ZW3D 2019: Delivering Performance from Design Through Manufacturing
Jeffrey Rowe posted on March 11, 2019 |

It’s no secret that there are many engineering software choices for computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), but they are often separate products or add-ins. ZW3D, however, provides CAD and CAM capabilities in a single, integrated package and interface that can really streamline the product development process.

ZW3D 2019 Premium, with its ability to handle both CAD and CAM, has several advantages. The biggest advantage is a more friendly user interface. You can easily move between the CAD and CAM environments for a smoother and more efficient design, engineering and manufacturing workflow, which can provide better outcomes and results.

ZW3D 2019 is available in several versions with each offering features for users with different needs.

ZW3D 2019 Premium is the version that will be covered in this evaluation/review. Please note, although ZW3D Premium has a range of CAD and CAM capabilities, I am focusing primarily on the CAD side because there is so much to cover on the CAM side. I will, however, cover some of the new operations available for CAM.

ZW3D Premium capabilities. (Image courtesy of ZWSOFT.)
ZW3D Premium capabilities. (Image courtesy of ZWSOFT.)
In a nutshell, ZW3D Premium’s feature set includes:
  • Comprehensive import capabilities
  • History-based and direct modeling
  • Solid surface hybrid modeling
  • Assembly design
  • Sheet metal design
  • 2D drawings
  • Mold design
  • Point cloud processing
  • Integrated manufacturing and machining capabilities, hole machining, 2- and 3-axis milling, and lathe turning
  • Integrated Part Solutions library

Getting Started

1. Before installing ZW3D, I recommend that you check your graphics driver to ensure that it is the most current. I encountered some display issues with ZW3D 2019 until I installed the latest driver for my NVIDIA graphics card. Then, all was well, and I could get to work.

2. For new and even experienced users, the place to start learning ZW3D 2019 is the Show-n-Tell tutorials. ZW3D 2019 also has a series of helpful CAD and CAM tips for just about all aspects of the design and manufacturing processes.

3. A good user interface is vital for new users and minimizing the learning curve, and ZW3D 2019 has made some significant strides in this area. To tackle any learning curve that is there requires proper documentation. However, the documentation that comes with the product is incomplete and will leave some users, including me, at a loss on how to perform some functions without trial and error.

4. Files created with ZW3D can contain as many parts, assemblies, drawings and CAM plans as required, each being known as an object. You can store an entire project’s objects in one file or multiple files. With this in mind, a good practice is to store commonly used parts in one project file and create part objects specific to an assembly in another project file.

5. Another good practice for beginning a design with ZW3D is to create template objects for modeling, 2D drawing and machining. All template objects are stored in the templates file. You can edit previous template objects, as well as copy and paste 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 sureto properly save and close the Templates file when you have finished editing to ensure the integrity of your work.

6. ZW3D 2019 has hints and prompts as design aids that most users will appreciate. First, there is Show Hints,which provides context sensitive, continuous tips. Second, at the bottom of the graphics window is the Prompt/Status Line that displays the current command and next logical step ZW3D wants you to perform. This latter feature is not perfect but is usually quite helpful.

7. Like virtually all CAD systems, including ZW3D, most new designs start with sketches. However, ZW3D simplifies sketching using a proprietary capability called ReadySketch and sketch block with several pre-defined commonly used dimensioned geometric sketch shapes—such as circles, polygons, curves, etc.—that can be quickly edited to a size required for a design.

Data Manager and Dual Modeling

I feel ZW3D’s Data Manager is one of the most unique features of ZW3D’s UI. It is used to control several aspects of parts, drawings, the CAM plans, etc. through Levels.

ZW3D Premium 2019 user interface in Sketch mode
ZW3D Premium 2019 user interface in Sketch mode

The Data Manager can be used at the following ZW3D Levels:

File/Object Level – The ZW3D Object Manager lists the root objects, such as parts, drawing packets, drawing sheets, root sketches and CAM process plans in the active ZW3D file.

Part/Sketch Level – Use the History Manager to view the feature history of an active sketch or part in a graphical tree structure. It can also be used to select features as direct input to many commands and execute history-based commands. The lower portion of the manager contains a list of history-based commands that you can select to execute.

