as usual. Replace the ambiguous node dots with terminal block symbols, since your power rail is actually made up of terminal blocks; not solder joints, wire-nuts, or a daisy-chain of wire. Open the Create/Edit Wire Type dialog and add a new wire type named JUMPER or JUMPER-BAR if you prefer. Use Change/Convert Wire Type to assign all segments of wire between the terminal block symbols to the layer named JUMPER or JUMPER-BAR. This takes care of the schematic portion of the power bus. Easy isn't it? The JUMPER or JUMPER-BAR layer will still be considered a current carrying conductor, as it truly is, and will even pass along the wire number (a.k.a. node number) to other connected devices. But it will not appear in the From/To List as a wire that must be connected. Note: AutoCAD® Electrical is programmed not to include a wire type (layer) with the word JUMPER anywhere in its name when it creates a wire From/To List. The illustration below shows the JUMPER-BAR layer assigned to the vertical rails (shown in magenta color). Use any color that would not be confused with your wiring standard. I chose magenta since I have no magenta wires in the system.
There you have it. The terminal strip in your panel layout appears the way it will appear in the actual panel. You can insert balloons as needed and since the jumper-bar symbol has an ITEM attribute it will be reported on the parts list (a.k.a. BOM) as a separate device.
How to define a feed-through terminal block with 3 connection points, 2 on one side and one on the other side.
I insert 3 terminal symbols into the drawing and connect them to one another with a wire layer named JUMPER-BAR, as shown below.
I click on Add/Modify Associations to define each of these terminal symbols as represeting the various levels of one block.
Terminal Strip Editor always shows two physical sides of a terminal, as left and right, simply because that is how the interface dialog was designed. At the time it was designed, there was no consideration of spring-clamp terminals where there could be 3, 4, or 5 wire connections, all pushed in from the top.
Note: There is a request posted to the idea station to enhance the TSE interface to allow us to define the maximum number of wires for each individual connection, left and right. Please vote for this idea at http://forums.autodesk.com/t5/autocad-electrical-ideastation/terminal-properties-database/idi-p/5431759 if you would like to see it implemented. I would envision the terminal properties and the TSE interface could be enhanced such that we could define the number of wires per connection for each connection, left and right, and thus the interface would gray out the areas where no wire could be connected.
How to get AutoCAD® Electrical subassembly parts into the BOM with unique item numbers
Starting with version 2009 of AutoCAD® Electrical you can assign an item number to parts listed in the Multiple Catalog list for a component symbol. Take for example a 1794-TB3 terminal board for A-B Flex I/O modules. This part may appear as a multiple catalog item under several "master parts", such as 1794-IB16, 1794-IR8, etc. AutoCAD® Electrical 2009 normally displays all Multiple Catalog items beneath each master part they are associated with. This is because AutoCAD® Electrical is reasoning that you want to see all components associated with each unique component Tag. But with a Tallied Purchase List Format you prefer a simple sum total tally of all parts, according to item number. You would not want to see 1794-TB3 listed in the BOM more than once, under each Flex I/O module. In fact you only want to see each Item number listed once on the BOM. AutoCAD® Electrical 2009 and 2010 will list each subassembly part beneath its master, even if you select a Tallied Purchase List Format. For example if the 1794-IB16 is item number 76 and the 1794-TB3 is item number 77, entered into the Multiple Catalog list for the 1794-IB16, you would see them listed together, and that would seem right. But then your 1794-IR8 might be item number 78 and in its Multiple Catalog list would be item number 77 again, because the 1794-TB3 is listed as a Multiple Catalog part under the 1794-IR8 as well as under the 1794-IB16.
I will share with you how I have gotten around this issue during the years that I have been using AutoCAD® Electrical. I have had this scenario with fuses and fuse holders, control relays and their bases and clips, and with such parts as the 1794-TB3 Flex I/O terminal board.
