Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Basics of Creating an AutoCAD Electrical Symbol

The Symbol Builder guides you in the making of symbols. Its very easy and quick to create your own “intelligent” symbols. In this post we will look at the basic workflow and some general guidelines used when building symbols.

Starting the Symbol Builderimage

The command is on both the Schematic and Panel tabs. There is no differences in how the command starts, or its options, between the two locations.

Select Symbol Objects and Attribute Templateimage

If the reference geometry is already in block form, it can be selected from the (1) embedded block list drop. If the block is external, it can be selected by pressing the Browse button. The block can also be simply selected using the (2) select objects button.

Any existing geometry, text, and attributes, not in block form, can be selected using the (2) select objects button as well. Nothing is required here since the entire block can be created inside the Block Editor environment.

Tip: Verify the symbols size will match up with the default wire connection spacing for the desired standard. If wire connection spacing is not consistent between symbols extra clean up will be required when swapping blocks.

Specify the insertion point using the (3) pick point button. This can be changed later but it will make working in the Block Editor easier if this is specified now.

Next we choose the proper attribute template (4) The path points is to the default symbol library NOT where you wish to save this block. The attribute blocks are saved there. Just make sure the proper standard is selected. The other two menus narrow down which attribute template will be used. They also aid in naming the block later. A later post will discuss attribute template blocks in more detail.

The preview area (5) should show a little view of the geometry that was selected. If a block was selected the attribute names will show instead of the actual values the attributes hold. Pressing OK opens the Block Editor

imageThe Block Editor

First a quick overview of the Symbol Builders Block Editor environment.

(1) The biggest thing on the Symbol Builder tab is the option to toggle the visibility of the (2) Symbol Builder Attribute Editor panel. Use the Done button once the symbol is complete.

The (2) Symbol Builder Attribute Editor panel is the heart of this little environment. It allows easy insertion of required attributes based on the previously selected attribute template as well as wire connection locations. We will discuss it in detail in the next section of this post.

There is really no reason for the (3) Project Manager. It could be closed and reopened from the Project tab after the symbol creation. The same can be done for the (4) Dynamic Block Authoring Palette. It is used in the creation of dynamic blocks and rarely used in AutoCAD Electrical. It can be toggled back on from the Block Editor tab.

The (5) graphic area is the blocks model space. If additional geometry, text, or attributes are needed, simply switch to the Home tab and add or modify as required. Pretty much anything that can be created in AutoCAD can be created here in the Block Editor environment.

Using the Symbol Builder Attribute Editor

When this palette first came out it had a lot of people really upset. I’m not sure why. From the start I felt this was about 1200 times better then the black box symbol builder dialog. image

Before we get into the attributes, I want to point out this button.  This button opens a dialog that allows a new attribute template to be selected. It also allows a new insertion point to be selected but you will have that option later as well.

Now onto attribute placement. This is really slick. Simply select the desired attribute and press the first little icon. image If the icons areimage too small for you, right click and all of the same options are available there as well. After choosing Insert, click to place the attribute in the graphics window.  Another way to insert, is to select the desired attribute and then simply click and drag the attribute line into the graphics window. When the mouse button is released the attribute will be waiting for placement.

Note the second option is Convert Text image (third icon). This is a great command when converting existing imageAutoCAD blocks. Selecting text will carry the text formatting into the attribute keeping the same look. A side effect to this is the text value becomes the attributes default value. This can cause a problem if selecting text stating LT100. That will become the new default prefix for all tags when using this symbol. After all attributes are placed, review the attribute defaults before continuing to the next step.

To reuse existing attributes from an existing AutoCAD block, simply double click it and rename its TAG to match a desired attribute line. What do I mean by this? Note the image below already has an attribute for TAG called TAGNUMBER.
image   image
If I rename this original attribute to AutoCAD Electrical’s default TAG1, immediately the TAG1 attribute line is confirmed.
image     image    image

If a symbol has no text to convert and it’s the default size, all attributes can be placed at the same time. Select all of the attributes in the palette and then insert them as a group. The insertion will be based off of the attribute templates origin and where that attribute lives in the template. So zoom out a bit because some of the attributes may be slightly off screen when placing.
image   image
Some attribute templates will have some optional templates that can be placed as well. Remember this is AutoCAD. Place any extra attributes necessary. They can always be edited using the AutoCAD attribute editors and their values can also be used in reports later.

Wire Connections
imageWire connections consist of two attributes and could be placed manually. However this utility will place and name them properly for you. Click in the white space beside Left/None and a drop down arrow will appear. Click the arrow and all of the possible wire connections are available for selection. Choose one and then press the little icon image above it to place a new connection in the graphics window. Remember to use OSNAP’s when placing these connections. (Shift+Right Click) The wires will end on the attributes insertion point not the geometry being selected.



