Mechanical Applications for AutoCAD Electrical

23 May, 2013 By: Stan Wile

IMAGINiT Tricks Tutorial: Make use of all the tools in Autodesk Product Design Suite.

Editor's Note: This tutorial courtesy of IMAGINiT Technologies.

Now that AutoCAD Electrical is included in the Premium and Ultimate versions of Autodesk's Product Design Suite, many companies have gained access to this software package. However, more and more often, I'm seeing those same companies choose to not install it. "We don't create schematics," they say.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a company describe its needs, several of which could have easily been solved if they had had AutoCAD Electrical installed. The company owned many seats of Product Design Suite, but this group only used the AutoCAD Mechanical portion of it. Their Inventor group didn't have Electrical installed either. Maybe if users could see some of these features, they might think twice when choosing which software to exclude from their install.

To use these features, you will need to open the drawings using AutoCAD Electrical. Other than a hidden block or two, nothing else will be added to your drawings. More detailed information on any of these topics can be found online.

Edit Block Attributes

AutoCAD Electrical has many easy-to-use attribute tools for existing blocks.

Without editing or exploding a block, users can hide, move, add, rename, stretch, change justification, and more. These changes affect only a single block instance, not the block definition.

AutoCAD's Enhanced Attribute Editor can perform many of these changes, but it does so one attribute at a time. With these tools I can modify multiple attributes from several blocks at the same time.

I can also add an additional attribute to a single block. There are times when an additional line of description text would be nice. Add an attribute named DESC3, then double-click on the block. DESC3 will be a new attribute listed, waiting for a value.

Title Block Update

Typically all the drawing title blocks in a project share much of the same information. Using the Title Block Update utility from the Project tab, you can automatically update all the title blocks in the entire project with mapped information. Project Descriptions can be pushed to all title blocks in the project. Drawing Settings can be pushed to each individual drawing's title block.

To get this one to work, you'll need to set up three files:

  1. A project (WDP) file for each project. This file is created when creating a New Project. 

  2. A shared Project Line Description (WDL) file. This is simply a text file named default_wdtitle.WDL and placed in a shared folder between all users. The sample WDL file below shows modified project description labels.

    Using a text editor such as Notepad, name the project description lines using the following format. (This helps users know what information to place in each line.) 
    LINE1=Title 1:
    LINE2=Title 2:
    LINE3=Title 3:
  3. A Title Block Mapping (WDT) file. This file is created by the Title Block Setup wizard. It's found on the Project tab. You will specify the name of any block(s) that will require attributes to be updated, then map the project and drawing descriptions to those attributes.

After setting up these three files, add all necessary drawings to the new project and you're ready to start pushing descriptions to title blocks.


Swap and Update Blocks while Mapping Attributes

AutoCAD's Express Tools has a feature called Replace Block; however, it leaves copies of the original attributes inside the new block, along with all of the old block's attributes. AutoCAD Electrical's Swap/Update Block command allows the use of an attribute mapping file. Attribute values are written out to a scratch file, then written back into the newly placed blocks. This can be done projectwide as well.

I have used this several times now for companies that needed all their title blocks swapped out for new ones. Simply add several hundred DWG files into a temporary project, then run this utility projectwide. Remove all the drawings and repeat the process.

Copy Project

If you have a series of drawings with a project name in each drawing's file name, and wish to copy all of them to start a new project, try Copy Project. This utility has a nifty find-and-replace feature that can be used when renaming all of the project drawings. Create a temporary project file, add all the drawings into the project, and start the Copy Project command.

Toggle NO/NC

This command switches one symbol with another, while at the same time carrying all of the attribute values with it. In the electrical world it's used mostly for switching a symbol from normally open to normally closed. However, I can think of several other uses:

  • Switching from a proto title block to a released title block
  • Switching DIP switch positions
  • Front and side views of hardware
  • Hinges or doors shown in two different positions.

From a mechanical perspective, all you need to know about this command is that both block names are the same except for the fifth character, which is either a one or a two. Insert both of these blocks into your drawing and start toggling.

Batch Plot

AutoCAD has its Publish option; however, this method uses page setups. Too often the drawings are missing the needed page setup. Also, removing unwanted layouts or model space tabs from the Publish dialog can be tiresome. Using Electrical's Batch Plot utility allows global plot settings as well as page setups and pc3 files.

There's also an option for running a pre- or postscript on each drawing during the Batch Plot process!


Easily Customizable Block/Icon Menu

The default Icon Menu can be easily customized as a simple block insertion menu. This menu is filled with Electrical symbols.

It supports submenus and can scale blocks on insert. It is also very easy to modify.

Simply specify a PNG image as the icon, then browse to the desired block drawing file.

Batch Block Update

AutoCAD Electrical has a command that is used for modifying an entire symbol library. There are a number of features that could be used in manufacturing; maybe a bunch of fastener blocks are metric and you wish to scale them down, or you need to run a LISP on every block to add some needed attributes. This symbol library update tool can also change all attributes to a new text height or style.

This utility has you select a folder, then processes all the drawings in that folder at once.

Batch Language Conversion

Many standard electrical phrases are included in this database, and it is quite easy to modify.

All block text and attributes can then be converted projectwide. After the utility completes, it displays a list of all text that was not swapped.

That's Not All

There are a number of other features that I can see uses for in the mechanical world. How about a projectwide table of contents, or attribute templates for consistent-looking blocks? Did I mention the P&ID, hydraulic, and pneumatic symbols that are included? I could go on and on.

There is a ton of power lying dormant, waiting on a chance to ease your workload. Give AutoCAD Electrical a try.

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