Forget using Assembly Codes or Multiple Catalog. These will not provide the report format you seek. There are two alternative approaches:
1. Insert a Generic Marker from the Panel Layout>Insert Footprint>Manual menu.
A Generic Marker is basically a footprint with attributes, but no geometry. You will see the MFG and CAT attributes that you assign, but no geometry. Hint: You can manually type in the tag of the master part this item goes with if you want it to be a "surf-able" entity associated with the master part. I place the Generic Marker above or below by Flex I/O footprint. The footprint looks like a Flex I/O module plugged into a 1794-TB3 terminal board. So the master part number is assigned to the footprint. I then insert a Generic Marker above or below the Flex I/O footprint and assign MFG as AB and CAT as 1794-TB3. I manually type in the Tag assignment of the master that this 1794-TB3 is associated with. The quantity should be 1. Be sure to assign an Item Number. I will insert a Generic Marker next to each of the Flex I/O footprints. Each will have a different Tag assignment but will carry the same MFG, CAT, and ITEM assignment. This will result in one sum total listing for all 1794-TB3 boards, regardless of the master part they are associated to. In the image below you see a Generic Marker located directly above the Flex I/O module. What appears to be simple text is a fully functional, non-graphic, footprint which captures the MFG and CAT to order the 1794-TB3 terminal board for the Flex I/O module directly beneath it.
How to use Footprints created with plain "vanilla" AutoCAD®
You can use existing "dumb" footprint blocks "as-is" if you wish. AutoCAD® Electrical has a group of blocks at the root level of the Panel folder that contain various types of attributes, according to the type of component the footprint represents. Use the Footprint Database File Editor to associate your footprint with the MFG, CAT, and optional ASSYCODE combination that should trigger insertion of this footprint. When you choose this component using the Insert Footprint from Schematic List method AutoCAD® Electrical will merge the appropriate block from the Panel folder into the footprint on insert, so the attribute data from the schematic symbol will have a bucket to be dumped into. When AutoCAD® Electrical resorts to this "merge-in" method the attributes are inserted at the base point of the footprint. You can use the Move/Show Attribute command to reposition the attribute(s). Below is an example of a contactor footprint block that has no attributes. During the Insert Footprint from Schematic List process AutoCAD® Electrical added the needed attributes using the "merge-in" blocks from the Panel folder.
Representing 1-pole and 3-pole fuses with the same Footprint
3-pole fuse symbols inserted from the Icon Menu use a special command trigger called wd_3unit. This command trigger actually inserts a "parent" fuse symbol (i.e. HFU1) followed by two "child" fuse symbols (i.e. HFU2, adapting to virtually any wire spacing. Electrical then automatically joins the three separate fuse symbols together with a dashed link line to give the appearance of a 3-pole fuse. Disconnect Switches and Circuit Breakers are handled much the same way. This is appropriate because the other two poles of a circuit breaker or disconnect are actually molded into the same package as the first pole. However, the difference between a 1-pole fuse and a 3-pole fuse is the fuse holder. Each of the 3 fuses are therefore represented by a parent symbol, which includes the MFG and CAT attributes needed to store the catalog data.
We cannot edit the Footprint Database and create a permanent relationship between one fuse part number and separate 1-pole, 2-pole, and 3-pole footprints. So how do I handle this? The following is a brief expanation of how I teach this in my Admin-level Training course. I have the class use one fuseholder footprint that includes the graphic for a single fuse and its fuse holder, just as they would appear together in the panel. In the Footprint Database, I have the class create an entry for the fuse part number that calls up this single pole footprint. What I teach the class to do is select all 3 fuses at once when they insert from the Schematic List to their panel layout. Next I have the class use the Uniform Spacing option and specify the left-to-right spacing between each footprint symbol so the three fuse holder footprints insert next to one another, yet appear as though they are one 3-pole fuse holder. With this approach one footprint suffices for all three fuses, yet it appears as though it is a 3-pole fuse holder. This same approach will work for 2-pole fuses.
