September 12, 2011
Software Review: ZW3D Premium 2011 – Capable CAD and CAM In One Package
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
| 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.
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.
ZW3D is built on the company’s own, proprietary Overdrive m
odeling k ernel, 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
Regardless of what CAD system is used, most new designs start with sketches, and ZW3D is no different. However, ZW3D can simplify sketching 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
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.
Figure 5: Adding 3D Features to a 2D Sketch – Extrusion with Several Types of Features Applied
At the 2D level, there are several dimensioning modes available, including
Normal – dimensions point to point
Baseline – dimensions from the first point selected to successive points
Continuous – dimensions continuously between successive points
Ordinate – similar top Baseline, but each successive point receives an ordinate value measured from the first point.
For 3D, with ZW3D’s dynamic dimensions you can pick and drag 3D dimensions for modifying shapes with simultaneous visual feedback. This ability lets you construct 3D geometry with parametric dimensions because they are automatically created during the design process.
If required, and they usually are, constraints can be applied in both 2D and 3D design environments.
In 2D, there are several commands available for adding constraints to an active sketch, such as anchor, parallel, perpendicular, co-tangent, etc. Like it or not, constraints force conditions on geometry as a sketch is modified. You can choose commands to analyze and solve the constraint system of a sketch. 2D constraints (and dimensions) can also be applied automatically to sketch geometry on the fly by using the Constraint toolbar and selecting a base point.
In 3D, constraints are
are most commonly applied are assembly alignment constraints. For assemblies, inserting component parts and adding alignment constraints are considered individual steps in parametric history. This is a good feature because constraints can be added in any order since they are not bundled with components or replayed sequentially during a history replay. When a 3D constraint is applied, a short animation shows the parts aligning and moving into place in the assembly. Alignment constraints can be added, deleted, solved, edited,
dragged, and investigated. Alignment constraints can also be applied to anchor components in a fixed position. Applying 3D can be time consuming
, however, because in most cases, multiple constraints are required to properly align a component.
Two Modeling Approaches – Parametric and Direct
Before we go any further, you should know that ZW3D provides two different modeling methods – history-based and direct. History-based modeling employs a History Manager, or what other parametric system vendors call a history/feature tree.
ZW3D’ SmoothFlow Direct Editing combines the best of both worlds – the speed and flexibility of direct modeling with the precision of dimension-driven modeling, while still maintaining the functionality of history-based modeling. Using SmoothFlow, you can directly modify model geometry without
generating history – a real time saver, since creating and editing history-based geometry can be a challenge.
QuickEdit is a new ZW3D technique that streamlines creating and editing shapes. With QuickEdit you don’t have to pre-select an editing tool. Instead, you touch a part’s face or edge, right click the mouse, and choose a tool, such as fillet, offset, or move.
SnapPick is a new ZW3D option that takes a point pick and automatically drives it from intersections, critical
, points, and axis directions. You can think of SnapPick as an assistant for helping create 3D sketches, features, and parts.
The direct modeling/editing approach provided by ZW3D is unique because of the way it employs a feature tree. While some competitors have abandoned the feature tree with their direct approaches, it does make for a workflow that is easier to track and understand. Direct model editing lets you pick directly on geometry for quick modifications. You also have different options for viewing how the model was created with the ability to display the history of modeling operations, a list of parent and/or child operations, as well as the ability to replay and step through a model’s history.
Important for ZW3D users who are involved with both CAD and CAM, regardless of whether you model parametrically or directly, any changes made to geometry automatically updates associated CNC program output downstream.
Stepping Up to Assemblies
Creating assemblies from parts in ZW3D Premium 2011 is one of its strengths because assembly modeling is key to ZW3D’s underlying design philosophy. It supports efficient assembly definition, manipulation, and management, and was a fundamental consideration when the ZW3D architecture was conceived and designed. For example, ZW3D’s Object Manager loads only display data for an object into memory
unless that object is active for edit, minimizing an assembly’s memory footprint while maximizing the size of an assembly that can be worked with. The
Object Manager also lets you decide how assemblies are distributed into files – ranging from each component in a separate file, an entire assembly in one file, or anything in between.
Figure 6: Toggle Clamp Assembly With Alignment Constraints Applied
ZW3D Premium supports the two main assembly creation approaches – bottom-up and top-down.
In bottom-up assembly design, assemblies are broken down into smaller subassemblies and components, and each component is designed as a separate, unique part. The component parts can be archived in a library in one or more ZW3D files, making this approach an efficient way for creating and managing large, complex assemblies. Each part is inserted into the active part, creating a component instance and an assembly. The component becomes the child of the active part and then it becomes the active part. Because an instance of an actual part is used, you can have it update automatically if the archived part is modified, or you can modify the archived part by activating and modifying its
component instance. While it might sound complicated, it really isn’t, and this ability illustrates the flexibility of ZW3D.
