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Electrical engineers play a key role in today's society. The electrical engineering industry is gigantic – worth tens of billions in the UK alone – and covers a massive range of sectors including telecommunications, manufacturing, research and development, government and more.
In such a big and highly competitive industry, it's essential that electrical design engineers have all the software and tools that they need to deliver efficient projects in timely fashion – and that's where computer-aided design (CAD) comes in.
Specialised electrical CAD (ECAD) has become the cornerstone design technology of the sector over the last few decades, but how exactly is it used? In this guide, we'll talk about the history, applications and benefits of CAD for electrical engineers – and you can even download our free electrical engineering CAD software, DesignSpark Mechanical, and have a go yourself.
What is CAD software for electrical engineering?
CAD for electrical engineering is highly accurate, in-depth 2D drawing and 3D modelling software which electrical design engineers use to create, modify and analyse a variety of electrical components.
Common uses for CAD in the sector include support in the production of printed circuit boards (PCBs), integrated circuits (ICs) and a variety of other electrical schematics and wiring diagrams. The advanced features of CAD offer a wide variety of benefits to electrical engineers, from speed and efficiency of process through to the cost-effectiveness of production.
The history of CAD in electrical engineering
Computer-aided design technology as a wider concept has roots in the automotive and architectural industries of the 1960s with the likes of programs like Sketchpad and UNISURF. Sketchpad (1963) was the first graphical interface software that featured line drawing and movement of figures on a computer screen, while UNISURF (1968) was the first true CAD program – a tape-based computer that created ink drawing and tooling concepts for car bodies using infinitely scalable parametric "Bézier" curves (named after UNISURF's creator, Pierre Bézier).
Both of the tools mentioned above were ground-breaking technologies that paved the way for future CAD developments; however, their rudimentary design capabilities meant that the electrical engineering world wouldn't pick up on the benefits of CAD until a couple of decades later.
The 1980s was a massive decade for electrical engineering in relation to PCB production. Naturally much more complex in composition than many other engineering structures that had been started to be produced by CAD software, engineers were still creating PCB designs via stencil as surface-mount technology (SMT) revolutionised the assembly and manufacturing process.
With the rise of computers in the 80s came electronic design automation (EDA), which saw a swift uptake of CAD-driven tech in PCB design. Since that point, the complexity, accuracy and efficiency of CAD software for electrical engineers has improved to the point where it's now used in every phase of the planning, design and evaluation process.
What are the uses of CAD in electrical engineering?
Where do electrical engineers use CAD? The answer is throughout the entire engineering process, from the concept through to performance analysis.
The level of depth in quality, accuracy and precision that modern CAD tools offer electrical engineering design specialists has completely overhauled the manual drafting process and enabled it to become significantly more complex, efficient and fast. With CAD, engineers can design a component or system from the schematic stages right through to assessing manufacturing methods, and the accuracy of the system has eliminated the need for complete redraws when modifications are required.
CAD offers a sophisticated level of simulation analysis that allows engineers to test the theoretical performance of the components that they're modelling. For example, engineers in PCB design can verify their models using an integrated simulator that carries out relevant behavioural simulations, testing the electrical parameters and tolerances of the board model to ensure that it is fit for purpose, before production.
What are the benefits of CAD for electrical design engineers?
Electrical engineering CAD has revolutionised the basics of component production in the industry. Here are the four biggest ways in which it is making an impact today.
Boosted efficiency and productivity
The manual drafting process in electrical engineering was one full of time-draining tasks like wire numbering, tagging programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and creating a bill of materials (BoM). With CAD, all these processes become automated – plus there are numerous benefits to the design phase. 3D models can be assessed and revised quickly, narrowing down the product development window for quicker, more resourceful project completion.
Human error is always a factor in manual drafting processes. The accuracy and consistency of CAD more or less eliminates this concern from designers' minds. Specialised ECAD software comes with a number of automated systems designed to drastically reduce the risk of errors, and the 3D virtual environment can highlight any potential issues before the model reaches the later stages of production. Likewise, CAD tools can generate reports for process improvement and offer error-free data transfer between modelling and manufacturing software.
Electrical engineering applications, as with many industries that use CAD, are in depth, multi-phase and highly complex processes that require big teams to get the project from start to finish. With CAD, multiple users can easily collaborate on projects, typically via cloud storage. This massively optimises communication among different parts of the team, reducing the amount of downtime spent looking at revisions and edits and ensuring that everyone is following the same directive in production.
Less resources, lower costs
Increased efficiency, productivity, accuracy and collaborative ability all make CAD-driven electrical engineering software an extremely cost-effective venture. When your work is done faster and to a higher standard with less resources involved, you know that there are going to be significant cost benefits to enjoy with it.
Try DesignSpark Mechanical - our free electrical engineering CAD software - today
You can get started with our free CAD software for electrical engineers today! Download DesignSpark Mechanical Explorer to see what our basic CAD package looks like, then upgrade to Creator or Engineer to get a host of advanced features.
If you want to know more about what our CAD software has to offer, you can learn the basics of DesignSpark Mechanical here or take a look at our support FAQs and Mechanical forum to get all of the answers that you need.