If a series of connections is needed simply keep clicking. Wire connections will continue to be placed. Remember to switch connection types as needed or wires will not connect properly. imageimage

If this symbol will always receive the same pin numbers, they can be called out here in the attribute default area.


Link Lines

Dash linked lines are setup pretty much the same as wire connections. Make sure to add all possible directions for the symbols needs.

In the example below, you can see the need for both sides of the connection in most symbols needing link lines. The exploded blocks on the right are copies of the linked selector switch on the left. The link line attributes are shown on the image on the right.


image     image

Close Block Editor: Saving the Symbol

Ok so that’s about it for the basics. How bout we turn this into a block and test it? From the Symbol Builder tab select Done.

Once again note the ability to set the base point. The insertion point should be set by now but if not this is the last chance.

Choose if this block should be (1) imbedded in this drawing only (block) or wrote to an external dwg (wblock). Then we move on to naming the block. The symbol prefix is already taken care of. Simply update the (2) unique identifier field and then click/tab out of the field. This will cause the bock and image name to update. If no icon image is needed, clear the check (3) for icon image.

The (4) file paths should be set by the wd.env file. Even so verify the paths are pointing to the proper locations.

Finally review the errors found by the block audit by pressing the (5) Details button.

After pressing OK you are given the option to insert the block after closing the block editor. The correct answer here is Yes. Verify that the wire connections work and attributes are in their proper location. If not, take the block right back into the Block Editor and fix the problem.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Be Patient More Content Is On The Way…

With AU just around the corner, I have been using any free time I find to work on my presentation. I promise more content is in the works.

Tibetan resistance movementImage used with permission from Laco Mandor Laurincik at

How to Make the Previous/Next Arrows Prompt For Save – AutoCAD Electrical


These arrows are nice to use since they close each previous drawing as the new drawings are opened. However a down side to this automatic functionality is that any changes are SAVED automatically.

This can be good or this can be very bad. The drawings are saved and then closed. So the undo history is lost.

However there is a setting in the wd.env file that can be enabled. Simply find the following row…
*WD_PROMPT_SAVE,1,set to 1 to trigger "Save changes" prompt when using open dwg next/prev arrows buttons

By default this row is commented out (*), and Electrical saves automatically if there are pending changes. Remove the asterisk from this row and the Next/Previous buttons will prompt for a Save if there are any pending changes needing a save. After pressing Yes or NO the drawing will close and move on to the Next/Previous drawing.

For more information on the wd.env file see these past posts.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Making Changes to the ENTIRE Symbol Library – AutoCAD Electrical

I noticed this call coming into our support desk today. The user needed to change the scale of every symbol in the entire JIC or NFPA library. That’s quite the task to tackle manually. There are over 1,700 symbols in the NFPA folder with another 133 in the 1- subfolder. The IEC library contains over 3,300 symbols! Opening each and every symbol to simply change a scale or change an attributes text height is an extremely time consuming and monotonous task.

imageInstead of “there’s an app for that,” I can say wait “there’s a utility for that.” It’s slightly hidden. Its under the Symbol Builder button.

Make a backup of the library folder first of all. Then start the Modify Symbol Library utility. After selecting the library folder to modify, the final dialog allows all kinds of changes. Also note the ability to run a LISP expression. So pretty much anything can be done to each and every symbol in the library.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Need More Fields! – Pushing Past The Limits of Title Block Update

Many companies have had to settle with placing some “specific” field in one of the ten default Drawing Properties. It could be as simple as needing a forth description line. Since there are only three default description fields, the forth description line more than likely ends up in the Project Code field.

Another example could be needing semi-project wide descriptions. The Title Block Update utility can become too restrictive in these instances.

I went on a quest to find the easiest way to push ALL title block attributes out to a spreadsheet and then pull the changes, project wide, back into Electrical. As always, please comment or e-mail me if you know of an easier/better way.

After some initial testing, I finally decided to focus on the existing Export To Spreadsheet utility.

Any block with a TAG1 attribute is exported using the Components option. So simply add an invisible TAG1 attribute with a default of TITLE. Also add another invisible attribute named LOC and add a default value of TITLE. This will allow us to create spreadsheets with only the title blocks.

imageNext we need to create a <<default.wda>> file.  Using the User Attributes command makes creating this text file quite easy. From the Reports tab click on User Attributes and then add all title block attributes to the list. These attributes will now be available in any of the component type reports.

This would be placed in the same support location the title block mapping file (.wdt) was placed in. Some networked support path or inside the active project folder.



imageThat’s it! We are ready to export all title block attributes project wide. From the Import/Export Data tab select To Spreadsheet. Select Components from the resulting dialog and press OK.

The next dialog (Component Data Export) sets the scope of the export. In this case we want Project and a Named Location of TITLE. Pressing Drawing will show the list of locations and TITLE should be listed.