So how do we enter the part number for the 3-pole fuse holder? In our class project we add the 3-pole fuse holder as a Multiple Catalog entry for the first fuse symbol only and we do not allow the update to update the other two fuses. Bonus: Set the Project Properties for per-part-basis and you can assign a separate Item number to the fuse holder. The balloon insertion tool will detect the fuse holder and its Item number assignment and insert an additional balloon. Note: Be sure and select the first fuse footprint for balloon, the one with the fuse holder entry, so both item numbers are detected.
The image below illustrates the final result of my approach:
Adding a 4-Pole Circuit Breaker to the Icon Menu
3-pole device symbols inserted from the Icon Menu use a special command trigger called wd_3unit. This actually inserts a "parent" symbol (i.e. HCB1) and two "child" symbols (i.e. HCB2, adapting to virtually any wire spacing. Electrical then automatically joins the three separate symbols together with a dashed link line to give the appearance of a 3-pole device. Disconnect Switches and multi-pole Fuses are handled much the same way.
You can use the wd_3unit command trigger to create 4-pole, 5-pole, etc. symbols, but you must enter the parent name and each necessary child. The wd_3unit command trigger only needs the name of the parent symbol to insert a 3-pole device symbol. It then searches the active library for the same symbol name as the parent symbol, but with a "2" as the 4th character of the symbol name, instead of "1". It inserts two of these child symbols onto the next available wires or rungs in the direction specified by the user, thus dynamically adjusting for virtually any wire or rung spacing. If you want to add a 4-pole circuit breaker to the menu, click on Icon Menu Wizard from the Other Tools panel of the Schematic menu tab. Select the library you wish to edit. Navigate to the Circuit Breakers and Disconnects submenu. Click on the button labeled Add at the top right-hand side of the Icon Menu Wizard dialog and choose the Command option. Type in a name (i.e. 4 Pole Circuit Breaker). Hint: You can create an icon image from a previously inserted 4-Pole Circuit Breaker that was perhaps inserted as a 3-pole with a 2nd+ child symbol added afterwards. You might also just leave the icon image field blank and wait until you insert your new 4-pole symbol. You can always come back to the Icon Menu Wizard, right-click on your 4 Pole Circuit Breaker symbol, select Properties, and edit it to add an icon image by zooming to the inserted symbol on your drawing.
Finally, you need to enter the wd_3unit command trigger code. If you want the wd_3unit command trigger to insert anything other than one parent and two children, you will need to specify the parent and each child. In the field labeled Command type in wd_3unit HCB1 HCB2 HCB2 HCB2 (see image below). Click OK to save and exit the Icon Menu Wizard. Insert your new 4 Pole Circuit Breaker. The wd_3unit command trigger will prompt you for the insertion point of symbol HCB1 (VCB1 if on vertical wires), then it will prompt you for the direction in which it should look for wires for the child symbols. It will insert the 3 child symbols (HCB2 or VCB2) onto the next available wires, and all 4 symbols will ultimately be joined by a dashed link line.
Toggling between Standard Footprints and Wiring-Diagram-Style Footprints
You can toggle between standard footprints and wiring diagram style footprints by clicking the arrow at the bottom of the Insert Footprint from Schematic List dialog. This instructs Electrical to look for a table named for the manufacturer, but ending in _WD. You have to create these tables yourself. Simply Add a new Manufacturer to the Footprint Database and type _WD after their name. When you select to Use Wiring Diagram Tables, Electrical will look for a table in the Footprint Database named for the manufacturer but ending in _WD. You already have an AB table for standard footprints. You can Create a New Table named AB_WD and store the path to wiring-diagram-style footprints in this table. We do a complete exercise for setting this up as part of my Advanced Training Course. It's a nice but often overlooked feature of Electrical. The image below illustrates me adding AB_WD to the Footprint Database
How to add more DIN rails and wireways to the AutoCAD® Electrical DIN rail menu
The parameters for inserting dynamically built DIN rails and wireways are stored in a spreadsheet file located in the Catalogs subfolder. The file is named wddinrl.xls. Autodesk, Inc. ships the software with a few preloaded DIN rails and wireways, but you can add your favorites to the list. To add a new wireway, copy an existing one and change the value of the MFG, CAT, ASSYCODE, DESC, and RAILWID cells. The screen image below shows where I added two Thomas and Betts wireways. HINT: Add additional DIN rails using the same method but be sure to edit the extra cells for rail length, rail center, slot locations, etc.
