3 CAD Tools for Building Electric Vehicles Better

Written By: Dave Martin
  • 10/27/2021
  • Read Time : 3 min.
Electric sportscar charging.

As an early member of the Vehicle Design team for Amazon Prime Air, I helped design electric-powered drones for package delivery. Given our FAA-directed 55-pound weight limit, internal combustion for the powertrain was not an option. Therefore, batteries powered our propulsion system.

More industries and products have moved towards electrification in the past decade. Electrification is the process of developing products that run on battery-powered electricity from renewable sources, as opposed to power generation and transmission systems involving other sources like internal combustion.

Benefits of Electrification

Electrification provides a number of advantages, including:

  • Lower weight. Internal combustion requires heavy components like engine blocks made of cast iron or aluminum alloys. Fuel and fuel-delivery systems also add weight.
  • Less noise. Think about single cylinder two-stroke engines like your neighbor’s leaf blower or lawn mower. Battery-powered products typically generate less noise pollution.
  • Cleaner. This is one of the primary advantages of electrification. Electric vehicles do not generate exhaust or contribute to carbon. Heat production for manufacturing via renewable sources can produce low to no carbon emissions.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with electrification. Electric batteries have their own issues regarding charging time, discharge capacity, weight, and even fires. Electric vehicles generally do not have the same range as their internal combustion counterparts of the same weight. But lithium-ion battery capacity generally increases about 5% each year, which results in significant improvement over time.

The trend toward electrification should also increase with time. In August 2021, a U.S. executive order mandated that half of all vehicles sold be zero emissions by 2030. A recent episode of NOVA called “The Great Electric Airplane Race” highlighted several companies developing crewed and un-crewed zero-emissions air vehicles. Electrification extends to manufacturing in addition to transportation. Global Efficiency Intelligence has identified 13 industrial subsectors that could benefit from decarbonization and electrification, including steel, aluminum, plastics, food, and even beer production.

How CAD Can Support Electrification

Several modules in the Creo family line can support your development of electric-based products.

Creo Schematics. A schematic is a 2D representation of the routed systems in your product. You can start at a high level with a block diagram and use that to develop a wiring diagram. The latter allows you to figure out which components and pins need to be connected, as well as define initial connectors and wire gauges. The information from your schematic can be leveraged using a process called logical referencing to automate the 3D routing process in Creo Parametric.

Creo Cabling. To deliver power and information across your product, you need to know the routes, branches, and lengths of your cable harness. The Piping and Cabling Extension (PCX) allows you to define harnesses, spools, and wires throughout your 3D assembly models. This routing can be performed manually or, as mentioned above, can leverage the information from a 2D schematic. Then you can generate the necessary manufacturing deliverables like flat harnesses for fabrication and tables for your harness runs and spool Bills of Material (BOM).

Clearance and Creepage Extension (CCX). On Amazon Prime Air, we had higher gauge higher voltage copper wires that carried power from our batteries to the propeller motors. Often you couldn’t avoid running signal cables along the same paths. Interference from high voltage wires is always a concern. CCX provides analysis to support design decisions to ensure proper distances through the air and along surfaces between your electrical nets, as well as warnings regarding potential short circuits.

Clearance and Creepage in Creo

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About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a former Creo, Windchill, and Mathcad instructor and consultant. After leaving PTC, he was the Creo specialist for Amazon; and a mechanical engineer, Creo administrator, and Windchill administrator for Amazon Prime Air. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and currently works as an avionics engineer for Blue Origin. 

Martin is the author of the books Design Intent in Creo Parametric and Top Down Design in Creo Parametric--both available at www.amazon.com. He can be reached at dmartin@creowindchill.com.