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I'm an electronic & electrical engineering student in first year of university. I have had to use a few core programs as part of my course for programming and simulation software. However I came across AutoCAD Electrical and struggling to understand the use of the application.

It being an electrical CAD software, I assumed that I'd be able to carry out similar tasks as Micro-Cap (which I use to analyse AC, DC circuits) or Proteus (which I use to simulate code for PIC micro-controllers). However I've yet to find any tutorial that says that AutoCAD Elec does any of those.

If not, then I would like to know the essential point of it? If drawings is the main use of it, can't I just continue using Visio, which I had to map a fuse-box design for a side project. It is pretty fiddly on Visio, but if all AutoCAD Elec is, is a drawing tool, in what way would it excel Visio for the kind of drawings I need (all car related: looms, fuse-boxes, motors)?

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As I understand it, AutoCAD Electrical is normal AutoCAD, but with some features that support electrical designers. In this context, 'electrical designers' means people designing low-voltage motor control centres, industrial plant, control cubicles, and so on.

Note the distinction between electrical design and electronics design. Electrical design is concerned with switchboards, 200 metre long cables, motor control contactors, junction boxes, and so on. That is the audience AutoCAD Electrical is intended for.

We use AutoCAD Electrical to draw power single line diagrams, motor control circuit schematics, switchboard general arrangements, and so on.


In industrial contexts, all wires and terminals need to be individually numbered. A feature I am aware of is that AutoCAD Electrical can automatically track wire numbers (ferrule numbers) and terminal numbers, making sure these numbers are all unique and sequential. I would have really appreciated this on the last electrical design job I did, where we numbered all the wires and terminals by hand, with frequent mistakes.

Electrical patch panel

Electrical installation

If you aren't designing something like what's shown above, AutoCAD Electrical probably isn't for you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. The moment you need to keep track of many, many wires at once during the design process you don't want to do it by hand. This starts when building homes where you need to design the wiring and ends with situations even worse then shown above. \$\endgroup\$ – Mast Mar 27 '15 at 10:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is also useful for documentation. Like all the wiring in an airport, it is good to have something higher abstracting visual, but more visual than excel sheets matching cable/fiber numbers and panels. I have seen autocad being used for that too. \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Mar 27 '15 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the response @Li-aung. So I'm designing a car loom (lots of electrical wiring) and for that hsould autoCAD Elec be the better option than Visio? \$\endgroup\$ – Kristopher Rahim Afful-Brown Mar 27 '15 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KristopherRahimAfful-Brown: As an engineer (with no AutoCAD training) I find Visio much easier to draw with. I would only use AutoCAD if you are drawing things that need to be very dimensionally precise. Besides, you can use Visio to draw terrible things like this: penwatch.net/files/minecraft/… . \$\endgroup\$ – Li-aung Yip Mar 27 '15 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Further thoughts: if you think you will be using AutoCAD later in your professional life, you might as well start learning how to drive it. As an electrical engineer I don't drive AutoCAD much (we have draftsmen for that) but it's handy to know how it works. \$\endgroup\$ – Li-aung Yip Mar 27 '15 at 15:57
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A bit of foreword; I work in an industrial site where, much like Li Aung has mentioned, uses CAD for schematic and termination drawings of our MCCs (Motor Control Centres, for those who forgot since reading Li Aung's post), Distribution system single lines, communication systems and control (instrumentation inclusive) drawings. See below for example of 'Industrial like' Schematic. Example of Industrial Drawing

We have just moved across to using AutoCAD Electrical for our electrical drawings from using standard AutoCAD. The electrical component doesn't help much for editing the existing drawings, however when a new installation comes up (replacement of a MCC for example), AutoCAD electrical will allow us to keep track of wire numbers, help with equipment layouts and the like. I haven't played with it too much, but from what i have seen, it has the ability to automatically create layouts of cabinets, allow you to move components around without having to redraw wires and a few other nice neat little things.

It's not built for electronic design or simulation (well not that I have found), it's more for documenting large complex plants. For example, one of the sites (we have 8), has about 15 folders full of drawings. There would be over a thousand drawings there.

To answer your question about designing a wiring loom and a fuse box, I would say you would be pretty safe using something like Visio. Especially since you can create your own blocks in Visio, you could just create some fuses.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I'm going to go ahead and use Visio then. I may try autoCAD Elec just to try it out but I guess I can do without. I'm pretty far away from finishing Uni (only first year) but I would like to go into the automotive industry, do you happen to know whether at that stage autoCAD Elec would be used at all? \$\endgroup\$ – Kristopher Rahim Afful-Brown Mar 28 '15 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your schematic looks uncannily like my schematics. \$\endgroup\$ – Li-aung Yip Mar 28 '15 at 1:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Must have gone to the same school Li-Aung. As for Kristophers question, I can't really help you there. I would say they probably use something like AutoCAD, as they probably use it for other things anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Adrian Mar 29 '15 at 9:43
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Yes why do that to yourself :). In my experience the people who use this are designing things like building wiring, maybe industrial equipment wiring diagrams, or something like a simple appliance with no boards.

I think you will find it most where the primary product has a lot of mechanical drawings already done in autocad and the electrical plays a tiny part. As opposed to something where complex boards and circuits have to be designed and simulated. There's already plenty of autocad licenses and users so why try to do the work in orcad for instance, if you just need something simple.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So AutoCAD Elec is just a fancy drawing app (without diminishing it, I'm sure it has more uses)? But for me, you saying a designing fuse-box can be done as easily on Visio (or orcad) over AutoCAD Elec. I am entitled to the free student edition (so finance isn't an issue in the question). \$\endgroup\$ – Kristopher Rahim Afful-Brown Mar 27 '15 at 2:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KristopherRahimAfful-Brown: Yes, it pretty much just is. It's a jack of all trades, master of none. \$\endgroup\$ – whatsisname Mar 27 '15 at 3:31
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capturing a circuit that is 100% representative of implementation and drawing something to show the concept are two very different things.

There is a time and a place for visual representation of the detail design (design review, formal documentation) and another to help describe something (higher up presentation, pretty diagrams).

Quite a lot of CAD packages for circuit design and simulation do not provide the greatest of visual 1st glance.

This is why I use SIMetrix/SABER for simulation, Mentor for capture and Inkscape for presentation images.

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Keep in mind that electrical installations have to conform to physical requirements when installed. So a lot of designers would use 2D or 3D CAD programs to map out wire placement, for instance for vehicle harneses. They weren't ideal for a lot of reasons, but they were necessary to capture wire lengths, placement in the main harness, etc.

AutoCAD Electrical makes this easier by incorporating features that support this type of use.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My life would be much easier if the cable schedule was integrated with the termination diagrams and the 3D model (for exactly measured route lengths.) \$\endgroup\$ – Li-aung Yip Mar 28 '15 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Li-aungYip last year I went to a demo of Solidworks electrical 3D and that seems to do what you are asking for - and even has special features for looming cables and creating custom connectors. It also integrates into their mechanical product as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter M Apr 17 '15 at 13:31
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I disagree with the original author as Proteus and Micro-Cap are not CAD tools, they are simulation tools. Neither of which were designed to create drawings and lack many of the tools required for doing so

Visio is one of the worst tools to use for creating drawings from my fifteen years of experience. It has no error checking of any kind no decent dimension tools, no wire list output capability, no ability to create intelligent symbols like in AutoCAD Electrical, Promise, ECAD, and a few others that slip my mind. Tools like Visio, Plain AutoCAD, Proteus, Micro-Cap are horrible tools for creating drawings. I wouldn't use any of them for creating professional drawings. You loose so much time not having error checking, wire list reports, etc.

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