Sharing AutoCAD® Electrical across a network
To share AutoCAD® Electrical design files with other users over a network simply copy the AeData folder, and all its subfolders, from My Documents\Acade 2011 (or whatever version you have) to your network drive. Next, right-click at the command line prompt and select Options. Add this new network path to the Support File Search path and move it to the top. Exit AutoCAD® Electrical. Note: It will be necessary to rename the local AeData folder on all of the computers in your group to prevent AutoCAD® Electrical from using the original. Even though you add the new path to the AeData folder on the network to the top of the Support File Search Path, AutoCAD® Electrical will still use the original AeData folder located in My Documents path if found. I usually rename the local one to AeData_Local. In the case of a laptop that you travel with, you can rename the AeData_Local folder to AeData again when you travel and no longer have access to the network. Hint: Be sure to keep your local libraries and databases up to date with the ones on the network, so you have the latest data. You can simply copy the files from the network folders to their matching local folders and overwrite.
When AutoCAD® Electrical finds the AeData folder on the network it will then be able to locate Catalogs, PLCs, Proj (projects), and the WD.ENV file, so everyone will be sharing the same design environment. Note: Starting with release 2014, there is an extra folder in the AeData path for the language. The folder for the United States of America is en-us. In order for the databases and PLC content to be available, you will need to add the path for the Catalogs folder and the PLC folder. These are located below the AeData folder you moved to your network. Position them as shown below:
List of Family Codes used by AutoCAD® Electrical
These Family Codes correspond to the table names found in the default_cat.mdb database file. When you click Lookup to assign a part number to a component, AutoCAD® Electrical looks at the 2nd and 3rd character in the edited symbol's file name (a.k.a. block name) and opens the corresponding table inside the catalog database. This is the first level of filtering used during a part number assignment Lookup.
Naming Convention for Parametric PLC Blocks used by AutoCAD® Electrical
AutoCAD® Electrical allows you to insert a PLC parametrically, as one complete symbol, or you can choose to break the PLC up into smaller sections, even as small as one I/O or terminal point per insertion. The PLC modules are defined in the PLC database. There are 40 symbol blocks available for each PLC style. These blocks are inserted in order, top to bottom, as defined in the PLC database.
There are blocks for the module information, inputs, outputs, terminal points, unused connections, etc. Usually, no more than 3 to 5 blocks are needed to compile a parametrically built PLC. The inputs will most likely be the same block used multiple times. For example, you will usually start with a Module Information Block, which can also be an Input, Output, or Unused wire connection. Next you define the rest of the I/O points, usually the same block for each, and finally terminal points for the power connections. The image below illustrates an Allen-Bradley 1746-IB8 PLC input module that is built using 3 of the 40 blocks available for whichever style is defined in Drawing Properties. At the top is a block that will display module information and includes the first input point with wiring expected from the left. This is followed by 7 additional inputs with wiring expected from the left. And finally, there are two terminal points for ground/return with wiring expected from the right. After all of the defined blocks have been inserted, these individual blocks are automatically compiled into one block.
Converting from promis-e to AutoCAD Electrical
Click Here View/Print a PDF which outlines the seps involved to convert a promis-e project so it is compatible with AutoCAD Electrical.
Note that this utility only converts legacy promis-e projects, prior to version V8i.
