By Daniel Dobrzynski
I've reviewed software from ZWSOFT company once before, and this time I'm going to look instead at the new ZWCAD+ 2014, which is the company's 2D/3D drafting software. (See my overview of ZW3D 2013 CAD/CAM software.) ZWSOFT positions ZWCAD+ as software that preserves the compatibility and interface way of traditional CAD market standards, like AutoCAD, including DWG-format compatibility.
More precisely, I review here some of the new features I find interesting: SmartVoice, dynamic blocks, customizable user interface, and the online workflow.
Putting a Voice to Ideas
Sometimes, it is more effective and straightforward to express technical problems verbally, instead of putting writing them down. Even more so when those words are voiced by an expert, who express them with the correct meaning, pronunciation, and intonation. A common example of this - and I think most of us have experienced this - is when we study a textbook, reading and rereading yet not figuring it out; when the teacher explains it using her own phrases, we quickly understand.
A new function in ZWCAD+ 2014 is SmartVoice and I found it useful for its simplicity in use; more so, I found it could help avoid possible errors caused by misunderstanding or misinformation (see figure 1). I could mention several ways to utilize SmartVoice; several that stand out are:
* Supplementary explanations of design intent
* Auxiliary tool for inserting comments during reviews
*Record thoughts of the designer
* Useful in demonstrations
SmartVoice is clearly an interactive way of communicating information between ZWCAD+ users. The software provides options to display or hide all the voice objects. A manager dialog box allows users to choose to play the notes or not; delete; and set (visibility and type) every voice object. If there are many voice objects in the drawing, then the search option quickly finds their graphical position.
Naturally, voice notes only work in DWG files. The audible data is lost when converting the drawings to other formats, such as DXF or PDF - and outputting to traditional media when printing the drawing on paper.
Figure 1: SmartVoice tool in ZWCAD+ 2014
Blocks are Now Dynamic
Dynamic blocks are new to ZWCAD+ 2014 and meant for modifying blocks through parameters and actions (see figure 2). This means that dynamic blocks are based on traditional blocks, with added properties and custom grips that allow quick editing.
First of all, let me explain in simple words what the new dynamic block function means. Let us imagine an example in which we have to insert the block of a door in a wall. There are many kinds of doors, and walls have different thicknesses. Using regular blocks, we would have to have one kind of door block for every possible styles, door widths, and wall widths.
Instead, using dynamic blocks, we can design a single block for every kind of door - single, bi-fold, double - and every kind of width and thickness. We use custom properties and parameters to specify the styles and sizes. Once the dynamic door block is inserted, we can click on it to see the key points and grip icons that allow us to modify it dynamically (hence the term). We can even specify the opening angle of the door or close it.
Figure 2: Example of a dynamic block changing the properties of a custom door
Dynamic blocks are another good contribution to ZWCAD + that will prove to save time and so increase drafting efficiency.
Tailoring the Interface to Users
A new dialog box called Customize User Interface (or CUI, for short) allows us to manage all aspects of the user interface (see figure 3). This includes elements such as workspaces, ribbon panels, and quick access toolbars. By making changes to the interface, we users end up with the tools we really need.
Through the CUI command, we can create and manage all ribbons. It is possible to save the CUI configuration in an export file that is based on the XML format.
While it would have be easier to customize the ribbon through drag-and-drop, the Customize User Interface dialog box goes much deeper.
Figure 3: ZWCAD's new Customize User Interface dialog box
Keeping Software Up to Date
The new Online Update mechanism allows us to update the software online to the latest version (see figure 4). There are two ways to do this. One option is to manually online check for available updates; the other way is to automate this process, which checks every week, two weeks, or monthly; as well, there is an option to download updates automatically.
This new feature is relevant for users who always want - or need to work with - the latest patch level.
Figure 4: Online update service
The New Online Workflow
In ZWCAD+ 2014, the Online Module for file syncing now allows us to save drawings and customization configurations to 3rd third-party cloud services, like Dropbox and Microsoft's Skydrive. For companies and group of users, it is very important to work together and work with synchronized files.
The cloud plays an important role and ZWCAD+ makes this synchronization easier. Finally, I should note that ZWCAD+ also has a mobile solution called ZWCAD Touch. It would prove to be helpful for checking our designs at all times and in anyplace.
Many years have passed since I first began in this amazing and exciting world of CAD. The story began when I was shocked by a presentation of AutoCAD version 1.4, and on that day I decided with no hesitation on my new career direction, educating myself and promoting to others this great tool design. From those days in which only a very few people were using (and were betting on) such tools, AutoCAD went on to become the world standard through its popularity, especially in 2D applications.
I tell this story only to explain that time passes and CAD systems matured, giving rise to the emergence of new CAD tools, such as ZWCAD+. This software was born respecting the rules of being a DWG- compatible CAD solution with a familiar interface and a surprising among compatibility with the AutoCAD environment. This allows any AutoCAD user get to work on ZWCAD+ with no file conversion and no need for prior training.
So, what might be some of the factors that tilt the balance in the choice between these two CAD programs? Logically, the possible answers to this question have several technical and business sides. On the business side, the numbers speak for themselves. Businesses can fill many seats with ZWCAD+ for the price for just a single seat of AutoCAD.
On the side of the technical area, the benefits - let's call them micro innovations - such as I discuss in this article, can weigh in when selecting which product to go with. Should a reduction in the processing time of drawings be important, then the new tools in ZWCAD + 2014 like SmartVoice, dynamic blocks, and CUI will be a great contribution - as will the online update in facilitating tranquility by maintaining the system at the latest level, without any need for interaction.
If I put myself in the position of a typical user, then the new features presented in ZWCAD 2014+ undoubtedly leave a positive balance.