Software Animates And Analyzes Fluid-Power Curcuits

Nov. 18, 2004
Until recently, engineers designing fluid-power systems and electrical controls made schematics with high-end CAD packages, lowcapability 2D sketching software, or both.

Software animates and analyzes fluid-power circuits

—by Chris Goodlet

A component list in Automation Studio appears on the left and a library navigator on the right. A user is looking for pressure-control devices. The library shows at least four, any of which can be dragged and dropped onto the diagram.

Calculation sheets make it easy to size just about every fluid-power component. To size a cylinder, users type in only a few of the characteristics and the software calculates the rest.

During simulation, high-pressure lines turn red and lowpressure lines turn blue, valves shift, and cylinders push out and retract. The simulator also plots pressure versus time at user-selected locations.

Automation Studio can also produce bills-of-materials. Users have to first learn to set up a template for company preferences.

But few combinations of them worked well.

Automation Studio, however, provides a user friendly and flexible way to draw schematics, document capabilities, and help size components. The software realistically shows pneumatic and hydraulic controls in operation. This improves the design process and gives users new ways to follow a machine's life cycle on issues such as training, troubleshooting, and maintenance.

Libraries in the software hold many symbols, so users need not draw the basic ones or those less frequently used. The software also helps construct new symbols such as a valve with an unusual spool configuration, using a component-builder utility. These symbols go beyond 2D schematics because they are linked to mathematics that describe operating characteristics used in simulations. New symbols can be dragged into a custom library for reuse and to share with others.

Engineers build circuits by dragging and dropping components onto the workspace. Pressure and pilot lines extend from one symbol to the next to connect them. This is done simply by drawing lines from port to port. A useful features shows line jumps when two cross. And another, rubber-banding lines, keep components connected when moving components. This accelerates the design of new projects and those that start with old designs. This feature alone can reduce redesign time by 75%, which makes the ROI look good.

Calculation sheets make it easy to find or select cylinders, hoses, valves, pumps, and just about every fluid-power component. Take cylinders, for instance. Users enter characteristics such as cylinder diameter, stroke, and rod diameter in a properties dialog box. The software returns a diagram for that cylinder. Or, if you know the forces or a required extension time, a calculation sheet helps determine a cylinder size. Users can also enter the force required of a cylinder as a function to find a particular unit. To test the sheets, we compared previous calculations made in Excel to results from Automation Studio. They agreed perfectly.

The simulation mode works on either a single diagram, a section, or an entire project. We tried it on a welding-line machine designed of about 70 pages (diagrams), and about 600 cylinders and valves. Due to the project's size, the software could not simulate everything at once. But it was useful to validate the design piece by piece. Although large designs take a few minutes to open, the developer says it is working to shorten those periods.

All components are animated in simulations. Colored lines make it easy to follow high and low pressure as well as flow direction. For a thorough analysis, simulated parameters such as flow, pressure, and position can be graphed and saved in a data file for later review. The capability is useful to check a design's integrity and spot problems prior to building a machine. The software is also useful for training in-house personnel and customers.

Automation Studio produces bills of materials in a fairly flexible way. Although the interface for defining a BOM template is a bit cumbersome and sometimes irritating, the feature is still better than that found in other tools, which is almost nothing. BOM tools let users gather data on each schematic, on a combination of schematics, or on an entire project. A filter sorts components by categories such as technology and type.

To quicken documentation, we placed a copy of our purchasing database in the software. Now when we drop in a symbol onto a diagram, we immediately assign a part number and build an entire project BOM. Getting the database into the design software took some time, but it was worth the effort. It cuts substantial periods off documentation budgets.

The three-day training course is quite helpful. The software seems simple at first, but mastering more advanced functions from experts let users produce schematics more efficiently. Automation Studio's sizing, documentation, and simulations bring capabilities most engineers are not familiar with, but from which they can greatly benefit with a few tips. So don't ignore training. It covers how to size lines and components, implement a part-number database that matches standard and user-defined symbols,and using simulation features to get the most out of the package. Training is available for the pneumatic, hydraulic, and electrical modules. The software's level of depth for each technology easily justifies a couple of days on each. The developer also provides on-site and online training.

Annual maintenance provides us with phone support. The technical staff always answers questions and provides solutions or alternate solutions to problems. The developer also provides services for producing new symbols and simulation models. I recommend the software to anyone involved with designing pneumatics, hydraulics, and automation systems. Automation Studio comes from
Famic Technologies Inc.,
9999 Cavendish Blvd., Suite 350,
St-Laurent, QC, Canada, H4M 2X5,
(514) 748-8050,

Mr. Goodlet is a fluid-power designer at Prodomax Automation Inc., Barrie, Ontario, Canada.

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