AutoCAD Electrical, Part 2: How to Use AutoCAD Smart Blocks

26 December 2023AEC, AutoCAD, ElectricalAutoCAD blocks, autocad electrical, electrical controls, smart block, Time



Part 2 in a 4-part weekly series on AutoCAD Electrical (see dates below).

AutoCAD Electrical has proved to be a time-saving solution for documenting electrical controls. Even when they don’t fully implement AutoCAD Electrical, companies have found that they can save at least 25 percent of time compared to using standard AutoCAD. Additional time savings come from being able to run audits to verify designs and extract information from the drawings like BoMs and wire reports.


Standard AutoCAD blocks and attributes are used in AutoCAD Electrical. There are just two differences:

  • the unique names used for the attributes in schematic drawing blocks;
  • the block names have a unique naming convention.

AutoCAD Electrical is programmed to read these special names, allowing it to keep components, drawings, and the project linked. It then uses these special attribute names for extracting reports.

AutoCAD Electrical comes with component blocks based off industry standards like NFPA, IEEE, IEC, etc. To save time, it would be best to start with one of these standards and add your company’s unique blocks to this standard. Many times, companies may deviate from industry standards over the years, creating symbols that are close to a standard but altered into something unique that people get used to seeing on the company’s drawings. When moving to AutoCAD Electrical, it is an ideal time to move back to a standard like NFPA and create the twenty or so blocks that may be unique to your company. The best practice would be to utilize one of the standards and the data it comes with to ensure proper industry standard symbols are being used.

Attributes that do not match those of AutoCAD Electrical are considered User Attributes. These attributes can be extracted and added to reports.

If you’re not using the AutoCAD Electrical toolset yet for productivity gains, contact Graitec Group today to find out what you’re missing.

Examples of attributes found in schematic components

Schematic symbols require blocks with attributes because they are used for linking to other blocks and are used to extract reports based off the data inside these attributes. Panel 1:1 footprints do not require special attributes, but you can add them if specific locations of information is needed.

Schematic push button symbol named “HPB11.dwg”:

Block with data in attributes:

AutoCAD Electrical smart block with data in attributes

Block exploded showing attributes:

AutoCAD Electrical smart block exploded showing attributes

Schematic relay symbol named “HCR1.dwg”:

AutoCAD Electrical relay symbol smart block AutoCAD Electrical relay symbol smart block

Schematic fuse symbol named “HFU1.dwg”:

AutoCAD Electrical fuse symbol AutoCAD Electrical fuse tag smart block

Examples of footprints and catalog data

AutoCAD Electrical comes with a library of 1:1 footprints in imperial and metric sizes. If you use the schematic symbols and catalog values that come with the software, most of the footprints are already linked. So, when you place a footprint, it will automatically be placed based off the catalog number identified in the schematic symbol. Panel footprint blocks can be standard AutoCAD blocks with no attributes. In fact, you can use your existing library of 1:1 block library (footprints) and link them to the smart schematic symbols. No naming convention is required for footprint blocks. Best practice is to utilize as much out of the box as possible and add unique, or missing, company data as required.

A starter database is included when installing AutoCAD Electrical. There are too many vendor catalog numbers to allow every vendor and every vendor number, and companies typically would not need every one of them anyway, even if Autodesk did include them. One workflow is to use the catalog database that comes with the software and remove or add what you need over time. Another workflow would be to start with an empty database and add your company data. If you start with an empty database, you could add the numbers as you go. Alternately, you could extract a list of most used numbers from your MRP/ERP for each symbol you typically use, then copy/paste this information into the empty database to create a foundation to build upon as you create the projects. Best practice is to utilize as much as you can out of the box and add necessary company data as required.

Push button Footprint block example showing only user attributes:

Block with data in attributes:

AutoCAD Electrical block

Block exploded showing attributes:

Footprint with placed AutoCAD Electrical attributes:

Example catalog database entries:

Catalog browser

If you are using or familiar with standard AutoCAD, moving to AutoCAD Electrical to complete your controls designs is a choice that will save you time. Even if you only implement AutoCAD Electrical for the project and title block updating functionality, you will be saving a great deal of time compared to using standard AutoCAD.

And there’s MORE!

The following links are for other articles in this AutoCAD Electrical series by Todd Schmoock, Top Rated Speaker at Autodesk University 2023:

Part 1  The ABCs of Choosing AutoCAD ElectricalDecember 18, 2023

Part 3  Using Project & Drawing Properties to Update Title BlocksJanuary 3, 2024

Part 4  Producing BoMs and Other ReportsJanuary 8, 2024

Check out these popular webinars on AutoCAD Electrical for insights on other ways you can save time:

Migrating from AutoCAD to AutoCAD Electrical

AutoCAD Electrical Overview


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