In top-down assembly design, all components are typically designed and placed while you are in an active part. Using the top-down method in ZW3D, the active part actually becomes the assembly. The component becomes a child of the active part and then it becomes the active part. When created, the component is an instance of an original part that becomes a root object placed in the active file. The part or each component is activated and can be edited. The top-down approach is generally considered more advantageous than bottom-up. Why? Here’s a typical example. If you are working on a new design, you can elect to keep all component parts in a single file until the design project nears
completion. If the project is cancelled or you decide to go in a totally new direction, deleing the one file deletes the part or assembly and all of its components.
The PartSolutions library, at no additional cost, makes standard parts from a wide variety of suppliers available for insertion into an assembly. At the part level, with the PartSolutions PartAssembly application, you can insert components in
to active ZW3D assemblies. You select the part group that you want, such as fasteners; select the specific part you want to insert and modify it if you need to; click on the Transfer to CAD icon; and in ZW3D, select the insertion point for the new component.
Figure 7: The PartSolutions Library
Finally, ZW3D supports its proprietary lightweight Burst technology that lets you manipulate large assemblies without memory constraints. The tree structure for assemblies allows individual component parts to be graphically highlighted for identification and modification purposes.
ZW3D automatically creates 2D associative detail drawings directly from 3D models from which they are created, so the process is pretty streamlined. The production drawing and detailing process are assisted by ZW3D’s unique object server architecture that lets you decide whether drawings will be saved in the same file as the 3D data from the master model or in separate files.
Drawings provide an opportunity to briefly discuss ZW3D’s architecture that is a multi-level object-oriented system with access to its various integrated modules (such as drawings, CAM, etc.) through a common user interface. Rather than having to launch separate applications for drafting or CAM, you just open a ZW3D file and proceed to the level you want; in this instance the Drawing Level for creating and editing drawing packets and drawing sheets. The Drawing Packet Level contains functions that are used to create drawing packets, while the Drawing Sheet Level is used to create drawing sheets. In ZW3D, a drawing packet is a collection of one or more drawing sheets. A drawing sheet
is where model geometry is located.
Figure 8: A ZW3D Drawing
While we’re discussing drawings, there is a new command for bills of material that lets you synchronize a BOM with part attributes for updating a 3D part by making changes to the BOM table on a 2D drawing , so you don’t have to drill down to the part.
Before proceeding to the manufacturing stage, for rendering a model (scene) at the part level for presentation, you use the command and options under the Visualize tooltab. Rendering a scene is performed with the following basic steps in the Visualization environment:
Position and orient a part or assembly in the scene
Modify any face attributes
Apply any texture attributes or maps
Create and position light sources
Modify any rendering attributes
Render the scene
While not as sophisticated and complex as the rendering packages found in some competing CAD products, the visualization capabilities in ZW3D are not overkill, relatively easy to set up and use, and will fulfill the needs of virtually all users in this design space.
Using Built-In Manufacturing Capabilities
One of the most unique aspects of ZW3D Premium CAD process is its association with the manufacturing process. For example, ZW3D recognizes and machines geometric design features (up to 5 axes), and has the ability to directly manipulate and machine from STL or mesh scan files.
With an extensive integrated knowledge base, ZW3D Premium 2011 includes automatic feature recognition (holes, slots, pockets, etc.). ZW3D breaks down part topology into solid features and then analyzes the capabilities of library tools for producing a machining plan and generating a machining sequence/workflow. This technology is a real time saver. The company estimates that it could cut machine programming time in half and machining cycle time by up to 30%.
ZW3D Premium 2011 lets you create mold geometry that includes core and cavity, parting surfaces, draft angles and material shutoffs. The core and cavity can be created at the same time in one operation. Also available is a comprehensive library of standard mold base components that includes slides, lifters, ejector pins, cooling channels, and electrodes for producing molds. One of the most significant features of ZW3D’s mold capabilities is the way it is organized into a logical sequence that walks you through the mold creation process.
Before getting to the mold design phase, you can interrogate, analyze, and animate a plastic part’s design to ensure that it is manufacturable. ZW3D also generates so-called intelligent workflow. For example, it employs auto-feature milling with machining strategy based on a part’s features.