AutoCAD® Electrical IEC tag mode (Combined Installation/Location tag mode) explained
IEC tag mode (Combined Installation/Location tag mode) causes AutoCAD® Electrical to view the Installation code and Location code as part of the overall component tag. There is no need for IEC tag mode with ladder diagrams and JIC symbols if you are not going to utilize the Installation and Location code fields. However, I happen to prefer IEC tag mode even for ladder diagrams and JIC symbols, for two main reasons:
1. The Insert/Edit Components dialog makes more sense with the project set for IEC tag mode. The layout of the Insert/Edit Component dialog normally has the Installation and Location codes at the bottom middle of the dialog, away from the Tag field. However, the installation and location concept originated in Europe and is common in DIN/IEC drawings in order to differentiate between components that might have the same tag but are located in a different panel. Thus the hierarchy is Installation-Location-Component Tag. The Insert/Edit Component dialog for IEC tag mode is laid out as shown in the illustration below:
To set up IEC tag mode simply right-click over the project name in the Project Manager and select Properties. Click on the Components tab and set the check boxes as shown below:
2. The second reason I prefer IEC tag mode is to differentiate between components in field panels that are tagged the same. For example, let's say you have a common junction box that you use for each of your motors. The junction box is mass produced for you and contains a terminal strip tagged as TB1 and a disconnect switch tagged as DS1. See the illustration below:
Without the IEC tag mode (Combined Installation/Location tag mode) engaged the Electrical Audit routine in AutoCAD® Electrical would detect two terminal strips tagged as TB1 and two disconnect switches tagged as DS1 and report an error. But with IEC tag mode engaged Electrical Audit correctly interprets these as two separate terminal strips and two separate disconnect switches because it considers the Installation and Location values as part of the component tag.
Hint: Check the box next to the option labeled "Format Installation/Location into tag" if you wish to have the Installation and Location codes appear in line with the tag. If so I suggest using brief abbreviations for the INST and LOC codes. For example =LINE1+MAIN-1K1 indicates an Installation of LINE1, a location of MAIN, and relay K1 on sheet 1. This is typical IEC tagging. The equal sign (=) denotes Installation code, the plus sign (+) denotes Location code, and the dash (-) denotes component tag. Typical IEC drawings are assigned a default Installation and Location code that appears in the title block of each drawing/page. It is understood that all components on the drawing are in this Installation/Location unless otherwise noted. The exceptions are usually surrounded by a dashed box called a Location Box in AutoCAD® Electrical. If you prefer to suppress the Installation/Location portion of the component tags that match the drawing/page defaults, check the box labeled "Suppress Installation/Location in tag when match drawing default".
The origin of the JIC symbols that ship with AutoCAD® Electrical
I travel across America and other parts of the world teaching AutoCAD® Electrical. I can tell you that, in general, the standard is no standard. I wish that were not the case. In Europe they follow an established standard called IEC almost to the letter, no matter where you go. However in America, it is as if no standards exist. I have seen control relays tagged as CR, MCR, R, RC, and a unique tag for each relay, according to its function in that particular machine. I've been using AutoCAD® Electrical since 1997. The JIC symbols in AutoCAD® Electrical appeared to inherit the most common tagging schemes seen around the U.S., most of which do match published standards, the chief being JIC. The Joint Industrial Council (JIC) dissolved by the 1980s so the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was asked to take over. The NFPA released NFPA-79 which incorporated the JIC standards with some updates. Note: AutoCAD Electrical release 2013 includes an NFPA symbol library.
First let us understand that there was never an intention to supply an exhaustive symbol library with AutoCAD® Electrical or its predecessors. The JIC symbol set that shipped with the program was intended to serve as a sample of simple symbols in common use at the time. The developers never expected the sample symbols to be perfect for everyone. In fact it was expected that customers would add to and/or modify them according to their own preferences. The "Black Box Builder", later renamed to "Symbol Builder" was intended to be used for this purpose. The JIC symbol set is mostly limited to 2-wire devices, similar to the list of common symbols referenced in the standards. The user was expected to create their own application specific symbols, especially symbols with numerous wire connections, since the preferred orientation and location of the wire connections could vary from user to user.
