The Ultimate 3D CAD System




I get in a bit of trouble when writing articles on products I sell. I was involved at the very introduction of 3D CAD. I was using Computervision CADDS 4 in 1982. Introduced to PC based 3D CADKEY in 1986 while on contract at Boeing and quickly became a Dealer. I was there when Pro/e was released and sold against it. I was selling CADKEY and IronCAD against Solidworks in 1998. I tried to sell Pro/e, Solid Edge, Solidworks and Inventor, but I only sell what I use and the Solidworks Clones were just not productive or flexible enough. I picked up SpaceClaim for a short time (which I believe is the reason we now have "Direct Edit Functionality" in all of the current Pro/e Clones). But I believe history based is best for conceptual design and having integrated direct edit and history is a requirement for flexible and productive design. I have never done a scratch (2D) drawing in CAD.

Then I took on VX (now ZW3D) to provide easy to use integrated CNC for my associate, Gary Stuart. We were selling a CADKEY add-on CNC module and he just was not happy with it. Being a competent 3D CAD user and CNC programmer, he became the AE for the complete VX product line. I was not involved, being busy with CADKEY and IronCAD. The CADKEY folks decided to go to direct sales and after 22 years they terminated our contract. We are a unique 3D CAD/CAM dealer, we are also users and used our products in our own engineering department.

Around the same time ZWCAD purchased VX and started enhancing the program. I started playing with it. I soon realized that it had incredible functionality in an "all in one" integrated CAD/CAM package. It may not be the best in every category but 3D CAD is more than just modeling parts.

ZW3D has everything in one program, that includes history based design, direct editing, a multi-object environment and integrated drawings. You can do complete projects in one file, just think how easy that would make PDM. Imagine how easy, productive and flexible that would be? Add integrated free form Class A surfacing and hybrid modeling and you are easily outperforming "Any" 3D CAD system out there.

Its basic operation is very similar to the Pro/e clones and is very easy to get up to speed with a very short learning curve. It has incredible interoperability capabilities so you will not lose any legacy data, you can read the native files of all the popular 3D CAD packages. It can even import the PMI of Catia, Creo, NX and Solidworks.

The very best part of ZW3D Standard is the price at $3,000.00

ZW3D offers very flexible options starting with 6 month rentals!

No maintenance contracts. Upgrade when you want!

ZW3D does not stop with CAD. It has fully integrated mold design and CNC.

So read through the article and see that I am not just promoting a product, but from my experience, I am presenting the Ultimate 3D CAD System. 

Joe Brouwer

So what makes up the Ultimate 3D CAD system?

First it has to be a solid modeler.

     1. Must have History Base Design Functionality

There are a variety of solid modeling systems. All have four basic functions of model creation. Extrude, Revolve, Sweep and Loft. There are two types of design paradigms: History based and Direct Modeling.

Ref: Learning Mechanical 3D CAD  

First we eliminate the Direct Modeling only packages. Even though they can do the complete job, history based design is by far the most productive for conceptual design where all of the features are directly available to the original designer.

As good as history based design is, it can become a nightmare to do changes. The only constant in engineering is change. So the 3D CAD system has to have integrated direct edit functionality.

    2. Must have Integrated Direct Edit Functionality

So what do I mean by integrated direct edit functionality. I mean functionality that can easily be used in our design process. All 3D CAD systems except for Catia 5 offer a certain level of direct edit functionality. Most of the Pro/e clones offer a bit of a clunky process that add direct feature modification as a step in the history. The problem with this is that you do not escape the limitations of history hierarchy. Only IronCAD offers a unique level of integration of direct editing that rivals the direct edit only package for flexibility in model modification. IronCAD also offers unique functionality that is found in no other package.

IronCAD is the most productive conceptual design 3D CAD system available. But being the superior 3D CAD system in both of these paradigms does not define the Ultimate 3D CAD system.

While ZW3D does not offer true integrated direct edit, it offers a few workarounds that make direct editing effectively available in the design process. It's history is more of a step by step approach that gives better access to the direct edited features. Also, you can actually combine your history into one brep.

Ref: The Lost 3D CAD Paradigm! How I Found Freedom in an Unfree 3D CAD World!

Ref: The Worst to Best CAD System and Why!

Ref: CAD for the Industrial and Product Designer

   3. Must have In-Context, Top Down Single Model Environment

Ref: Single Model Environment

Dassault has released its SW Conceptual Design program and they have included Single Model Environment functionality. Now SWCD does fit the above requirements but soon falls away since it has no conventional documentation capabilities.

Ref: Welcome aboard Solidworks: Updated! 