Although you can create them from scratch, the quickest way to create tooling for producing plastic parts is by using ZW3D Premium’s Mold and Die Tooltab. You use this command set to insert a mold base from the ZW3D standard parts library. You also use the Mold and Die Tooltab for automatically creating electrode geometry during mold design. Inputs for electrodes include approach direction, the faces or features to duplicate, trimming curves to limit the electrodes, and the side of the faces or features that will remain. In a nutshell, the built-in mold libraries use knowledge-based libraries to build mold bases and electrodes with automated parting line, surface, and electrode
Figure 9: Creating a Blow Mold Cavity
The CAM and Tactics Managers in ZW3D Premium provide assistance during the manufacturing phase. These management tools help you develop intelligent and efficient milling and drilling operations. You do this by defining rules that ZW3D CAM will use when analyzing CAM features. The rules that are defined form a rule set that will help select the best
tools machining tools from your library and calculate the best tool paths. For example, if a drilling operation is required and a good match from available drill tools cannot be located in the library, ZW3D CAM searches existing reaming or boring tools for a better match for
the given operation. The suggested tooling operations can then be organized, verified, and output just as manually created operations would be.
Figure 10: Managing ZW3D Machining Operations
ZW3D Premium 2011’s machining tactics/strategy optimization assists in selecting the best strategy based on part features. It analyzes feature attributes, such as sharpness and depth, and selects machining strategy based on this information. Machining strategy optimization provides better flexibility and control with better surface finish and improved tool life.
Figure 11: CAM Plan/Tactics General Machining Managers
Toolset optimization (TSO) consists of several technologies that ZW3D uses to generate optimal tool selection for specific machining sequences. It analyzes available tools and makes “intelligent” choices based on part, stock, material, and machine to compute tool sequence optimization.
While ZW3D 2011 Premium has several strong capabilities in part and assembly design, drawing creation, and data management, its greatest strength and differentiator is the fact that in one package, you have all the tools necessary for going from design through manufacturing (machining). In effect, ZW3D Premium 2011 can handle the entire product development process. This comprehensive ability really adds to its value proposition compared with its competitors, many of whom require optional or add-in products to achieve this level of functionality, especially on the manufacturing side.
Having all workflow capabilities available in one package ensures a similar user experience, look, feel, and behavior throughout the design and manufacturing process. It also ensures that all support questions throughout the process can be handled by one organization. All in all, dealing with one comprehensive software application, such as ZW3D Premium 2011, and its supporting cast will benefit many potential customers, especially those directly or indirectly involved with plastic product design and mold and die or machining operations.
Although it’s definitely a competitive market, ZW3D Premium 2011 is a unique design/engineering/manufacturing software application because it can do it all. In the near future, look for a much stronger presence of ZW3D in North America by manufacturing organizations seeking a solution that is capable of doing it all. ZW3D Premium 2011 provides a lot of functionality, and we just scratched the surface and evaluated just a fraction of its unique features and capabilities. If your organization and workflow call for the ability to work with both CAD and CAM worlds, then ZW3D Premium 2011 deserves serious consideration because it provides both in one package.
ZW3D 2011 Premium
Pluses: Comprehensive range of capabilities from design through manufacturing; hybrid history-based and direct modeling; modest system requirements.
Minuses: Dated user interface and workflow; help system/tutorial shortcomings.
Price: $7,000 (US). Upgrade $1,500 (US). Free trial
For More Information:
The Week’s Top 5
At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.
Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. unveiled SolidWorks 2012 with a variety of improvements in areas such as assembly and drawing capabilities, built-in simulation, design costing, routing, image and animation creation and product data management that will positively impact design teams.
SolidWorks 2012 offers improvements in the areas of:
Drawings – New tools help create better-looking and more-accurate drawings in order to cut down on the revision process and help users detail designs faster. For example, changed dimensions are automatically highlighted and show previous values to help with revisions. Sequential balloon ordering and magnetic lines automatically help order and position balloons, allowing users to spend less time detailing and aligning drawings.
Sustainability – SolidWorks Sustainability’s new, advanced user interface means users can more accurately model products with “what if” scenarios and better support unique and custom materials. Users can also closely model processes with parameters such as recycled content and duration of use. Also, access to the latest SolidWorks Sustainability supplemental materials will be instant and continuous as they become available.
Large design review – Allows instant opening and review of massive assemblies or any individual component with walkthroughs, sectioning and measuring without the need for a high-powered computer or any special file preparation.
Feature freeze – Eliminates unwanted feature rebuilds by locking all features above the “freeze” bar, speeding up the design of complex models where rebuilding of specific features isn’t needed. Features can also be unfrozen at any point.
Equation editor – New equation capabilities allow users to create equations faster and understand order more easily, providing new levels of flexibility and productivity.
Design costing – A flexible tool that automates manufacturing cost calculations for sheet metal and machined parts. Designers can make more informed decisions based on cost throughout the design process and continually model new scenarios for instant up-to-the-minute manufacturing estimates.