The Layer Manager is accessed from the ZW3D Data Manager, where entities can be assigned to different layers to help manage design data. For example, reference geometry can be assigned to a different layer than part geometry. Layers can be created, edited, deleted, blanked, activated and frozen. You can set default line
and face attributes for a layer, and new entities will automatically be assigned those attributes.

The Input Manager provides a method of entering required and optional inputs. Options Forms are displayed in the ZW3D Data Manager if it is enabled. You can use the ZW3D Configuration Form to have forms displayed automatically. The forms complement the command prompt sequence. When the forms are not displayed,this is referred to as “streamlined mode” verses “play mode” when they are displayed. In streamlined mode,optional inputs are assigned default values. Only the required inputs are prompted.

Although this capability is not exactly new or unique anymore, since many CAD vendors offer it, direct editing continues to be a hot topic. Like some competitors, ZW3D provides two modeling methods—history-based and direct editing (DE)—that together provide a dual approach for modeling. History-based modeling employs a History Manager, or what other parametric system vendors call a history/feature tree.

The direct 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 provide a workflow that is sometimes 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.

ZW3D 2019 Major New Features

While there are a large number of new and enhanced features and capabilities in ZW3D 2019, below are the ones I feel are particularly significant for this release.

Hybrid Modeling – While this capability is hardly unique anymore, ZW3D lets users work with solids (closed geometry) and surfaces (open geometry) simultaneously by transferring model data from a solid to a surface by erasing a face of a closed solid model and making it an open surface model. You actually use a solid feature to cut surface geometry to obtain a surface and then add additional features, such as holes, for a finished part because solid features also work for surfaces. As with any hybrid modeler, design speed and efficiency are the main benefits.

User-defined Features – Thanks to a User Defined Feature (UDF) Wizard, these are features that let you customize and reuse common feature sets for streamlining design practices. The advantages of these features include simplifying model history, achieving company standard design practices, reducing repetitive operations and managing feature sets as libraries.

The UDF wizard manages groups of features, associated dimensions and feature relations. It can be used as the feature library to reuse the size, shape and orientation of the reused design element.

User Defined Feature Wizard
User Defined Feature Wizard

User Define Features can gather several features of a common model structure and make them into one UDF feature. You can reuse this UDF feature on different models to create the same structure without redoing every feature.

Quick Rollback History — This is a new option for ZW3D for increasing design efficiency by speeding up design history (feature) redefinition, resulting in time savings of up to, according to the company, 90 percent compared with previous ZW3D versions.

This new functionality was added to speed up previous history rollback during design redefinition. After enabling the history quick rollback option, there is a cache file that saves the data of each modeling feature.When a feature redefinition or rollback takes place, corresponding feature data will be fetched to restore the modeling field as it was created. This avoids the regeneration of modeling features before the redefining feature, so no additional time is needed.

Since there is no rollback data for those features, when component features are included in the feature rollback list, a full regeneration will take place as a previous version to restore the model. Rollback data file is saved on the specified folder independently with a model’s Z3 file—ZW3D’s default file format.

Assemblies and 3D BOMs – ZW3D Premium supports the two main assembly creation approaches: bottom-up and top-down.

ZW3D 2019 provides efficient assembly definition, manipulation and management, and was a fundamental consideration when the ZW3D architecture was originally conceived and designed. For example, ZW3D’s Object Manager loads only display data for an object into memory if 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 to an entire assembly in one file or anything in between.

The 3D BOM is a new capability for ZW3D 2019 with search and editing tools that support part, shape and assembly modes and standards, allowing user-defined attributes to be defined, managed and calculated. The 3D BOM replaces the old Parts List and uses a spreadsheet to provide all assembly component information.

Templates and attributes can be defined and reused, and BOM data can be exported as Excel files, so different design models can generate BOM tables with the same format.


In ZW3D 2019, the mechanical structure of an assembly can be disassociated, making it possible to move individual components for verifying the motion of an entire assembly. It’s easier to verify the motion of a whole assembly to reduce errors with flexible sub-assembly updates.

A normal sub-assembly is inserted into an assembly as one rigid component. Its own parts can’t move around each other under the assembly context, no matter if those parts have or do not have any degrees of freedom(DOFs) remaining. The flexible sub-assembly is treated as a movable component. Its own parts can move around under the assembly structure if those parts have DOFs.

