September 12, 2011
Software Review: ZW3D Premium 2011 – Capable CAD and CAM In One Package
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor


by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Although they do share some similarities, CAD and CAM processes are actually more different then they are similar. They have different requirements, workflows, and outputs, and very few design/engineering software packages are up to the task for performing both. ZW3D Premium 2011, however, handles them both – all in one package. The ability to handle both CAD and CAM in one package has several distinct advantages, including a common user interface, the fact that you can seamlessly toggle between CAD and CAM, and service packs and updates can be applied to both simultaneously when they are available. All in all, a single, integrated, and comprehensive application that can handle both
CAD and CAM makes for a more efficient manufacturing workflow that can provide better end results.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the company that develops, markets, and supports ZW3D, it's ZWSOFT, based in China and has been involved with CAD since 1993. Its 2D product, ZWCAD, has been available for almost 10 years. Its 2D/3D family, ZW3D, was added to its product portfolio last year when it acquired the products and technologies of VX Corp., a company known for its integrated CAD/CAM software and used extensively in the plastics manufacturing industry. As part of the acquisition, ZW3D continues to incorporate and enhance the proprietary geometric modeling kernel originally developed by VX – something I consider an advantage because it provides greater control
over development and can optimize the functionality of a CAD product.

Recently released, ZW3D 2011 is available in three versions – Standard, Professional, and Premium. Let’s take a quick look at what each of the versions offers for users with different needs and workflows:
  • ZW3D Standard – Has comprehensive import capabilities, history-based and direct surface and solid modeling, sheet metal design, design optimization.
  • ZW3D Professional – Has everything included in Standard, plus integrated PartSolutions library, mold and die design, point cloud processing.
  • ZW3D Premium – Has everything in Professional, plus extensive integrated manufacturing and machining capabilities.

  • Probably the two most significant breakthroughs with ZW3D 2011 Premium include:
  • Direct Edit design paradigm that is integrated into the existing history-based modeling architecture – providing you with different design methodologies that each have their own distinct advantages.
  • Auto Feature Machining that reduces the time required to program complex 3D parts for creating a machining plan by automatically detecting features and optimizing tool selection and machining strategy.

  • ZW3D Premium 2011 will be the version covered in this white paper/review, so, let’s get started. Note also, that although ZW3D Premium has a wide range of CAD and CAM capabilities, we will focus primarily on the CAD side of the equation. Because there is so much to cover on the CAM side, we will briefly discuss CAM capabilities in an overview fashion, hoping to cover them in much greater detail in a future white paper/review.


    Getting Started

    Regardless of experience, for the most part, learning a new software package always has challenges and associated frustrations, and CAD programs are often no different than other types of software.

    Most CAD applications now have educational tools and a path for easing the steepness of the initial learning curve, with some tools and methods definitely better than others. For new and even experienced users, the place to start with ZW3D 2011 are the Show-n-Tell tutorials.

    Although hardware prices continue their downward spiral, frugal users without budgets for new hardware will appreciate ZW3D’s relatively modest system requirements – Intel Pentium IV or better; 1GB RAM; and 1280 x 1024 VGA video with True Color. Of course, more advanced hardware will improve performance, but brand new hardware is not a cost barrier for running ZW3D 2011 Premium.


    Figure 1: ZW3D 2011 User Interface

    Along with educational materials, a good user interface is also integral for new users, and ZW3D is making some significant strides in this vital area. However, more work needs to be done here as it looks and feels somewhat dated. For example, the large number of icons and drop-down menus are not very intuitive, especially for new users, and take some getting used to with regard to functionality and sequence.

    Unlike some other CAD/CAM systems, files created with ZW3D can contain as many parts, assemblies, drawings, and CAM plans as needed, each being known as an object. You can store an entire project of objects in one file or multiple files. A good strategy would be to store commonly used parts in one file and create part objects specific to an assembly in another project file.

    Another good strategy for beginning a design with ZW3D is to create template objects for modeling, 2D detailing, and machining. All template objects are stored in the Templates file. You can edit previous template objects, as well as copying and pasting to create a new one. Templates can be customized to set such things as colors and line styles, layer schemes, and machining operations and parameters. A template can be selected and used when starting, for example, a new part, drawing sheet, or CAM plan. When using templates, be sure to properly save and close the Templates file when you have finished editing to ensure the integrity of your work.

    ZW3D has a couple of hints and prompts design aids that new users will appreciate. First, there is Show Hints that provides context sensitive, continuous tips. Second, at the bottom of the graphics window is the Prompt/Status Line that displays the current command and the next logical step ZW3D wants you to perform. This latter feature is not perfect, but is usually quite helpful.


    Figure 2: Importing Geometry with the Import Option

    There are two ways you can import geometry -- using the Import option under the File menu or using the TransMagic option under the Applications menu. Using the Import option, you can import DWG, IGES, STEP, VDA, DXF, Parasolid, STL, and Neutral data formats. If you have the TransMagic data import/export tool installed (it is a free add-on for ZW3D users), you can import CATIA V4 and V5, SAT, NX, Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, and SolidWorks formats.

    With ZW3D Premium you can work with any geometry and solids are not necessarily required. Once imported you can manipulate solids, surfaces, wireframe, and scanned point cloud data. Geometry healing is useful for correcting gaps in imported model geometry. Healing functions make it relatively easy to analyze surface topology, sew surfaces together, fill gaps with new surfaces, and specify tolerances for creating closed solids.

     

    Modeling Parts


    ZW3D is built on the company’s own, proprietary Overdrive modeling kernel, which, as I previously mentioned is a good thing for mathematical modeling efficiency, optimization, and the fact that you and your CAD vendor are not held hostage by a modeling kernel developers’ schedule.


    Figure 3: Creating a New File

    Sketching


    Regardless of what CAD system is used, most new designs start with sketches, and ZW3D is no different. However, ZW3D can simplify sketching with a capability called ReadySketch with several pre-defined commonly used, dimensioned geometric sketch shapes that can be quickly edited to a needed size. Text created using ReadySketch can be embossed or extruded.

    Sketching in ZW3D is straightforward, making it easy to begin a design. Clicking on a line and right clicking displays several context sensitive options, such as copy, move, mirror, cut, etc. Geometric constraints, such as perpendicular, parallel, etc. are automatically displayed and in effect during sketching. Clicking on a constraint displays options for changing it. When you save and exit the sketch, you are ready to next create features.


    Figure 4: Sketching a Part in 2D

    Adding Features


    Probably the most common way that 2D sketches become 3D shapes for further modeling is by extruding the 2D sketch. Extruding and adding additional features, such as fillets and chamfers is easy with several options available as they are added for arriving at exactly the shape you want for your design.



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