What you see with AutoCAD® Electrical, and its predecessors, is an attempt to supply the common building blocks of any control system, such as pilot lights, push-buttons, selector switches, fuses, circuits breakers, control transformers, terminal blocks, etc. With such common symbols the most commonly accepted tagging formats in use at the time were incorporated into the predecessor of AutoCAD® Electrical. While most of these class designations (a.k.a Tags or Device IDs) match the JIC standards there are some variations. I have coined the term technical colloquialisms when referring to these variances. For example, back in the JIC days some designers would designate a disconnect switch as "DS" while others would use "DISC", in accordance with the JIC standard. Some designers used "TD" to designate a time-delay relay while others would use the JIC designation of "TR". The class designation "D" was often used to designate a rectifier diode while the JIC standard called for a designation of "REC". Another example of a technical colloquialism is the term "wire number". It is actually an electrical "node" number or "potential" number. We have a colloquialism associated with ladders as well. Is it really a 1-phase ladder when you use L1 and L2? The term single-phase technically refers to a power source derived from a single "hot" phase and neutral.
The developers were tasked with creating an electrical design tool that allows us to design highly sophisticated machinery, yet the tool itself must be as intuitive as possible so the designer doesn't lose himself/herself in learning the tool. Thus it appears that the developers chose to incorporate common terminology and common practices into the software, not an absolute adherence to a certain standard. Again, back in the days when AutoCAD® Electrical was created the standard practice in the U.S. was more of an "every man for himself" standard.
Consider this: Where did we get the standard for using blue wire for D.C. control voltage? It is a “defacto” standard derived from the common practices at automobile manufacturers. Since automobile manufacturers were among the first to incorporate sophisticated control systems, their common practices became a “defacto” standard. Once in a while I run across someone who uses red for DC(+) and black for DC(-).
Don't assume that the major corporations are following standards to a proverbial “T”. One of the oldest and most recognizable electrical companies, known throughout the world, uses component tags on a "circuit-function" basis. Note: This practice is actually allowed according to Annex E.1 of the NFPA-79 standard. Each time this customer inserts a symbol they manually enter its tag, according to the component’s use within the machine. Thus no two relays will necessarily have the same tagging format. One may be RM12 while another is TM42, and another is KC14. This approach makes use of NFPA-79 Annex E.1, where the class designation of the relay indicates its specific function within the circuit, and not the generic classification of control relay. I recommend including a legend page to define the component class designations for your circuit diagram, when you choose to deviate from the component class designations and opt for circuit function designations instead.
In summation, I do not fault the developers of AutoCAD® Electrical with regard to symbol libraries. They could have chosen to release a common design tool and let us create our own symbols. They gave us the symbol builder tool just for that purpose. But they were also kind enough to give us over 1500 symbols in various orientations as a sort of “starter set” that we could use and tweak as desired. With this starter set of symbols they had to choose some default tagging scheme from the various ones that existed at the time. What they chose was mostly from the JIC standards but with a few variations, based upon common practices of the time. But we have the option to modify to our delight, either by changing the default in the TAG1 attribute of the symbol files or by using the wd_fam.dat ASCII file method. If you prefer, you can use the Symbol Builder to create your own symbol(s), just the way you want them to look, but be aware that deviating from established standards may create confusion for technicians who may one day need to troubleshoot your control system, and may also put you at odds with machine safety directives.
The world is becoming more interested in not only national but international standards. For example the IEC library that ships with AutoCAD® Electrical was developed a few years ago in accordance with IEC-60617, which governs the appearance of the symbols, and IEC/ISO-81346 (replaced IEC-61346), which governs the tagging format. But two owners ago, when AutoCAD® Electrical was developed, there were various published standards and even more common practice "defacto" standards in use in the U.S. I think If AutoCAD® Electrical had been developed in this decade we might have seen a more strict adherence to the most current U.S. symbol standards, like we see with the IEC symbols. It's funny to note that today, with the published ANSI-Y32.2 and IEEE-315 symbol standards clearly in place alongside the NFPA-79 and UL-508A safety standards, I can visit 5 companies and find 4 or maybe even 5 different "standards" in use in America. It seems to me that the "standards" are still in somewhat of a state of flux, with personal opinions or just plain "that's the way we've always done it" syndrome getting in the way.
