Network Design

Buying habits are changing.  For example, let’s look at a car purchase.  People start out by researching the manufacturer’s website to learn about their cars. They may then visit another site to use a selection tool to find the make and model of a car that fits their need.  In some cases, they may use a website to configure the exact car they want.  All this is done with very little sales interaction.  People have become very comfortable using online tools for all kinds of purchases – both major and routine.

The same can be said about automation and industrial networking projects.  Engineers and IT professionals are leveraging the Internet, specifically design tools, to accelerate their design process. Some online design tools have nearly 30,000 users worldwide helping customers.  In the past, customers could spend up to 40% of their time researching, selecting and preparing a specification for a project bill of material (BOM).  Design tools can cut down this non-revenue generating effort by 10% - 20%, freeing up valuable time to complete projects faster.

Although many design tools are for the next-generation systems, design tools such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD) have been around for decades.  An emerging game changer in this arena is the variety of drawing shapes, stencils and templates available from the manufacturer’s website or public clouds, minimizing custom object creation. Companies like Panduit have downloads of 2D and 3D AutoCAD product part shape files that can be directly applied to designs, reducing drafting time and speeding up the design process.  Although CAD packages can get a little pricy, vendor CAD libraries are typically free of charge. 

A challenge with full featured CAD tools is the steep learning curve and complexity to rapidly create concepts.  Many are turning to low cost, simple-to-use drawing tools such as Google Sketch-up and Microsoft Visio. These tools are also gaining in strength with the addition of libraries such as CAD packages. The Google Sketch-up 3D Warehouse library by Trimble has over two million shapes ready for use. Panduit has contributed to this library, specifically computer and network cabinets.  Interestingly, shapes in the 3D Warehouse can be created by anyone. This has fostered a very rich library with a variety of shapes that can bring together many elements from building structures, manufacturing equipment, tanks, piping, panels, and more.     

Microsoft Visio is another great tool to quickly generate concepts and is a favorite of IT professionals due to its extensive internal shapes library as well as libraries from hardware manufacturers such as Cisco and infrastructure manufacturers such as Panduit.  Visio is great for the layout of network topologies, data centers, control rooms and telecom closets, especially rack elevations.

 Visio Example

There are also 3rd party sources such as Visio Café that have extensive vendor-specific libraries to pull from. Both logical designs and physical layout can be created with Visio. For this reason, I use Visio to create Popular Configuration drawings which tell a story about an application such as Industrial Copper Cabling Techniques, Micro Data Center Reference Architecture, or Overview Drawing of an Industrial Switch Deployment.  

There are design tools specific to industrial automation projects to help complete the job faster and with fewer errors.  A design tool like the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture Builder (IAB) leads a designer down a path to create logical control and network architectures. There are validation steps designed into the software as components are added to help ensure schemes are properly put together.  This tool can create a control design for a standalone machine and scale up to a multi-process facility. 

There are also wizard capabilities to help create configurations and design selections.  For example, IAB has a wizard to select an Integrated Network Zone System based on specific switch needs, environment, uplinks, downlinks, and uninterruptible power supply. Also, the output from IAB can feed directly into Proposal Works as part of an overall project proposal and BOM. 

Another critical need a design tool can fulfil is proposal generation.  Creating a proposal is a very labor intensive task.  Activities include but are not limited to:

  • Part look-up and selection (BOM Generation)
  • Part Comparisons/Trade-off
  • Pricing
  • Compliance documentation
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Product specifications, drawings, and pictures
  • Project Scope
  • Service agreements

Preparing a customer proposal correctly the first time while under pressure to deliver on time can be daunting.  Often, proposal writers get hung up on making sure all necessary parts are identified and spend a lot of time researching, verifying, calling experts, etc.  This all adds time to the proposal process. 

Rockwell Automation ProposalWorks takes out much of the worry.  This tool, like IAB, has wizards to help guide the users where needed.  A product such as Panduit’s tray solution Wyr-Grid™ Overhead Cable Tray System has many different parts. The ProposalWorks wizard walks a user through the process, considering all aspects of the design. Ensuring all parts from supports, connectors, cable management, and grounding are considered in the design. Nothing is left for chance. This gives the user confidence to do a thorough job delivering the optimum solution. 

Proposal Works Example

In another example, there is a myriad of parts that often appear to have very subtle differences that can lead to confusion when selecting fiber cable or power connectors.  A ProposalWorks wizard can narrow the choice to the exact part for the application, carefully going through all critical design attributes. To get you in the ballpark, a tool such as ProposalWorks has manufacturer’s suggested retail price or discounted pricing built in. In the end, the ProposalWorks design tool prepares a very comprehensive customer proposal that covers all the bases, leading to less errors and rework, thereby allowing faster design creation. 

This how to briefly covers some of the capabilities and benefits of leveraging software design tools.  In addition to the tools mentioned here, there are other design tools out there that can create wire harnesses, machining, assembly, documentation, safety audits, cable routing/lengths and more, continuing along the path of accommodating next generation systems. 

Learn more about network design and the Industrial IP Advantage network design elearning courses here