Press OK and specify a location for the Excel file. After opening the Excel file, scroll all the way over to the right and all the User Attributes will be listed with the values pulled from the drawings.

Once all needed changes to the title block attributes are completed its time to import back into AutoCAD Electrical.

Again from the Import/Export Data tab, but this time select From Spreadsheet. It should remember the name and location and simply require the press of the Open button. Worse case you may need to browse back out to the file location.


imageThe next dialog has a cool option that will force all spreadsheet values to upper case. Press Project and OK and all new values will update in each sheets title block.





The title blocks should not show on any BOM reports because of the lack of catalog information. To exclude them from the Component report place ~TITLE in the location code. This will exclude all blocks with a location of TITLE.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Electrical Humor

It may just be my new fitness routine, but I found this quite funny.
Found on
I can’t read the signature on the lower right so I can’t give credit where its due.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Toggling Dots to Angles and Back Again

This is a follow up to the <<Swapping Entire Symbol Libraries Project Wide>> post. After switching all symbols from JIC to IEC, the next step could be switching wire connection dots to angle connections.
image image

There is an existing toimageol that does just that. AETOGGLETEE It’s located under the Edit Wires panel.

After starting the command, window select the dots to be converted. Or type ALL and press enter. This selects the entire drawing and converts all connection dots at once. I noticed it only seems to select the dots that are currently on the screen even when typing ALL. So be sure to Zoom Extents first.

Editing this buttons macro to do all dots would be as easy as…
(note the space behind the ^C)

So moving from dots to angles is quite easy. How about angles back to dots? Not so easy, but I’ve found a script that does just that.
Download it <<here>> or make your own using the script below.


Remember a script can be run project wide from the Project Utilities dialog.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2014 Content update for Rockwell Automation (Allen Bradley)

This update adds new AB content to the existing AutoCAD Electrical content databases. 
As with any update be sure to review the Readme to be sure its installed properly.

This link contains the additional content details.. AB-RA Content Details

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mirroring Components the Proper Way – AutoCAD Electrical

Once again I have a someone using AutoCAD commands inside of Electrical and their confused by the results. This time it was AutoCAD’s MIRROR command causing the problem. When using the AutoCAD MIRROR command, the wire connection attributes end up switching sides and future wires will attempt to enter the wrong side of the symbol.

Below the connector has been mirrored using the AutoCAD command and notice how the new red wire now pulls off of it. Its because the wire connection attributes have switched sides.

The wires know what direction to go based off of attribute name.
X1TERM0# wires come into the component from the right.
X2TERM0# wires come into the component from the top.
X4TERM0# wires come into the component from the left.
X8TERM0# wires come into the component from the bottom.





The answer is to simply use the correct AutoCAD Electrical command: Reverse/Flip Component

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Adding Cross Reference (XREF) Info To Footprints – AutoCAD Electrical

imageToday I was asked how to pull cross reference info from the parent symbol into a footprint. This works great on child components. Simply add an XREF attribute to a child component (if its missing) and on placement it auto populates with the parents sheet and reference location. However add an XREF to a footprint and nothing happens to it.
Out of the box, footprints do not pull this information even if the footprint contains an XREF attribute. However this information is available because multiple commands reference the footprints back to the parent symbol. None is more visible than the Surfer


In the surfer dialog above we can clearly see a reference between the parent, a child, and the footprint. So the question is, how do we go about getting this information info the footprint?
Below is a nifty utility wrote by Nate Holt back in 2009. (I tested it in 2014 and it still works great) It uses the same calls to the database that the Surfer users to capture this information and then writes it into an attribute named XREF on all the selected footprints.
Simple APPLOAD it and then type the command PANEL_CROSSREF

Add an XREF attribute                 Run the command                   Select the footprint                 Press enter…
image   image  image image

Monday, August 5, 2013

Flattening 3D Models Into 2D Footprints – FLATSHOT

It seems many vendors are no longer offering 2D drawings of their components and are instead posting 3D models. This makes for a very large drawing and affects overall performance.


imageThis isn’t a problem. Using FLATSHOT, an existing AutoCAD command, the 3D model can easily be broken into 2D top and side views. Insert the model into a drawing by itself. Use the ViewCube to rotate the model as needed.

Now type in the command FLATSHOT.

Set the destination for the new 2D block. In this example I will simply insert it back on the same drawing. However a footprint could be exported directly to the Custom Footprint folder from here.

Next you configure the lines. Checking ‘Show’ under Obscured lines will add hidden lines to the footprint.

Press Create and verify the new 2D block is as desired.


image  image

I have seen a few other ways to do this type of thing but personally FLATSHOT is my favorite. Its simple yet has a number of options. And its already a part of the software.