A General Overview of Global Electrical Standards
This is a general overview of various electrical design standards currently in use in the United States of America and other parts of the world. In the U.S.A. ANSI-Y32.2 and IEEE-315 address the schematic symbols used for electronic circuits and general electrical design, while NFPA-79 and UL-508A deal with the safety requirements for industrial machinery, which involves a different set of component class designations for the symbols, more closely resembling the JIC standard from the 1960s and 1970s. UL-508A deals directly with Industrial Control Panels while NFPA-79 addresses the entire machine.
The Joint Industrial Council (JIC) dissolved in the 1980s so the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was invited to take over. The NFPA released NFPA-79 which incorporated the JIC standards with some updates. Your design must meet the safety requirements of NFPA-79 and UL-508A in order to obtain UL approval, just the same as CE approval will require adherence to IEC-60617, IEC-81346, IEC-60757, IEC-60445, IEC-60204, etc. IEC-60617, IEC-81346, IEC-60757, IEC-60445, and IEC-60204 cover industrial machinery design in Europe and other regions that now adhere to IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standards. IEC-60204 deals specifically with machinery safety directives, IEC-60617 governs the graphical appearance of the schematic symbols. IEC-81346 governs component class designations (i.e. K for relay, P for indicator lamp, etc.). IEC-60757 governs wire color abbreviations (i.e. RD for red, BN for brown, BU for blue, etc.). IEC-60445 specifies the wire colors used to denote L1, L2, L3, N, PE, AC control, and DC control. NFPA-79 and UL-508A are similar to IEC-60204 with respect to machine safety and control panel design. Additionally NFPA-79, along with its subsequent updates, includes a list of component class designations, which happen to be very similar to those used in the JIC standard that preceded it, but with some minor updates.
ANSI-Y32.2 and IEEE-315 are similar to IEC-60617, dealing with the graphical look of schematic symbols, however they also cover the class designations for component tagging, a.k.a. device identification. ANSY Y32.2 and IEEE-315 have been slowly migrating toward a closer synchronization with IEC-61346 (now replaced by IEC/ISO-81346) for component class designations and IEC-60617 for symbol appearance, but significant differences still exist. The traditional ladder diagrams used to document industrial control systems in North America continue to favor the JIC/NFPA-79 symbols and component class designations. In my opinion, a complete adoption of ANSI/IEEE component class designations for industrial control panels in North America would lead to confusion for designers and technician who have a long history with ladder diagrams. As of today, the JIC/NFPA-79 standard is still very dominant in ladder diagrams and ladder diagrams are still very much the the "norm" for control schematics in North America.
The latest IEC standard for component class identification, IEC81346-2, has introduced an optional 2-letter device class identification. The first letter comes from the main category (broad in scope), while the optional second letter serves as a type of "sub-classification" further defining the device. IEC81346-2 supersedes IEC61346-2, which superseded IEC61346-1. IEC61346-1 was based on the DIN standard from Germany.
IEC61346-2 introduced changes such that devices, whether mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, or otherwise are classified, based more so on their physical properties rather than their function. IEC81346-2 includes a group of optional tables in case you wish to use the 2-letter classification. For example, instead of plain "Q" for a disconnect switch or main circuit breaker, it is "QB" for the disconnect switch (fused or non-fused) and "QA" for the circuit breaker. A motor starter or contactor is also "QA", as is a power transistor or thyristor. There are other sub-classes for "Q" but that is a sample of the more common ones. Pilot lights were "H" in DIN and early IEC but are now under the broad class of "P", for "presenting information." To use the two-letter code to further qualify the pilot light (signaling device) you would use "PF". Protective fuses still fall under the main category of "F", as do protective circuit breakers (i.e. branch protection). The two letter code would be "FC". Believe it or not, a microprocessor or PLC processor is "KF" under IEC81346-2, along with control relay, analog or binary circuit, optocoupler, electronic tube, safety logic module, and more.