I have personally worked with SW and Inventor with in-context or top down design. It is a bit clunky and is not easy to use or set up. I found that Inventor pushes this design process from the beginning in its tutorials and does a much better job than SW. Many SW users are doing bottom up design, which is designing each part separately and inserting them into an assembly, which is a very non-productive way to design. They seem to be unaware than designing in-context is even available. I do not know how functional this is with the other packages, SE, NX, Creo and Catia, but I am sure the users of those package can evaluate their ease of use.

There are only two history based programs where this as part of your design process.

ZW3D has a Multi-object format that lets you easily start designing your assemblies where all of the parts are separate and available to easily create or modify within one file. A unique feature of ZW3D is that the drawing is integrated with its associated part or assembly.

IronCAD is quite a bit different. It is the only history based package that has a true Single Model Environment. All design is done in one space. All parts coexist in this space. You can have external references as required. Now most of the direct edit only package plus SWMC have this functionality. It is by far the most productive of all CAD functions.

Ref: Five Functions that Increase 3D CAD Productivity!!

4. Must have Standalone Class A Surfacing.

Surfacing is a function that is not always required. I have found in my 3D CAD sales that only 10% require an intermediate level of surfacing and only about 3% require an advanced level of surfacing on the order of Alias. But at a minimum an intermediate level of surfacing should be included in the base package just to aid your solid modeling as in the case of the requirement of a swarfed surface in a stepped parting line.

Ref: Beyond Direct Edit: Surface and Hybrid Modeling

5. Must have Integrated Manufacturing Available

CAM is a big part of manufacturing. Today most 3D CAD system do not have integrated or associated CNC. While most companies may not have in house machining this functionality cannot be denied as adding an incredible level of productivity. Imagine designing your parts and any change in the part can be automatically associated with an integrated manufacturing process using the same system. This requirement has eliminated many of the above systems as the Ultimate 3D CAD system.

Ref: The Case for Inexpensive Integrated 3D CAD/CAM!

6. Must be able to read and utilize the data of the popular native 3D CAD files included in the base product and be able to easily modify them.

There are many 3D CAD systems on the market. The Ultimate 3D CAD system should include the ability to read all of the popular programs native files directly. Of course you have to have robust direct edit functionality to use the data. ZW3D now imports the PMI information in Catia, NX, Creo and Solidworks

Ref: Free PMI Importer?

   7. Must have the AID (Associated Information Document) included in the
       design File. This is mistakenly called "The 2D Drawing"

All 3D CAD systems have documentation modules. Calling them Drawing Modules is a bit of a misnomer. We do not draw AIDs. We now create AIDs (Associated Information Documents) they look like drawings but they are created by placing instances or views of the part or assembly in a documentation module and then add associative dimensions and annotation. They offer much more flexibility in delivering concise, complete and unambiguous information to Manufacturing and other departments.

Ref: The Death of the Drawing

The Integrated Drawing - Eliminates much of the PDM problems

Most of the CAD systems have separate AID (drawing) modules. The Ultimate 3D CAD system would have the AID (drawing) included in the file. To my knowledge the only 3D CAD programs that have this are CADKEY, SpaceClaim and ZW3D. This is where all of the above 3D CAD systems fall off the list. You can do this with ZW3D. You can even create scratch drawings using it like you would with Autocad or Draftsight.

Ref: The Integrated Drawing in 3D CAD

Give me the Envelope Please! And the Winner Is!!

ZW3D Standard!

The only system that has all of the above functionality is ZW3D Standard. I took on ZW3D when it was VX to offer my customers fully functional CNC and Mold & Die design capabilities. As I was finally getting familiar with ZW3D I found all of this functionality. I was pleasantly surprised.

But it doesn’t stop there. It also includes great reverse engineering functionality working with point cloud plus much, much more. With the combination of all this functionality it by far exceeds all of the above packages individually.

Ref: Reverse Engineering 2015 AK-47 Project

Take a look here to see all of the incredible capabilities available with ZW3D.

Interactive Version Table

ZWCAD purchased the VX product line and are working hard to make ZW3D not only the most cost effect but the most productive design and manufacturing 3D CAD/CAM system available.

But what makes ZW3D most attractive is the price.

ZW3D Pricing

It is priced at below many of the above programs annual maintenance cost. You don't have to worry about keep your annual maintenance current, you will have an option to upgrade at a reasonable prices when a new version is released. I am sure many of you are tired of being abused by the major 3D CAD vendors only to find out that the latest touted enhancement does not even apply to you. You will find dealing with a smaller company is much better than a company worth billions that wants to squeeze every cent they can get out of you and their major concern is their stock price not their customers!!! If you select TECH-NET as your dealer we are usually available to help you by phone or Skype. We are experienced engineering professionals and understand your problem. We serve the USA and Canada.

