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Ralph Grabowski's Report on the Business of Computer-Aided Design


Issue #832  >  September 23, 2014

Radica Software Runs on Visio

by Ralph Grabowski, with Kam Hashim


Visio. Remember Visio? Yeh, they went pretty much invisible after Microsoft bought them (for $1.4 million). Hard to believe it's already been 15 years.


(For readers who might not know, Visio Corp bought and re-launched IntelliCAD, and started adding CAD-like functions to its Visio software. Visio Corp was so pervasive in the 1990s world of graphics that even Autodesk felt compelled to write a competitor, Actrix; it wilted just a few years after launch. Microsoft told Visio Corp to put the kibosh on CAD, forcing an unload of its CAD properties before the January, 2000 acquisition date. The offspring of Visio's experiments in CAD are today still with us an in some ways better known, in the form of IntelliCAD Technical Consortium and Open Design Alliance.)


With Visio having long ago disappeared from the CAD scene, you can imagine my surprise at receiving an email from Kam Hashim who represents Radica Software. The company's Electra software does 2D electrical design work using Visio as its graphics engine. (See figure 1.) And it is programmed in Malaysia.


Figure 1: Electra running inside Visio


Mr Hashim arranged for me to speak with company founder and ceo Thomas Yip. The company is now nine years old, with over 1,000 licenses of Electra in 42 countries. The electrical design software automates most of the processes and, Mr Yip says, it runs 3-5x faster compared to MCAD systems. Better yet, Visio is so easy to learn (true!), whereas CAD users need days of training.


Plus Visio is 10x cheaper than any mid-range MCAD package. AutoCAD Electrical, for example, costs $5,300, plus the mandatory $600/year maintenance add-on. In contrast, Radica's licenses are permanent and come with no mandatory maintenance:

(If you do not have Visio Standard, then add $300.) The free Visio Viewer allows anyone to view drawings made by Electra. Symbols are embedded in the self-contained VSD or VSDM drawings, making it easy to copy files to clients.


Visio symbols are smart (and in fact are called SmartShapes), connecting automatically to connectors and other symbols. (See figure 2.) For instance, Mr Yip explained, Electra has a single PLC SmartShape that generates all brands and models of PLC [programmable logic controllers], replacing libraries of thousands of individual symbols. Visio is so good for systems engineering that it is used by Johnson Controls.


Figure 2: Some of the SmartShapes included with Electra


Version 7 is the latest release. Enhancements to Electra include new pneumatic and hydraulic design capabilities and 2x faster start up.


Radica Software's own programmers answer all support questions within 24 hours.



upFront.eZine: Visio stores its data in a spreadsheet-like file format. How easy is it to exchange drawings with CAD packages?

Thomas Yip:
Visio can import and export drawings from and to AutoCAD and DXF. While Visio's translator handles only one page [sheet] at a time, we have enhanced it to export all pages in the drawing at once.


Visio drawings can be embedded into Word documents, and Word documents into Visio diagrams. Shape data can be exported to Excel, manipulated, and then imported back into Visio to change diagrams semi-automatically. Also, Visio generates BOMs.


Once a schematic is done, panel drawings are generated, as are BOMs and so on. This can be all done inside the drawing automatically, or exported to Excel or to tab-delimited files for further processing and data exchange.

upFront.eZine: Does Electra do analysis?

Thomas Yip: No, it does not. The key idea is that Visio offers an economical solution for schematic designers. We have 1,000 SmartShapes that transform into 3,000 symbols.

upFront.eZine: In my experience with Visio (which ended with release 2002), the program would become very slow when the drawing size became too large. Does this limit the size of drawings Electra can handle?

Thomas Yip: Visio is not slow anymore. Our customers have diagrams of up to 300 pages, which load in 30 seconds. Internally, we have tested Electra with drawings of 1,000 pages, and it runs fine.


And One More Thing...

Owen Ransen's PhotoToMesh software ($60) generates bas-relief STL files for 3D printers from photographs and images. It creates rectangular, cylindrical, spherical and polygonal objects; the new version 5 adds partial spheres and partial cylinders, allowing small 3D printers to create larger objects. Also new: LithoPhanes, which are back-lit photographic plates.

Free demo downloadable from


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Letters to the Editor

Re: What's New On the CAD Side of Vectorworks 2015

I really liked the content. Although I never sat down with Vectorworks, I could imagine the enhancements you were describing. I understand what it means when the OEM adds a category to a tool that should really be there, rather than letting users work with unintended data types through a loophole. When the OEM sets up a tool right, they cover so many nice features that usually get missed when something just happens to work on an unintended object type. I'm kinda missing the AEC industry,

     - R. P.

Re: All Quiet on the CAD Lawsuit Front
Can't let this one pass. I think Nissan beat BMW to the punch by a year. Which is not to say that BMW was copying Nissan (on products that probably have a 4-year design process). Would be interesting to know how they both came up with nearly-identical products. Was there some concept car that they were both looking at?
      - Jess Davis, president
        Davis Precision Design, Inc.


The editor replies: Sometimes car makers cooperate, like when Mazda and Ford co-designed the Tribute-Escape miniSUV. Ford knew about SUVs and Mazda knew about making cars small.

Way back when IBM produced the original BIOS for the PC... bugs were duplicated by competitors, intentionally, so that their BIOS would exactly behave as the IBM one.
      - Dik Coates


The editor replies: Yes, I recall that now that you mention it. Another one was a bug in an Intel CPU that caused math errors in large spreadsheets.



Finally reading this now (Outlook sent it originally into my Junk folder – how rude!) and I was compelled to comment on your inclusion of a lyric quote by Lorde. How very edgy/trendy of you!

       - Kristin Halligan

The editor replies: The song came on SOMA-FM "Indi Pop Rock" (an add-free Internet radio station) as I was preparing the issue, and so it slid right in.


Notable Quotable

"2D will go on and on, probably for 50 years."
      - Craig Therrien, SolidWorks product manager




upFront.eZine is published every Tuesday, except for during summer and Christmas vacations. Editor: Ralph Grabowski. This newsletter is read by 10,000 subscribers in 70 countries. Your comments are welcome at! Deadline for submissions is every Monday morning.


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Entire contents copyright 2014 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $840. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.


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