I personally prefer IEC61346-1, based upon the DIN standard. It is a well established standard with widespread use and it clearly defines the function of a device with only one letter. I think the International Electrotechnical Commission has outlived its usefulness and continues to make changes for the sake of change - just to appear busy. That is my humble opinion. I still see many, many drawings from Europe using the old DIN standard or IEC61346-1 component class identifiers. But even with IEC81346-2, I happen prefer the one letter identifiers.
If you use AutoCAD® Electrical and wish to follow IEC81346-2 without the second letter, just reference IEC2 (2mm text height) or IEC4 (4mm text height) for your project library, instead of IEC60617, and employ a wd_fam.dat file in your project folder to alter the few symbols that still match IEC61346-1. We cover this in my IEC training course.
Keep in mind that the electrical CAD software isn't the designer. We are responsible for designing to meet the required safety standards where the machinery will be installed. Compare AutoCAD® Electrical to a carpenter's hammer. The carpenter must know where and how to nail, but without the hammer the job would be more difficult and would take longer. Programs like AutoCAD® Electrical will support our design by offering appropriate symbols for either the U.S. or International markets. The JIC library in AutoCAD® Electrical is an appropriate symbol set to use for ladder diagrams, the dominant control schematic method in North America, while the included IEC library would have more International appeal.
Sample IEC Project created with AutoCAD Electrical
Click Here View/Print a PDF of a sample project designed to IEC standards, using AutoCAD Electrical.
Note: The cross-references and tags are hyperlinked. If you hover your mouse over a cross-reference or tag and a hand symbol appears, click the left button of your mouse to surf the hyperlink to related drawing entities. It might be a relay contact, a footprint, a source or destination wire network, etc. If you use Google Chrome you must download the file and view with Adobe Acrobat. The Google Chrome PDF plug-in cannot process the hyperlinks properly.
In this sample, the wires are identified based upon Sheet.Zone.1st, 2nd, etc. Wire numbers were not typically assigned to DIN and IEC projects in the past but as European designers desired to market their products in North America they found that North American customers like to use wire numbers (electrical node ID) as a troubleshooting aid. As European companies have adjusted their designs to meet the North American requirements, wire numbers have seen an increase in popularity in Europe. The makers of Electrical CAD software in Europe added the option for wire numbers many years ago, as they began marketing their software to the North American market and found that North American companies were not interested in an intelligent Electrical CAD program that could not assign and manage wire numbers. I have watched this trend since the 1980s and virtually every Electrical CAD platform on the market today offers some form of wire numbering.
With a ladder diagram the component identification (tags) and wire numbers are usually based upon the line reference number (a.k.a. rung number). With IEC drawings the identification is usually based upon the sheet number and the zone or column where the device or wire is located.
The drawing border in this sample contains both an X and Y grid, with a combination of letters (vertical) and numbers (horizontal). Though I only used the numerical zones for component/wire identification and cross-referencing, both the X and Y designations could just as easily have been employed.
The cross-reference format follows IEC-61082.
Get on the fast-track to productivity with training by a 25+ year veteran of electrical controls design using intelligent CAD
On-site Training, Implementation, and Customization Support for AutoCAD® Electrical (U.S. or International design standards)
Let us convert your existing drawings to AutoCAD® Electrical format
Off-load your extra work to us so you can meet demanding deadlines
Full ECAD support, including smart border template creation, symbol creation, and maintenance of your symbol library, so your designers can stay focused on sales orders
Pre-paid phone/e-mail/video support contracts available (contact us with a question and receive a phone call, e-mail, or video with detailed step-by-step instructions)
If you would like assistance learning and implementing AutoCAD Electrical, including training, implementation support, drawing conversion, or design support, please feel free to call Doug at (770) 841-8009, or send an e-mail to ECADConsultant@gmail.com.
This site created and maintained byDoug McAlexander, Inc.
Copyright © 2000-2016 Douglas R. McAlexander. All Rights Reserved.
Questions or Comments?