Are Purpose-Built Schematic Programs Faster Than Generic CAD?

Are purpose-built schematic design programs really much faster than generic CAD?

SOLIDWORKS Electrical, is an automated electrical schematic design software designed to dramatically improve engineering productivity compared to the most commonly used method in industry; general-purpose CAD software used with a spreadsheet. You would expect a dedicated software optimized for this task would be faster. The question is, how much faster and is it worth changing?

Before I attempt to answer that question, some historical examples of analogous comparisons of automated systems introductions are a useful contrast to highlight the reasons why dedicated systems have been developed and widely adopted.

Typewriter to Word Processor

The move from typewriters to word processors is the first example. Early on, some people would say “I can type just as fast on my type writer as you can on a word processor and I don’t need a computer or to learn anything new”! While simply typing is the same in both, changes, reuse of paragraphs/text, sharing files electronically and spell check made word processors dramatically faster and worth the additional cost. Documents could be shared and were of much higher quality and consistency. For those reasons, you can only find typewriters in eBay, flea markets or antique stores. It is unimaginable that anyone would write a novel with a typewriter today.

Drafting Board to Computer Aided Design

Closer to home is the next example, the drafting board. It is a similar story, a capable person using a drafting board might claim they can draw just as fast as or faster than someone with CAD, all without a computer or having to go to a class to learn CAD software. The major difference is the speed of change, design reuse, task automation and much higher quality, consistency- no electric eraser needed. Today, drafting boards can mostly be found in museums or perhaps archaeological digs.

Underlying principals and architecture

Back to the original question, are dedicated schematic design systems better than CAD and why is that? The essential idea on why it’s better is increased intelligence and the principal of only inputting data once. Any opportunity to have technology reduce human error and automate repetitive tasks can increase productivity. Ideally, when you place an electrical symbol, it would understand what it is, how it should automatically be placed in the circuit and heal the connections without cleanup. Further, it should bring all its metadata with it, which can then be used downstream in deliverables like Bills of Materials (BOMs), From/To and other reports.

When changes are made to a schematic, wire numbers should automatically increment and update without retyping. In fact, any changes should propagated to all related pages and sheets and reports in the project with 100 percent accuracy, eliminating the possibility of human error and manual labor. The core technology to make this a reality is a relational database that adds intelligence to a CAD engine. The combination of graphics and a database is simply smarter and due to the built-in behavior, intelligence and architecture, design reuse is enhanced and data is only input one time, freeing the user to focus on design and not trivial and repetitive data entry.

Computer-Aided Design to Database-Driven Schematic Capture

How can we prove and verify it?

We made a side-by-side video of a simple but authentic electrical design project and completed both identical designs from scratch using the same symbol library. Using both generic CAD and SOLIDWORKS Electrical Schematics, the circuit is drawn, a simple change is made and basic reports created. We would tell you how much faster upfront but we think the numbers are so great, you would have a hard time believing us. The old adage of “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear” comes to mind. If you are using regular CAD today, watch the video to find out how we did.

Click here to witness a side-by-side challenge using SOLIDWORKS Electrical versus a generic CAD tool to create the same motor circuits as well as generate the required documentation. This on-demand webinar will show you how adding SOLIDWORKS Electrical into your design workflow can help you to achieve major efficiency gains.

You likely will conclude that vanilla CAD is closer to the drafting board than you ever realized. If you wish to try for yourself, contact us at to arrange a test.

CJ Shirk

CJ Shirk

CJ is Senior Director at SOLIDWORKS tasked with empowering companies to streamline product development with PCB, Electrical, MCAD, CAE, and PDM Software.