In my last week's post I said that my first recommendation to anyone starting in the field of industrial hydraulics would be to get into the habit of recreating newly learned concepts and recently encountered systems on a sheet of paper with symbols and lines because converting physical stuff into abstract diagrams is a great mental exercise that helps you learn faster.
My second recommendation (and the main point of this article) would be:
to start drawing hydraulic diagrams on a computer as soon as you become accustomed to making them on paper! Being able to draw accurate, professional-looking diagrams, that can be exported as PDF or image files is an invaluable skill for a technician!
The only question is - what software should you, as a new tech, use? There seem to be quite a few options out there. If you google "software for drawing hydraulic diagrams", you will find many specialized programs, i.e. the likes of HydroSym, ConceptDraw, FluidDraw, and SmartDraw, maybe you'll be tempted to give the SUN's QuickDesign a try, or maybe look into the Rexroth's Scheme Editor, or maybe some other piece of specialized software that will come about as I am writing this post.
Well... My opinion about this is very strong, and it is backed not only by my experience but by the experiences of other techs who were "converted" by my schematic-making incentives:
I am absolutely convinced that you should first learn how to make hydraulic diagrams using a standard 2D CAD drafting software, preferably one of the numerous AutoCAD almost-clones. And if you are worried about the price of such a software package, don't be - you'll see why in a minute.
I often see that young techs seem to believe that schematic drawing software needs to have an extensive library of hydraulic symbols to be efficient. This is not true at all. You can (and should!) very easily create and use your own reusable hydraulic symbols in any standard 2D drafting program, and the sooner you learn and realize how incredibly easy this is once you have gotten the hang of it - the better!
This is a monetizable skill on its own, by the way. We've billed thousands of €€€ for elaborating accurate hydraulic diagrams for systems that don't have them (for various historical reasons). Please, never think that if you work in a shop with spanners and hammers, you don't need all that "engineers-only" schematics stuff. You do! You absolutely do! And you should start learning it ASAP!
Now - about the software that you can use. Free software, of course. For me personally, for many years the free version of DraftSight was hands down the best choice for a free 2D CAD package, but sadly, this option is no more (sigh...). But not to worry, friends, for there is the option of the NanoCAD Free, which is, in my opinion, the best choice for anyone who is looking to learn how to use a 2D drafting program with the classic command interface. (I guesss I should say "At least at the moment of writing this article"...)
Believe me - you absolutely don't need to worry about the "limited functionality", it has all the functionality in the world to make beautiful and professional-looking hydraulic diagrams. It took me less than five minutes to create this PDF using a fresh install of the NanoCAD free with standard settings - it is that easy! E-mailing something like this to a client is way more professional than showing them a hand-made doodle.
Now, there is a learning curve, yes, and it may seem hard at first - but you'll get there, I promise! I have seen a mechanic who had never worked with a CAD program in his life, draw perfect hydraulic diagrams after but a week of following simple tips from yours truly. Yes, it is that easy.
There's another benefit to this. As soon as you learn how to make schematics using 2D CAD and become more or less efficient in it - you'll realize that transitioning to mechanical drawings is another logical (and, once again, very simple) step.
I strongly believe that every hydraulic tech must know the basics of 2D CAD and use the knowledge to draw hydraulic schematics. There's free software for that, there are tons of free learning resources (the 600-page PDF that comes with the nanoCAD alone is more than enough to get you going), and the only thing that you need is a little bit of time and dedication, but I assure you that this skill will be paying back forever!
You may only consider transitioning to a specialized diagram suite after you've learned how to use a basic 2D drafting program for your diagrams. I am not sure that many of you will want to, though... (at least for "normal schematic-making volumes"). I still use the classic 2D CAD for everything, but I guess it is a matter of preference. But I will always insist that new techs should start with the classic 2D drafting because it can be applied to virtually anything that they will ever need to create a drawing for!