A Brief History of Surfacing

I was talking to a ZW3D enthusiast and past Rhino user. He was telling me that ZW3D just offers more than Rhino and it would be a good replacement. I said let’s offer Rhino users a special to add ZW3D to their arsenal. I asked what Rhino’s weaknesses were!

He sort of hummed and hawed and really never gave me an answer.

He said we could not replace those that use Rhino for graphic arts.

So, I asked about mechanical design?

He said that the model was not associative and mostly focused on surfacing, has Boolean solid modeling and very weak documentation and would benefit from a good professional mechanical engineering package.

I was introduced to surfacing in they very beginning of 3D CAD with Computervision CADDS 4. They provided very rudimentary surfacing to enhance the 3D wireframe design. I moved to PC based 3D CADKEY in 1987 and in 1988 we had Fastsurf. With the introduction of surfacing 3 Axis CNC was being widely used with packages like SmartCAM, MasterCAM and SurfCAM. We would tediously add surfaces to our wireframe and export them with IGES. This was done for the next 7 years until 1995 when Fastsolids was released for CADKEY. The world change! No more surfacing required!

But pre-solids there was a need for surfacing and the northwest largest Autocad dealer, Robert McNeel & Associates developed Rhino. Autocad was huge and this was the perfect product at the right time. It was functional and cheap. The industry was just beginning to realize they had to pay for CAD. Autodesk was on a rampage of suing those that didn't have licenses. The industry woke up and companies started making policy of no non-licensed software on site. I was at Boeing at the time and it was huge. After that no company would have non-licensed software, this was across the business world.

I was well aware of the surfacing of Rhino.

I was a dealer back in the early 1990’s.

I did take a 5 day class in Rhino. I was already put off by the AutoCADish format. They taught us how to make a duck. The class was full of mechanical designers and we were perplexed. We were looking for precision mechanical surfacing. I was already a CADKEY dealer and we had a very good mechanical surfacing package called, Fastsurf. We dropped Rhino after that class.

I have pondered on this class and have come to the conclusion that precision surfacing is a bit boring and tedious. It is much more fun to pull surfaces into to cool organic shapes. Surfacing in the industrial mechanical design industry is a profession. You only have to look to advanced surfacing packages like Alias and Catia ICEM to see the level of experience required. Precision surfacing is basically the same no matter what program you use, from the intermediate that is supplied in many of the solid modeling packages to the high end $20,000 Alias. It is the focus of the precision surface design that defines the product to use. An effective package is easy to use 2D/3D wireframe and surfacing.

Rhino was the only viable Autocad 3D solution for the next 7 years!

Alias and Catia ICEM are probably an over kill for most precision surface design. Rhino and ZW3D will usually fill the bill. But ZW3D offers much more since it is a hybrid modeler with surfacing integrate with the solid modeling.

The 1990's - 3D CAD/CAM Moves to the PC!!

I was not happy with the input I got about Rhino and decided to talk to a few ex and current Rhino users.

One of my associates and experienced Rhino user had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Rhino. He was in the marine world which seems to be corrupted by Autocad like many other industries. Basing design and engineering on a poorly designed architectural drafting package was quite bizarre and provided some convoluted results.

The Two CAD Programs that Set the Path to 3D MCAD Chaos!

His biggest problem with Rhino was the lack of associativity and the cost and amount of plug-ins available just to make it work. He is moving to ZW3D, yes, he will be still using Rhino, since is it tied so closely to marine industry.

I found the current users were a tight knit group which faithfully used the product, many for over 20 years. I found they were very happy except with a few functions that it lacked. Many already had a mechanical engineering package. The ex-users were happy with their new-found level of Hybrid Modeling in ZW3D.

My 3D CAD career has always being focused on compatibility and interoperability. It started with supplying Boeing and every Boeing supplier with CADKEY to work with Catia 3/4 (1987 to 1998) Catia 5 (1998 and on). So when I look at Rhino I look at it with the same eyes.

I found that Rhino offers a 90 day evaluation. Quite generous, but actually, quite logical since most of the dealers are order takers or online stores. But that doesn't mean they don't supplier good support. There seems to be good direct options.

How does it play with other 3D CAD programs.

A few programs read Rhino files directly which shows, not only the popularity, but its effective use.

Here is a model exported from ZW3D.

The best way to export to Rhino is IGES. It was born with IGES as was all wire frame and surface translation in the beginning. ZW3D is also very good with IGES being a hybrid modeler from the very beginning.

I have never understood the 4 views. It was so confusing in the beginning, but again logical, McNeel's audience was the Autocad user. It is a good first presentation of 3D.  Autodesk actually offered no viable 3D option until Inventor. I do have a great Autocad story in this article toward the bottom. Autocad Mechanical 2012 does supply effective surfacing and push/pull solids.

The Worst to Best 3D CAD System and Why

Rhino was the Autocad world's first functional 3D system. Remember there were no PC base solids until 1995.

This more like 3D CAD today!

As I look through my Rhino Version 1.0 User guide there is little difference in the user interface. I suppose that is why it has been a staple in the PC 3D CAD world for over 25 years.

It seems you can only have one file opened at a time. This seems a bit archaic since most programs can have multi-files open as you can see in ZW3D.