Sheet metal – Design from scratch or convert customer 3D parts to sheet metal with new tools that provide control over the unique challenges of working with sheet metal — such as precise control of edge flanges, including up-to-vertex end conditions. Designs can be automatically flattened and documented for manufacturing, with export to CNC and manufacturing equipment.
Simulation – SolidWorks Simulation includes enhanced motion optimization that automatically uses motion study results to create sensors and refine complex and time-intensive machine aspects such as motor size, bearing loads and range of travel. Users can optimize designs in a fraction of the time as they refine inputs and immediately see changes to restraints or goals.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We attended a SolidWorks 2012 press launch event last week and will discuss and describe what we heard, saw, and learned in the next edition of MCADCafe Weekly. Later this year we will also feature a detailed review of SolidWorks 2012.
GstarCAD launched GstarCAD MC for iPad, that enables users to create, edit, mark up, and share CAD drawings directly on the Apple iPad. The new software works with OCF files, which can be converted from DWG and DXF files quickly using GstarCAD for Windows running on desktop or laptop computers. The OCF format has been optimized to display CAD drawings accurately and quickly on iPads, as well as to ensure that fonts are displayed. OCF files are transferred from PCs to iPads through Apple's iTunes software. The software is available at no charge from the Apple iTunes Store. The latest Windows version of GstarCAD is needed to convert drawings between DWG and OCF formats and a
demo version and brief user guide can be downloaded for free.
The most dynamic segment of the PLM market, with a healthy 12% CAGR in the past five years, the Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering (MCAE) market continues to ignore the economic downturn and almost silently, as per the engineers' traditions it serves, has become the most profitable segment of the PLM business. A first of its kind, this report studies the worldwide market value, the actual growth rate and the vendors revenue form 2006 until now, through an analysis of the top 13 MCAE software vendors in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. It provides analysis through multiple criteria, and for each criteria, the ranking per region based on 2010 numbers. This market covers
structural analysis, vibration or modal analysis, thermal, fluid dynamics, crash simulation and analysis, fatigue, plastic injection, test simulation and other simulations of modeled systems, assemblies or parts. Smaller than the MCAD market in terms of size, but growing much faster, the MCAE market is experiencing less hype, and has been recording a steady growth for almost 30 years. Most solvers have been available to the market for at least 10 or 15 years. These characteristics of MCAE products separate the market behavior from those of MCAD and PDM, which are much more volatile.
Gibbs and Associates announced that it developed its thousandth post processor for GibbsCAM in support of a large variety of Multi-Task Machines (MTMs). Each of the 1,000 post processors is uniquely developed and configured for a specific MTM machine-control combination, representing machines from nearly 60 manufacturers. The landmark is significant for two reasons: 1) the use of MTMs is increasing rapidly because of the productivity that these machines can provide –and most MTMs require a CAM system for programming – and 2) after finding a CAM system that readily programs MTMs and overcomes their complexity, the biggest challenge for users is obtaining post processors that
generate CNC code that optimizes efficiency of the machine tools, takes advantage of all available control options, and accommodates shop-process preferences, all critical to minimizing the cost of part production. Whereas most CAM software vendors provide a post processor as a generic tool, and relegate configuration and implementation – reiterative testing, trouble shooting and correcting – to their users and resellers, Gibbs has a complete post processor department that develops, implements, and maintains post processors. In support of customers and machine-tool builders world wide, the GibbsCAM post processor group maintains a current library of over 10,000 unique post processors
to accommodate all types of lathes, mills and multitask machines, in combination with their associated controls.
A major PLM user company ($5 billion sales, 16000 employees, operating in 29 countries) has asked the PLMIG to help benchmark its PLM implementation with other real PLM users. If other user companies wish to join in, then the PLM Interest Group will run a collaborative benchmarking project that will take place during the first quarter of 2012. This will be an international benchmark, on a scale and depth of detail that has never been done before in PLM. It is intended for companies that are seriously interested in quantifying the strengths and weaknesses within their PLM landscape and that are willing to commit time and resources to do so. For its part, the PLMIG will provide the
leadership, coordination, benchmarking parameterization, and full documentation. The benchmark will provide participating companies with quantified answers about the whole scope of their PLM implementations:-
"What, exactly, is achievable in PLM today, and in the future?"
"How well does our operational set-up support our business strategy?"
"How do we compare with other companies in the functionality that we provide?"
"How efficient are we in using budgets and resources compared to other companies?"
Because it will be a global benchmark, companies and corporations from anywhere in the world are welcome to take part. Depending on the response, we may be able to provide a regional structure for the USA, Europe and Asia. For information about how your company could take part, see the PLMIG web site or contact Roger Tempest at
Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of
MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at
Email Contact or 719.221.1867.
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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.