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A collaborative tool for mechatronic system designers

21 November 2012

Hydraulic and pneumatic fluid power technology has streamlined manufacturing processes, and these days fluid power transmission and actuation systems can be customised to meet the needs of a host of different applications. Ken Christie describes an engineering software tool that can help designers to model and ultimately simulate these systems to a high degree of accuracy before committing to hardware prototyping.

For years, generic CAD was the fluid power engineer’s first port of call, as far as engineering design tools were concerned. But today, he or she has access to an application that is specific to fluid power system design, and one that can help them improve the efficiency of their hydraulic, pneumatic, lubrication and cooling system designs, thanks to user-friendly tools, advanced functions, dynamic and realistic simulation and flexible project documentation.

Just as conventional CAD tools have given users the power to complete their projects much faster and produce high quality documentation, EPLAN Fluid offers a comprehensive range of logic functions to make project planning easier and error free.

This latest generation of fluid engineering design software can be integrated with the MCAD workflow, and combines tried and tested fluid system planning with modern 3D design technology. This means that components that have been placed in the fluid circuit diagram, such as valves or cylinders, can be assembled in 3D and placed on pasteboards using a method not dissimilar to the LEGO construction principle.

Users do not need in-depth 3D knowledge, and the 2D derivations and manufacturing drawings are created automatically as part of the documentation. Valuable manufacturing information, such as the amount of installation space required, number of drill holes or hose lengths that need to be accommodated, is available at an early stage in the design process.

Moreover, the designer is able to save and re-use frequently used subsystems in the form of macros directly in the planning, so specialist knowledge is retained, and can be retrieved at any time to speed planning and maintain design quality and consistency. A design tool that is specific to fluid power engineering also provides appropriate error detection – increasingly important as fluid power systems become more complex and multi-disciplinary (mechatronic) in nature.

Powerful parts management and customisable reports specific to fluid engineering are now also possible. Documentation such as parts lists, spare parts holding lists, wearing parts, hose, tube, and piping lists are created automatically. Furthermore, various criteria pertaining to pneumatic, hydraulic, cooling or lubrication system components can easily be configured, and separate reports for each discipline can be created.

Designers are also able to generate and retain connections between positioned symbols using the auto-connecting and smart-connecting features. These connections can be assigned logical properties and subsequently evaluated; additionally, the symbols may be combined into separate functional units and saved as macros. A bill of materials is also generated at the same time as the drawing, thus ensuring that a uniform database is always available. 

Collaboration between disciplines
Although fluid engineering design software offers significant benefits as a stand-alone application in its own right, efficient design requires that all disciplines involved in a design exercise are able to be combined. For example, the benefits obtained from a specific fluid power engineering application are multiplied if the software is able to be combined with an equivalent tool for electrical design.

An exchange facility between the fluid and electrical design applications is beneficial for both serial and parallel project handling scenarios. With serial project handling, for example, the workflow may be structured in such a way that the fluid power engineer first positions the symbols, then project-plans the components, which are subsequently assigned to the symbols. If the positioned symbols contain minor electrical elements, a cross-disciplinary system message is automatically issued. The electrical engineer can then see exactly which fluid engineering components require additional electrical planning.

And thanks to the technology offered by these tools, electrical and fluid power engineers are able to work simultaneously on the same project, regardless of their geographical location and in their own native language.

EPLAN Fluid in action
Austrian manufacturer Kosme makes some of the most advanced stretch-blow moulding systems in the world. The electrical and pneumatic engineering for these moulders are performed using EPLAN Fluid, which has helped shorten the final design phase from weeks to mere days. Kosme’s Andreas Gamp takes up the story:

“The biggest benefit is the way the software speeds up project turnaround times. After dimensioning has been completed, realising the intended design as a complete set of schematics with all its derivations takes just a few days. Before we began using EPLAN Fluid, a project of this kind would have taken a few weeks.”

Kosme also uses EPLAN Fluid’s advanced design capabilities to accelerate complex design projects and create diagrams that make it easier for installers to keep track of what’s required. Andreas Gamp again:

“EPLAN Fluid makes it very easy to establish a project-specific database and to generate the corresponding bill of materials automatically. It is also very simple to structure the diagrams so every installer can easily keep track. EPLAN Fluid’s ability to display the respective partial bill of materials next to the functional schematic on the same sheet, as well as integrating photos to illustrate the respective mounting position, are also major advantages.

“With its modular structure, this product provides core functions that are required in electrical computer aided design as well as in fluid or instrumentation and control engineering.”

Ken Christie is director, EPLAN UK

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