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Harnessing the power of electrical design software

11 April 2011

Specialist fire rescue and emergency vehicle manufacturer, Emergency One UK is using Zuken’s E3.series software for its electrical harness design. This has enabled the company to standardise its design and manufacturing processes, lowering costs, improving reliability and adding more flexibility to its customisation activities

Scotland based Emergency One UK manufactures fire engines, taking a basic truck cab and chassis, and customising the vehicle so that it meets the individual and varied specifications of its fire brigade clients. Compared with other emergency services vehicles, the fire engine is one of the most advanced vehicles in its class, requiring systems to monitor and control everything from engine speed and electronically controlled pumps, to whether or not the doors are open, seatbelts are fastened and ladders securely stowed.

At Emergency One, a production bottleneck typically occurred at the time of electrical wiring installation, which had a knock-on effect on the vehicle production schedule. There were three main reasons for the bottleneck: the extent of customisation involved for each vehicle; not being able to test and verify the electrical system on screen at the design phase, and the limited number of qualified electricians available to perform the installations.

Emergency One’s standard wiring installation uses two controllers, each with a 154-way connector. Managing this amount of wiring manually was not an option, as it has the potential to generate numerous errors and require extensive rework. Prior to adopting the E3 series software, the company used a generic CAD system, as Emergency One design manager, Graeme Shields explains:

“Documenting a design was a nightmare. The previous system made us rely heavily on the design work done on the workshop floor, and for each new design/build, we had to create a brand new design project from scratch. We needed a standardised system that would allow us to create the designs and to deliver data for harness manufacture. E³.series does all this and more.”

With the old method of onboard electrical integration, electrical engineers drove the process, installing the wiring on the workshop floor and wiring everything their own way, which wasn’t always the best way. Since introducing E³.series, these processes have dramatically changed.

The electrical engineers now refer to E3.cable, data from E3.formboard and photographs. The data flow, too, has changed significantly; information coming from the design side has vastly improved the efficiency of the wire harness installation. Where previously advanced niche skills were required for electrical installation, now the thorough documentation set means that Emergency One can deploy people with less specialised skills to complete the work.

Customising harnesses
At one time, Emergency One built three wiring harnesses for its fire engines: one for the cab, a second for the chassis, and a third for the body. The body harnesses in each fire engine are very similar, the chassis harnesses need to be modified quite a bit, while the cab harnesses are usually totally different.

More recently, the body harness has been split into three to aid modular assembly and repair: one for the pump based section and another two for the header panels. The object orientated database which sits at the core of E³.series enables Mr Shields to split the harness drawings and easily amend the schematics, making this a simple and straightforward update to the designs.

Emergency One has introduced a parameterised program that allows it to create harness templates that only need to be tweaked for each fire engine. Now, Mr Shields simply turns features on and off without having to change the wiring. What was a time-consuming, complete customisation process before, is now a platform design approach with custom-made sections. And while each vehicle is essentially ‘customised’, about 90 percent of the wiring is the same.

Having common schematics across individual vehicle builds is important in terms of quality assurance and time management at both the design and manufacturing stages, as well as for the lifelong maintenance of the vehicle. By delivering more detailed information to the wire harness manufacturer, the company has also been able to slash lead times for delivery and get its products to market faster. Graeme Shields again:

“Due to the amount of electrical complexity involved in fire engines, brigades are now demanding that a good electrical schematic is supplied upon delivery of the vehicle. E³.series’ ability to generate top-quality, detailed schematics has been exceptionally beneficial for us.

“Customers have already noticed the improvements in electrical quality; they even stated that these new vehicles are especially good – we take that as a great compliment. In fact, we’ve had only minimal harness problems, which is particularly good for a new system.
“The detailed schematic reduces the time we spend answering customer questions as a result of the quality of documentation, which has allowed us to reduce costs associated with customer support. We also anticipate reduced downtime involved in repairs due to the superior quality of the schematics.

“We have a very sophisticated and all-encompassing system with an advanced control system. With E³.series I am in control of this complexity and it has allowed me to create designs logically. It is the ultimate way to take what I have in my head and put it down on paper. When working with a harness supplier, I can point out where things are wrong. It is fantastic to have the knowledge that E³.series can do everything I want. In the same way that our vehicles are highly customisable, so is the functionality within E3.series that allows us to realise this.”

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