I also found that Rhino only imports IGES and STEP plus a bunch of graphic or obscure formats. I does import native Solidworks parts and assemblies as shown below

Here is the same Solidworks file in ZW3D notice that the parts and sub-assemblies are labeled, separate and in the same file. This one of the benefits of both Rhino and ZW3D, they both are single model environments. It also comes in with the original colors.

Drawings - I actually couldn't figure out how to make a drawing in Rhino. I suppose we should ask this one important question. Are they AIDs (Associated Information Documents) like in all of the 3D CAD programs?

Here is a drawing in ZW3D. ZW3D is unique in the sense that the drawing is integrated in the same part or assembly file. Yes, this takes seconds to create and the views are tied directly to the 3D model. It changes, the AID (drawing) changes.

That was the selling point for 3D CAD in the beginning. The product was a paper print.

The 1980's - 3D CAD - The Beginning

Now I have to admit I am not interested in the direct edit functionality of Rhino since both of my programs IronCAD and ZW3D have robust direct edit plus history and primitive shape design functionality.

Now I feel that ZW3D offers incredible flexibility to Rhino user in providing a high level of interoperability with the rest of the industrial mechanical design world.

First it imports NX, Solidworks, Solid Edge, Creo (Pro/e) and Inventor native files.

It imports and exports Catia 4/5 and all of the standard formats.

It also imports PMI for NX, Solidworks, Creo and Catia!

I am not here to replace Rhino but to praise it..
hmm, where have I heard that before??

So, I thought I would put together a special offer for the Rhino users only.

ZW3D Lite

This is a great enhancement for the Rhino users. I am sure many have worked with Solidworks, Inventor or other Pro/e (Creo) clones. ZW3D Lite is very similar and can use your surface and solids from basically any system. It is a sketch-based system with primitive shapes and robust direct edit functionality. But it has two features that make it miles more productive than the Pro/e clones:

  1. Multi-Object Environment: All parts and sub-assemblies in one file

  2. The Integrated Drawing: Yes, the part and assembly drawings are in one file

The price of ZW3D Lite perpetual is very attractive at $2,000.00 plus very flexible rental options starting at a 6 month rental of $375.00

You can do much of your work and export it to ZW3D Lite to complete your engineering documentation.


My friend gave me a part. I was looking for a mechanical part to import and modify. Now I brought this into ZW3D and Parasolid, STEP and ACIS failed to provide a modifiable part. But IGES did an much better job.

Here is the original part in Rhino. Those 4 views still bug me.

Here is the imported IGES file. I have added some dimensions to show you can modify the part.

I have modified a few of the faces. I hope other mechanical parts are designed better than this. Even though I could modify the part it was far from what I am used to working with from virtually every other solid modeling system. I consider this part unusable. I am not sure how he create the outside fillets but they are not recognizable.

ZW3D Standard

Standard adds Class A surfacing, Sheet Metal Design, Precision and free form morphing, Reverse engineering plus other features to ZW3D Lite.

Here is a part designed in surfaces in ZW3D by Phil Procario, Jr, our resident surfacing expert. Even though it is in surfacing there is still an editable history. It moved to solids as part of the design process providing a viable manufacturable part.

Phil’s Corner

It easily moves as an IGES to Rhino

I don’t have to tell you, Rhino users about surfacing. ZW3D could replace Rhino, for some, but most of you have decades of experience and would probably not move but would love to have more model functionality without losing continuity.

ZW3D Standard works incredibly well with IGES files and all the solid modeling translation formats including importing all the major 3D CAD program native files.

I feel ZW3D Standard is the best fit for Rhino and all surfacing packages no matter what the cost.

Here is what a previous Rhino user said about the move to ZW3D Standard


The initial hull design was done in Rhino, which for some reason is a standard in the boat industry.

The surface already had a few problems!

It was imported into Fusion 360 and I did some of the early concept design work, but when it came to surfacing I hit road blocks every way I tried it.

At this time Phil was not part of the project, but I suggested to my client that we needed Phil's help. Phil also hit road blocks in Fusion 360 even using some of his unique re-topologizing workflows and T-Splines.

The rest is history, as they say. 

Thanks to ZW3D paired with Phil’s surfacing skills we now have tooling for the hull created.

You should see the images.

Perfectly smooth reflections! 


Phil’s Corner

As for cost: ZW3D standard is $3,000,00 Perpetual with the 6 month rental options starting at $500.00 and 12 months at $900.00!

Download it today and experience the incredible hybrid modeling capabilities.

For more information or to download ZW3D

The Most Incredible Presentation of Hybrid CAD Modeling, Ever!!

Beyond Direct Edit: Surface and Hybrid Modeling

The Case for Inexpensive 3D CAD!

But ZW3D offer much more. It is one of the few truly integrate CAD/CAM programs. It offers integrated mold and CNC options.

The Case for Inexpensive Integrated 3D CAD/CAM!

Now for the special!

Click here to go to the special offer for Rhino users only

ZW3D Special for Rhino users!


Please feel free to stop by our website below for a variety of articles on the State of our Industry, Interesting Articles on 3D CAD Productivity and a Few of Our Projects!


Viewpoints on Today's 3D CAD and Engineering Industry


We sell and support IronCAD and ZW3D Products and provide engineering services throughout the USA and Canada! 

TECH-NET Engineering Services!

If you are interested in enhancing your conceptual design process, adding professional hybrid modeling capabilities or looking for a new solution to increase your productivity, feel free to give me a call to answer any questions, just to chat or have an on-line presentation of our products.

Joe Brouwer