New demands on the work you do require new types of drawings. Depending on your goals, you could benefit from drawing software.

Although software use is increasing throughout the electrical industry, many of us still don't use software for design, data visualization or collaboration. This is unfortunate, because much of this software can contribute dramatically to the bottom line.

Those who use technical drawing software to create, maintain and update electrical drawings benefit from increased accuracy, decreased design time, lower costs of design and construction, increased profits and a competitive edge.

What is technical drawing? Technical drawing (or diagramming) is a relatively new variation of conventional CAD, and it fits squarely between traditional 2-D and 3-D. When CAD arrived on the scene, it promised and delivered increased accuracy and efficiency for visually depicting physical objects in two dimensions. Since then, CAD has gone beyond the physical display of objects to include automation of non-CAD-related processes through integration with compatible software.

Technical drawing fills the gap between traditional 2-D and 3-D. While technical drawing software displays physical representations in 2-D, it foregoes traditional 2-D geometry to produce a drawing. Instead, it uses objects with context sensitive behavior and other intelligence that rivals even the most sophisticated 3-D CAD applications.

Several software applications are now available for functional design, physical design and asset tracking. However, few affordable software applications integrate all of these capabilities. The most effective available technology combines an interactive graphical interface with links to pertinent data for a comprehensive, yet easy-to-learn-and-use technical drawing environment.

Of the technical drawing packages available today, the most widely known are Actrix Technical 2000, from Autodesk, and Visio 2000 Technical Edition, from Microsoft.

Sample scenarios. Let's walk through scenarios suited for today's technical drawing applications.

- You are designing the power distribution system for manufacturing equipment. Another team already designed the mechanical components, using a popular 3-D CAD solid modeling application. Your primary challenge is to create a 2-D electrical drawing to represent the components (bus, transformers, panels, conduit and wiring) each piece of equipment needs. Traditionally, we identified components by description, size and part number, but now you can easily add a customer-pleasing value-added twist to this process. You provide links to maintenance procedures, installation instructions, photographs of the final installation, and even suppliers' Web pages.

- You insert a 2-D view of the 3-D CAD model into the technical drawing session for reference. Using the drag-and-drop method, you select intelligent, industry-specific content to represent each component. Intelligent connectors automatically snap, orient and align in accordance with established conventions. You add hyperlinks to the 2-D electrical drawing to create that extra value-added content mentioned earlier.

- You're doing a turnkey design on a new instrumentation system for monitoring the performance of an existing plant. Another team laid out the main and secondary plant processes. This information is available as 2-D CAD-generated Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs). Your goal is to use the existing P&IDs to represent the process piping, add the instrumentation and create a material take-off for procuring the required instrumentation components.

- You insert the P&ID into the technical drawing session as an interactive background and drag intelligent objects representing instrumentation system components (such as piping, tubing, instruments and electrical controls) into position. They automatically snap, align and orient correctly with respect to the background P&ID. Next, you generate a report including pertinent information such as description, manufacturer and cost. You export this to a spreadsheet to automate the procurement process.

- You're laying out and wiring the light fixtures, lighting controls, receptacles, data jacks and other electrical devices in an office complex. Your task is to display the electrical system components with respect to the floor plan so your client can review the configuration to ensure the arrangement satisfies their needs. Traditionally, this is one of the most irritating tasks in office construction because the client can't visualize the changes.

As in the previous examples, you insert the floor plan into the technical drawing session as an interactive background. Then, you insert electrical symbols representing receptacles and other devices into the drawing by merely dragging content from the content catalog. Symbols snap, orient and align automatically to the CAD background. Within a single drawing session, you and your client evaluate multiple electrical system configurations for convenience and consistency with customers' needs. You even compare the costs of alternative designs by placing alternative layouts on different layers. By dragging the symbol to the new location while associated components remain connected, you incorporate client-requested changes immediately.

- You're managing a technician crew routing cable for a new voice and data telecommunications system. Your goal is to show the completed network so the IT department may subsequently use the network diagram when diagnosing problems.

Because "faster, cheaper, better" is what more of customers expect, they turn increasingly to contractors who can deliver the best mix of these factors. To compete, you can't just work harder - most of us are working about as hard as we can now. You must leverage your existing strengths, and software is one way to do that. You don't need every software package, but you do need the right mix.

Here are some of the features, capabilities and benefits of today's "Best of Breed" technical drawing and data visualization applications.

- Drag-and-drop drawing creation, which is much more efficient than conventional CAD options, enables those with no prior CAD exposure to immediately become productive.

- Thousands of logically-grouped, industry-specific intelligent objects.

- Intelligent connectors that remain connected and aligned, allowing you to maintain relationships between objects when editing the drawing.

- Drawings published on the Web allowing collaboration with suppliers and clients - not just those typically involved in the design process.

- Hyperlinks that allow you to associate objects with technical drawings, other documents, photographs and Web pages.

- Ability to insert CAD files into a technical drawing session enables you to extend CAD data throughout the design process.

- Built-in property reporting automates generation of material take-offs, work orders, purchase orders and similar documents.

- Interactive shape authoring allows conversion of graphics to intelligent objects.

- A powerful Application Programming Interface (API), an effective event handler and built-in Visual Basic Bookmark (VBA) combine to maximize the ease of satisfying requirements unique to a particular project.