What Is CAM? Past, Present, and Future

what is cam

CAM is used by just about every manufacturing facility in the world. Techopedia defines computer-aided manufacturing as:

“[CAM] is an application technology that uses computer software and machinery to facilitate and automate manufacturing processes. CAM is the successor of Computer-aided Engineering (CAE) and is often used in tandem with Computer-aided Design(CAD).”

All the products we use or ride in, from cell phones and automobiles to planes and so much more, have been created using the advantages provided by CAM. But how did we get here?

CAM: How It All Started

According to Inc., the use of CAM and its undeniable linkage to CAD saw its first applications in the 1960s, when CAD technology was first applied to the automotive industry. One of three aspects of CAD development was the result of efforts to streamline the flow of the design process into the manufacturing process. Developers accomplished this with numerical control (NC) technologies. The development of numerical control technologies is credited with inseparably linking CAD to CAM.

This marriage between CAD and CAM has resulted in the tightening of design and manufacturing processes, which has affected the entire production process. The developing linkage between CAD and CAM resolved some practical issues that came with numerical control technology. These problems included that technology’s expense, difficulties with use, and slowness.

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The CAD/CAM linkage also offered a major advantage to CAD drafting services – more direct control over the production process. This created the potential for completely integrated design and manufacturing processes, thus enabling increased production efficiency.

Another benefit of using CAD in the manufacturing process is the ability to simulate the movement of a particular part through the production process using a 3D image. The very first applications of CAD/CAM technology were generally limited to the massive automotive and aerospace industries. However, software such as Fusion 360 has resulted in the successful use of CAD/CAM for both large and small manufacturing ventures.

The 3 Components of CAM

According to an AutoDesk article, CAM functions include these components:

  • Software

This component tells machines how to make a particular product. The software’s function generates that product’s toolpath.

But what is a toolpath? It is the process of removing or cutting material from a hunk of raw material fed to a machine. The first CAM toolpaths were computerized versions of manual toolpaths known as Zig and Zig-Zag. These motions simulated a machinist’s ability to feed a manual mill.

The Zig motion is single-direction cutting. The Zig-Zag motion can eliminate the wasted motion of switching from single-direction milling to two-direction milling. However, two-direction milling can be tough on some cutting tools.

While CAM technology has enabled manufacturers to make products faster, more efficiently, and less expensively by streamlining the toolpath generation process, and CAM packages have evolved with expanded capabilities during the past 40 years, it does come up somewhat short in the toolpath generation process, according to Manufacturing Automation.

  • Machinery

The machining component of the manufacturing process is the means by which raw material is transformed into a finished product. The machining process includes actions such as cutting, drilling, and boring.

“CAD focuses on the design of a product or part. How it looks, how it functions. CAM focuses on how to make it.”

The transition from the CAD phase of a new product may involve the export of a CAD file while importing it to CAM software. However, if a company uses Fusion 360 software, the CAD and CAM files “exist in the same world,” according to AutoDesk. This handy software then eliminates the export/import step, which is a huge convenience.

  • Post-Processing

The CAM post-processor is arguably the most critical part of the manufacturing process. This component is the guarantee that the code reaching the machinery is perfect. The CAM code must reach the machine in a way that a machine can understand. This crucial step enables the actual production process to begin with no errors.

The Advantages of CAM Today

Here are some advantages CAM can provide to your company today:

  • Material tracking

According to CW Composites World, software is available that is capable of marrying CAD and CAM to enterprise resource planning and inventory management software. The digital tools available in this software assist manufacturers in considering all production processes at the same time, clearly increasing the efficiency of any manufacturing enterprise. This includes reviewing available materials when customer orders come in.

The tracking software uses radio frequency identification (RFID). This type of “tag tracking” traces records of material intake and storage throughout the entire manufacturing process of kit-cutting, lay-up, cure, finishing, and quality inspection.

  • Planning

When planning manufacturing processes for a product, the selection of machining processes is an essential component. That work was traditionally accomplished manually even as recently as 1996. However, with the integration of both CAD and CAM, it is now possible for manufacturers to increase productivity and reduce lead time by using tools provided by CAD and CAM software.


  • Shipping

CAM software can guide the manufacturing of a product throughout the entire assembly process right to the point where it is ready to be shipped out and delivered.

The dynamic duo of CAD/CAM not only assists in the traditional machine processes of shaping parts such as grinding, drilling, milling, and stamping, but it is used in assembling consumer electronic components that include molded plastics and many other products.

CAD/CAM Applications in the Automotive Industry

Automobile creation is complex and multi-faceted, especially in the current vehicle manufacturing environment. However, vehicle manufacturing was among the first applications of CAD/CAM.

The globalization of design, engineering, and manufacturing facilities requires detailed 3D and easily shareable modeling and other data provided by both CAD and CAM software. Nowadays, automotive design & engineering services solely use CAD/CAM.

