Wiring me?
April 29, 2005 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for software that helps make electrical schematics.

In my work I often need to design wiring harnesses and power connections for various pieces of equipment. It's basic wires, connectors and circuit protection stuff, with the occasional black box or diode/resistor/capacitor network thrown in to keep things different. Right now I'm using a 2D mechanical drafting program (Solid Edge) that we've bought for other things. It's okay for making drawings, but when it comes to rearranging things, all changes must be done by hand (leading to mistakes or a lot of time lookimg for them) and there's no built-in symbol library, though I've developed most of the things I need over the years.

I'm demo-ing SmartSketch right now and finding it a bit too pricey and a bit too general (it maintains connections, but has no grouping function, for example, so moving a multi-pin connector is a bit of a pain). We also have a seat of Protel at work, and its $5000/seat price and emphasis on circuitboard design rather than power wiring makes it the wrong bang for a whole lot of bucks.

Any suggestions for a sub-$1000 electrical schematicafier?
posted by cardboard to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
try http://www.electronicsworkbench.com/

Used it back in School. Nice stuff
posted by stevejensen at 11:03 AM on April 29, 2005

MS Visio has a built in electrical library and you can create custom symbols if you find them lacking. Fairly cheap (well under a grand) and allows you to move components without breaking links between them.
posted by Mitheral at 11:03 AM on April 29, 2005

Try OmniGraffle (~$65) + Electronics Optimizer stencil (free). Includes some other built-in stencils for wiring.

Excellent layout drawing tool. Object sides and corners are "magnetized" so lines and such move with the object. You can export to TIFF, JPEG, PDF.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:11 AM on April 29, 2005

I've used a program called ISIS from Labcenter electronics, and it didn't suck. It seems you have to buy it in a bundle with their PCB design/simulation software, but even those start at only £99 (~$200). They offer a free downloadable demo, too.
posted by cillit bang at 11:18 AM on April 29, 2005

posted by yclipse at 12:01 PM on April 29, 2005

I use million dollar cad tools at work (they do more than schematics though) and for nice looking schematics for presentation I use OmniGraffle plus a template.
posted by substrate at 12:27 PM on April 29, 2005

I've had good luck with the freeware version of EAGLE for schematic capture and board layout. You didn't say what platform you're on, but it's available for Windows, MacOS (with X11), and Linux. The interface is a little odd, but they do let you download the manual.
posted by zsazsa at 12:28 PM on April 29, 2005

For PCB layout on the Mac, no (relatively inexpensive) options are particularly good, but I've used Osmond PCB for some moderately complicated boards. And the price was right (free). I don't like OmniGraffle for schematic capture, though, and DesignWorks doesn't seem to be updated to work well with OS X 10.3. I'll try out Eagle, per zsazsa's recommendation, but would love to hear about any good Mac solutions.
posted by fatllama at 12:39 PM on April 29, 2005

Thanks for the tips so far; I've downloaded a bunch to look at.

Note, I'm asking about non-PCB schematic creation, on a Windows platform.
posted by cardboard at 12:53 PM on April 29, 2005

VectorWorks might meet your needs. I know it has some architectural wiring components, has plenty of symbol power and plug-in object functionality and it will generate worksheets for quantities etc. Not sure if it will be all you are looking for but they used to have a trial version. Still just under $1000.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:05 PM on April 29, 2005

I almost asked this question last week. I just needed a freebie to sketch up a quick 11 component circuit. I ended up downloading the trial version of SmartDraw. It took me a couple of hours to make my drawing. As soon as I printed it out (the next day), I uninstalled the program...it insisted on living in my System Tray, periodically popping up to remind me to buy the full version. Pass.

I suppose that you could become proficient with the software after time, but I was frustrated by the dumbness of the AI, for lack of a better phrase.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 1:22 PM on April 29, 2005

The gEDA project is working on producing a full GPL'd suite of Electronic Design Automation tools. These tools are used for electrical circuit design, schematic capture, simulation, prototyping, and production. Currently, the gEDA project offers a mature suite of open-source applications for electronics design, including schematic capture, attribute management, bill of materials (BOM) generation, netlisting into over 20 netlist formats, analog and digital simulation, and printed circuit board (PCB) layout.

(schematic capture is what you're looking for)
posted by andrew cooke at 1:44 PM on April 29, 2005

Dia is free and has some support for EE schemas... It can be a bit confusing to use, and I'm not sure how complete its support is, but I find it a viable alternative to Visio much of the time.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:02 PM on April 29, 2005

Aucotec seems to have some products which might suite you. Unfortunately their sight is full of corporate gobbledygook, and no screenshots, so it is pretty hard to get a feel for details.

There are also AutoCAD Electrical and Bentley Instrumentation and Wiring.

I have never tried any of them. Some of them seem more focused on entire plants rather than single pieces of equipment, but anything higher than board level must be helpful I guess.
posted by Chuckles at 10:00 PM on April 29, 2005

One more to add - cadtek E3.

I would love to hear a review if you check them out.
posted by Chuckles at 12:47 AM on April 30, 2005

I dallied with half a dozen cheap ones (ie spent around an hour trying each), but I settled on the (already mentioned) MS Visio because it just worked the way I wanted it to - drag and drop the components, connect them, drag them and it keeps connections, everything easy to edit, etc. I was up and running with it much quicker than the others. Plus it's useful for all sorts of diagram and chart creation, not just schematics.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:49 AM on April 30, 2005

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