Selecting an Electrical CAD Tool for Wiring Design

Article by Eric van Essen updated September 6, 2012


I recently wrote an article for Electrical Business Magazine and it was published in the August edition.  Here is the link to the published magazine archive.  The article is on page 20/21.


Selecting new software to use for electrical wiring design can be a difficult decision.  There are many considerations and the result can have ramifications for many years.  To start off with let me clarify that there are two main categories for ECAD design software: Electronics based software for printed circuit board design and design software focused on wiring.  This article is focused on selecting electrical wiring design software for interconnect electronics with cables and harnesses, or interconnecting electrically controlled components that are scattered around a design or in an electrical enclosure.

1. Establish electrical design requirements

Electrical design requirements are typically derived by the type of industry or electrical design you are creating combined with the current frustrations your team is dealing with.  Here are some quick thoughts on design requirements that are derived from industries:

  • Aerospace: Mil-spec standards, complex multi level harness
  • Power: Complex devices, connection wiring diagrams, greenfield vs. brownfield designs
  • Automation: Heavy design reuse, detailed control panel layouts
  • Vehicles: Complex harness, MCAD Integration

There are many niche industries that have their own mix of common requirements. For a more detailed list related to your industry, please write to me at my contact information below.

Expanding on your common industry requirements, it is important to work with your team to understand current frustrations.  Remember that your team is anyone that creates or interprets your electrical design.  Many companies overlook the extended team members in the mechanical, purchasing or manufacturing departments.  Here are some sample frustrations from different team members:

Electrical Design Team

  • Keep device tags and references up to date
  • Automate wire numbers
  • Create required reports more easily
  • Manage consumed and available pins and symbols

Mechanical Design Team

  • Understand space requirements for electrical wiring
  • Communicate selected devices with electrical


  • Produce accurate bill of materials
  • Load data more easily in to ERP system


  • Specify recommended wire paths
  • Send data to tag printers more easily

2. Include innovative goals of new software

Far too many companies have far too narrowed visions when selecting new design tools.  Design requirements are typically focused on doing the same thing faster with a higher quality. However, introducing a new electrical design tool should be treated as an opportunity to innovate.

Ask bold questions and also make sure to ask “Why?” often when examining your current design process.  Shift your focus to fundamentals such as sales and product delivery, and decide what your dream tool would look like if it were to bridge the gap between the two.  Electrical design tools are becoming more automated and integrated into other systems every day, and it is important to identify whether reinventing your process will result in significant advantages.

A common area of innovation related to ECAD is on the manufacturing end.  If manufacturing could be supplied with the perfect step by step instructions, what would it look like?  Could having such robust consistent information result in more consistent builds completed with less up front training?  Many companies are realizing that this is indeed the case and are striving towards it.  Below is a screen capture of an ECAD software using an excel list of wiring to be done and highlighting the recommended wiring path in the panel automatically.

Panel wiring linked intelligently to automatic connection list for step by step manufacturing instructions

Modular design approach is another common area of innovation.  If you had the ability to link commonly designed circuits and drawings with frequent customer or sales requests, what would that do to your process?  Companies are realizing incredibly large benefits in their design work done for quoting when they move towards an automated configurable approach.  Even without quoting being a step in your process, getting a jump start on a similar project by selecting options and variants from a list of questions can commonly save 50-80% of the required engineering work.   Below is a screen capture of an ECAD software using options and variants to drive design circuits.

Turn on and off parts of your design easily with check marks and radio buttons

3. Selecting a vendor

With a well established list of requirements and some innovative ideas, it is time to select a vendor that will enable you to achieve these goals.  There are a number of vendors in Canada that supply electrical wiring design software, so selecting the right one for you can be challenging.  A good vendor will be knowledgeable about your industry challenges and will help you solidify your needs.  Working through a rough budget early in the process is important due to growing costs related to sophisticated ECAD systems with niche industry requirements.

Being upfront about your requirements and financial benefits to the company will help establish a reasonable budget.  If you do not have a well established list of requirements that includes perspectives from different roles, it is important to allow your vendor to work with other team members to develop a more complete list. If your needs are addressed to your satisfaction and the budgetary cost of the implementation is within your expectations, it likely makes sense to narrow your potential vendor list to one or two that you believe come out ahead.

4. Making a plan for a successful implementation

Before moving forwards with the decision of a new ECAD system, it is important to make a rough implementation plan.  Many vendors will have sample implementation plans that they have worked on with previous clients that you can review and modify to suit your own company’s situation.  If you are using the new system out of the box, you may be able to get away with a quick implementation that requires training and installation.

If you have a larger design team or specific requirements that the out of the box setup does not support, you should plan to spend 2-8 months setting up your standards and electrical library.  It can be tempting to put a larger team on this type of implementation to speed up the process, however, unless work is properly segregated, having a larger number of people making decisions can have the opposite effect.


Moving towards a new ECAD software for wiring design can be very exciting and can have a very positive impact on your company.  Being organized with requirements and goals can be one of the most important steps to ensure proper tool and vendor selection.  Treating this as an opportunity to innovate is a healthy approach, but being realistic with timing and budget is also important to make sure there is support from upper level management. Remember that your vendors should be dealt with as partners on this project as you will get much further when working effectively together.  Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any comments or questions on this article.

Eric van Essen

Electrical Product Manager

905-815-1906 X250


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Eric van Essen

I have been working with Javelin for 10 years and now have the role as director of products where I oversee the ramp up of new solutions for our customers or potential customers.