You can toggle a rigid sub-assembly into a flexible one with the “Make Flexible” command. “Make Rigid” is also available when the flexibility is not desired from a sub-assembly. When a flexible assembly is transformed back into a rigid one, the assembly may become over-constrained because its own parts are not movable. In this case, you will need to manually resolve each issue, such as disabling some of the constraints, which can be quite time consuming, so proceed cautiously.

Though not a new feature, it is worth mentioning that ZW3D 2019 includes substantial translator compatibility. For example, ZW3D 2019 can read product and manufacturing information (PMI) data from a number of software packages, including CATIA V5 and V6, NX, Creo and SOLIDWORKS.

CAM for ZW3D

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.

The CAM Operations and Tactics Managers in ZW3D Premium provide assistance during the machining/manufacturing phase of the product development process. 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 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 operation scan then be organized, verified and output just as manually created operations would be.

VoluMill for ZW3D, developed and provided by Celeritive, is a new add-in to ZW3D CAM that is integrated into ZW3D 2019 providing a toolpath strategy to machining faster and deeper in 2- and 3-axis roughing, reducing cycle time by up to 70 percent and increasing productivity by 50 percent, according to ZWSOFT.

VoluMill improves the way tools cut their way through material, using high-speed continuous tangent motion rather than sharp, interrupted movements. Constant stepover toolpaths generally have a shorter path length than other approaches. VoluMill keeps a constant stepover wherever possible, producing even machining loads and uniform chip formation, resulting in increased heat dissipation.

VoluMill for ZW3D can generate optimized toolpaths with 50 to 80 percent machining cycle time saved, and it can use full depth of cutter, reducing cutting tool costs up to 75 percent. (Image courtesy of ZWSOFT.)

VoluMill automatically determines the sequence of material removal that will minimize total cycle time. No additional user input is required, providing big time savings.

Depending on the situation, with the VoluMill Technology Expert, you select different materials and set the maximum speed and feed rate of the machine, as well as the type of tool and fixture. The expert system will automatically calculate the speed, feed rate and step size of the process according to the user’s settings. You can choose whether or not to use these recommended values.

VoluMill Technology Expert
VoluMill Technology Expert

In ZW3D 2019, Cleanup Corner Control was added in 2X machining, which helps make smooth toolpaths in sharp corners. Smooth toolpaths reduce tool shock to maximize tool life and obtain better surface quality.

ZW3D 2019 Premium lets you create mold geometry that includes core and cavity, parting surfaces, draft angles, and material shutoffs. The core, cavity and sliders can be created at the same time in one operation. Also available is a comprehensive library of standard mold base components that include: slides, lifters, ejector pins,cooling channels and electrodes for producing molds. One of the most significant features of ZW3D’s mold capabilities is that it is organized into a logical sequence that walks you through the mold creation process.

Previous multiple parting line commands have been integrated and reduced to one. You can now check existing parting lines and delete unnecessary or unwanted parting lines. Constraint Faces can guide how a blend curve will pass through, especially when the curve needs to cross faces that are from different shapes. A parting line can be generated on the following cross face.

Constraint Faces for generating parting lines on a cross face (Image courtesy of ZWSOFT.)
Constraint Faces for generating parting lines on a cross face (Image courtesy of ZWSOFT.)

Final Thoughts

While ZW3D 2019 Premium has several strong capabilities in part and assembly design, drawing creation, and data management, its greatest strength and differentiator is the fact that you have all the tools necessary forgoing from design through manufacturing (machining) in one package. In effect, ZW3D 2019 Premium can handle the entire product development process, from concept through manufacturing. This comprehensive ability really sets it apart when compared with its competitors, many of which require optional products to achieve this level of functionality, especially for manufacturing.

Having all workflow capabilities available in one package ensures a similar user experience throughout the design and manufacturing process. Dealing with one comprehensive software application, such as ZW3D 2019 Premium, will benefit many potential customers, especially those involved with design and manufacturing operations.

Does every prospective customer need all of these capabilities? Well, no, but there are several versions or“flavors” of ZW3D that will provide as much or as little capability as needed to get the job done. In other words, the various version options help ensure that you get the best value for your needs.

For more information and pricing for ZW3D, visit the company’s website.

ZWSOFT sponsored this article but had no influence on its content. All opinions are mine, except where stated otherwise. —Jeffrey Rowe

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