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By Steve Lynch, May 29, 2013
Unfamiliar as I am with ZWSOFT and its line of software products, I did a bit of research before starting my review of ZWCAD+. For the benefit of those in the same situation, here we go. ZWSOFT (officially ZWCAD Software Co., Ltd.) is a CAD/CAM software provider with 320,000 customers in 80 countries. Some of ZWSOFT's major clients include Siemens, Sony Ericsson, Panasonic, Carrefour, and Saint-Gobain. Founded in 1998, ZWSOFT now has more than 400 staff. It is headquartered in Guangzhou, China with branch offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Florida, USA.
ZWSOFT has two primary products, ZWCAD+ for 2D and 3D drafting, and ZW3D for 3D modeling and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing). ZWSOFT calls ZWCAD+ "the next generation," equipping it with a new graphics engine for better .dwg support, greater memory control, and code-level API compatibility. I reviewed ZWCAD+ Professional, which offers simple 3D solid modeling using Spatial's ACIS, Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications, and ZRX API (similar to AutoCAD's ARX).
On my first visit to the ZWSOFT Web site, I looked at the screen shots displayed there and they suggested that ZWCAD+ has drafting environment very similar to that of AutoCAD (see figure 1). Once the package installed, I got straight into using it. The first thing I noticed was that the command line is there, great! I do like the command line, and short cut keys. There certainly is an uncanny resemblance to AutoCAD; even with the options, the resemblance is always there. As I looked around the program, I realized that it was speedy. I have ZWCAD+ loaded on a fairly basic laptop, and it kept up with every command I entered. The interface is easy to get a hold of, and so the package becomes easy to use because of this.
|Figure 1: The start-up screen of ZWCAD+|
I think that what is probable key is the efficient working environment provided; I found that the tool bars aren't busy as the main drafting tools are stripped down to the ones that are more likely to be required most of the time. This makes it easier to use straight away.
I started thinking about how drawings will come in that I received from someone else, and so I opened up a drawing. I expected there to be some butchering of text or for justification to be thrown out somewhere. Instead, I was surprised to see a fully editable drawing with everything intact there and ready for use.
When I investigated some more, I noticed the App+ bar (see figure 2). I saw an array of applications and assumed that third-party developers provide add-in programs. I didn't investigate this further but this gives the program another competitive edge.
|Figure 2: Add-on applications available direct through the ribbon|
I find it very useful to be able to import DWFs and PDFs as underlays, and ZWCAD+ has bags full of options for importing these. With Excel, PowerPoint slides, and more, the list is sizeable. Interoperability between programs, however, falls a little short. There are few options for exporting file formats, among those missing are DGN - but does there need to be?
|Figure 3: Insert options on the ribbon|
Among export and import formats, SAT files seem to be the way to go for 3D models. I tried them with a drawing made of simple 3D cylinders in another package, and had no problem bringing them into ZWCAD+. It would be good, however, to have a few more export functions though. The software seems to have a limit to 3D functionality; for instance, it would be useful to print out a 3D DWF, but it doesn't seem to have the ability.
Then I noticed an "export" tool that is so useful to me, yet is not found in AutoCAD LT: the Attribute Extraction wizard (see figure 4). The version in ZWCAD+ is so easy to use, as no external template files are required. Just like a Polaroid camera, I point, click a button, and out comes the information as a .csv file. In brief, this lets me export the information from attributed blocks to a nice Excel table. For example, setting out coordinates, I can use an SOP block with a reference, say SOP01. The block records the insertion point coordinates (i.e. X, Y, and Z), and then the information can be extracted. The simplicity is nice, but I was disappointed that I could not bring the output into the drawing as a table.
|Figure 4: Attribute extraction underway in ZWCAD+|
There is another tool I liked that exports dimension styles out of the drawing, and then into another one (see figure 5). This is handier than my workaround, which is to bring in all the information through via a block insertion. Yes, I could use AutoCAD's DesignCenter, but it is long winded, and so I see the utility in ZWCAD+ being very useful.
|Figure 5: Exporting dimension styles|
The eTransmit utility is for packaging large projects together into a nice ZIP file that can be emailed or uploaded (see figure 6). It maintains the structure of the project by maintaining xref paths, OLE files that may be inserted in the drawing, font files, CTB files, and so on. This is a very handy tool with ever increasing file sizes and the complexity of projects.
|Figure 6: Setting up an eTransmit package of drawing and support files|
Another one of my favorite commands in AutoCAD is XClip. It clips large survey maps to the area that I need. So it was a joy to see it here (see figure 7). I also found that ZWCAD+ has the ability to import and control OLE objects.
|Figure 7: Applying XClip to a drawing|
ZWCAD has Express Tools, which are familiar to me from AutoCAD (see figure 8). These are useful tools all of which I can imagine needing to use most of the time. For instance, a new one I found is file compare, which swiftly compares two files that appear otherwise similar, but are not. It is a great aid when versions go slightly askew on the server, and so takes away the doubt of what's different. An everyday example is when I work on a drawing from an architect, I add the civil and structural details based on xref files. Then the architect does some further design development, but isn't keen on adding revision triangles to indicate changes. Now I can run the two files through this command, and it highlights the differences for me.
There are other little gems, like the system variable editor, locking drawings, or converting text to mtext. Others include explode attributes to text (Burst).
|Figure 8: Express Tools on the ribbon|
I continued through my tour by trying the multiline command, one I have never noticed in other CAD packages I've tried (other than AutoCAD). I found it easy to define new multiplines: just set the spacing, number of lines, thickness, and so on, and away I go. I use them in multiple ducts on a site layout, and even simple road layouts.
|Figure 9: Accessing multiline styles dialog box|
I am glad to see a layer translator (see figure 10). I get drawings from architects, and I want to generate an overlay. This can lead to a struggle with the layering convention supplied by the drawing. I xref'ed the drawings as simple reference files; so as to not clutter layers with all the xref'ed names, I convert them all to one layer, named "architects import 01." This makes it much simple for me to switch between references.
|Figure 10: The layer translator in ZWCAD+|
ZWCAD+ is available for $795.
I always try to find reasons to not like a new program, but I am struggling here to find a problem. This is a well presented package, with a slick operation and smooth feel. For the cost, it would seem to be a good investment to many kinds of design offices; in fact, at this price, anyone involved in project development could use ZWCAD+ just to be able to view and interact with drawings.
The only problem (and maybe a big one for some) is compatibility with other industry standard formats. The lack of interoperability puts it as a package with not much BIM potential. As well, the current trend towards parametrics doesn't seem to have made its way into this program as yet.
Other than these couple of shortcomings, all in all I find it a good package for the money. It is well worth a look by anyone dealing with drawings who needs the ability to dabble without spending a fortune.
|Steve Lynch is a project engineer with 16 years experience with building structures and major civil engineering projects. He has managed a team of CAD technicians from trainee to senior level and maintained internal resource management system. More...|
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