Ref: You are Not Stuck with Autodesk or PTC Subscriptions!

Many of you have dreamed of offering your own engineering services or have had an invention you would like to design. Many companies would love to give their employees a seat of the software so they can cut costs by allowing them to telecommute. Now it is all possible at a price that even a wife would agree.


Let's take a look at some of the topics applied.

History, Direct Edit and In-context or top Down Design

Here is an assembly done in Solid Edge and exported as a Parasolid file. It comes in less than two minutes and it comes into one file. Parasolid seems to be a better translation protocol since it brings in all of the parts and assemblies with the name and number as they were defined in the original file

Both history and direct edit design are available.

 Remember this is all being done in one file, no external parts.

Here is the clevis modified

In the history showing the direct edit plus a few fillets added in the history.

Yes, surfacing is included in the Standard version!

Surface Modeling Telephone

Introduction to Surfacing in ZW3D

Now for integrated and associated CNC

For the Professional Mold Designer

Interoperability with all of the Popular 3D CAD package

All of ZW3D programs include:

Imports: Including PMI for Creo, Solidworks, Catia and NX

  • Creo (Pro/e)

  • NX/Solid Edge

  • Solidworks

  • Inventor

  • Autocad (dxf/dwg)


  • All Neutral Formats (JT as an Option)

  • Catia 4/5 (.catpart/.catproduct)

Here is an imported Catia 5 .catproduct assembly, notice that all of the part files come in to one file. The base box can be edited in context showing the other parts as reference parts.

ZW3D is one of the few 3D CAD systems that reads PMI from Creo, NX, Catia and Solidwork.

Here is a imported Catia file with PMI from a large aircraft manufacturer


Here is an AID (drawing) generated from the above model. AID or PMI Which is more clear and usable? Remember it is integrated in the same file.

Again the AIDs (Drawings) are included within the Single Part/Assembly File!

The benefit of having all of the parts, assemblies and AIDs (drawings) in one file is huge for the individual designer working on a single project. Of course, you have the option to have parts and assemblies separate. The AID's are always tied to the individual part or assembly! You do not have to wonder if there is an AID or not just right click and select 2D sheet in the part or assembly.

Here is a complete assembly done in ZW3D

Here is an AID of the assembly, notice there are two sheets. You can select the sheet you want by the selecting the tabs at the bottom.

Sheet one

Sheet Two

An AID of the bearing  - All are in the same file!

For more on the above project please visit: 

Ref: Learning Mechanical 3D CAD

So we have not only described the Ultimate 3D CAD System, we have also showed you examples of how it is applied. So take some time to review this incredible option to bringing the price of CAD/CAM down without sacrificing productivity and performance.

Who benefits:

  • The designer that wants to offer professional engineering services

  • The inventor that want to develop their own ideas!

  • Companies that want to cut their 3D CAD costs and not be under the thumb of the Major CAD Vendors

  • Startups that can't afford the high cost of 3D CAD.

  • Suppliers that want to be compatible with their customers

  • And the many more that would benefit from inexpensive professional 3D CAD.

The Case for Inexpensive CAD!

The Case for Inexpensive CAD/CAM!

3D Modeling is the basis for our engineering. That is the only place where productivity is paramount. You can have all the PLM/MBE gurus debating data management, but it does not add one smidgeon of productivity to the design process.

Here are some exercises showing the productive modeling technique in ZW3D. I am getting more familiar with ZW3D. These kinds of exercises show some incredibly modeling shortcuts available in ZW3D, the multi-object environment shines through. Never forget the integrated drawing. It is huge when thinking about how much of a problem the external drawing has been in PLM. It is the reason we have the silly Model Based Enterprise.

This article introduces you to Streamlined Sketching and Feature Based Modeling.

3D Modeling Techniques Defined

And for the final proof!! The cost!!

Give ZW3D a try, what can it hurt?

The Very Best 3D CAD Rental Offer!!

ZW3D Lite = 6 month $450.00/12 month $800/Perpetual $2,000.00

ZW3D Standard = 6 month $650.00/12 month $1200.00/Perpetual $3,000.00

TECH-NET Engineering Services!

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

 Why TECH-NET Sells IronCAD and ZW3D

If you are interested in adding professional hybrid modeling capabilities or looking for a new solution to increase your productivity, take some time to download a fully functional 30 day evaluation and play with these packages. Feel free to give me a call if you have any questions or would like an on-line presentation.

For more information or to download IronCAD or ZW3D

Joe Brouwer