According to Automotive Design and Production, Gene Consolo, Engineering Director of North American Operations at the General Motors Technical Center made the following comment about the absolute necessity of CAD/CAM technology in the automotive industry.

“[Today’s CAD/CAM systems are] a seamless integrated portfolio of capability that goes all the way from the idea of painting something and converting that to math, right through design, production, marketing, and service. At the core of that is a CAD/CAM system with the capability around the world to do what we have to get done.”

The Future of CAD/CAM in the Industrial World

According to the educational website 12CAD, the wide variety and number of software packages utilizing CAD/CAM have increased tenfold since these technologies were developed. However, this prolific development has left gaps that create plenty of room for improvement in the software.

For instance, the very number of CAD/CAM packages that are available leave something to be desired regarding standardization. Such standardization would undoubtedly meet the needs of designers working with a variety of products regarding the ability to integrate their designs. Here are possible and developing solutions to the issues impeding the optimization of CAD/CAM technology.

  • XML (Extensive Markup Language) Standardization

The availability of so many CAD/CAM software packages creates challenges in transferring a design from one package, especially one with special functionalities, to another. So, exporting a design from one package to another for further work can be difficult and expensive. Standard CAD/CAM packages have import/export options. However, they use base platform development properties in the conversion of one format to another. As a result, the ability of both products to read and write product information is limited.

RELATED: The Advantages of CAD

The concept of XML standardization allows the translation of every single property of an element to text with all tags intact, thus making a standardized and transparent system of system translation possible.

  • Integrated Realization

Current CAD/CAM packages allow the use of textures and colors for designs. The availability of lighting systems make shadows visible and enhance 3D model properties. This method, however, has its limitations because it focuses on visual rather actual realization techniques. However, a technology that is already in the developmental phase is “real-time analysis integration of realization techniques.” That’s quite a mouthful, but what does it actually do?

Such techniques assist designers in performing fluid dynamic analysis or use finite element analysis in their process. This way, designers do not have to depend on final renders and their resulting in-depth analysis. This advance has the potential for saving both time and money.

  • Cloud CAD

There is, so far, one completely cloud-based product available to CAD/CAM engineers with a wide variety of features – Onshape. According to OnShape, this state-of-the-art system “eliminates design gridlock and helps engineers do their best work.”


Even though well-known software developers such as Dassault and AutoDesk boast cloud-based products, a complete cloud package is still lacking. Although Onshape is a leader in the cloud-based market with phone, tablet, and desktop browser options, that software has its limitations. The 12CAD article states, “Pushing an entire CAD/CAM system to the cloud is definitely something designers and industrialists are waiting for with fingers crossed.”

  • Design and Application Partnering

One example of gaps in design and application partnering is evident in video games. Gaming models and the games themselves are produced using high-end CAD systems. Additionally, sets and characters in 3D feature films use CAD systems. The integration and partnership of gaming firms and similar applications do not appear to be happening as of yet. So, this is a niche that some enterprising CAD/CAM entrepreneurs could fill.

  • Customization

Well-known shoe and furniture retailers already offer their customers limited branding and color options. However, as technology companies continue to develop 3D CAD services in a manner that is even easier for the average person to use, more detailed customization capabilities could become possible.

12CAD comments, “This may seem far-fetched, but as more and more 3D solutions are developed and the discipline becomes easier to access and practice, it is only a matter of time when the consumer or end user has enough of an idea about these concepts to wander off into the world of CAD without special support.”

  • Informal Professionalism

The source of this is the fact that design engineers tend to regularly collaborate. The very small percentage of design engineers in the world are now turning to social media and other internet forums to bounce ideas off each other. Engineers on the same team often use platforms such as Google Drive and Dropbox as they communicate on “enterprise proprietary communication channels.”

However, many freelance CAD professionals around the world do not have access to enterprise sponsored mechanisms. So their solution is to use more personal forms of communication and data transfer. This social evolution among CAD/CAM professionals presents a new direction for the way these professionals carry out their work.

Cad Crowd Offers a Large Pool of Professionals to Meet Your CAD/CAM Needs

Cad Crowd has a host of manufacturing experts providing a vast number of services that can carry your product idea from the design phase all the way through the prototype and manufacturing process.

A sampling of Cad Crowd’s well-known clients includes Tupperware, the Yale University School of Medicine, Tiffany and Co., and the Boston Consulting Group.

Cad Crowd offers three options for finding the professionals you need to complete your project. They are:

Hire a 3D designer – If you prefer, we can have one of our vetted CAD design experts contact you confidentially with a price quote for your proposed project.

Design Contests – Start a design contest to get multiple design submissions for your idea. Contests works well for small projects and gives you the opportunity to choose your favorite proposal out of dozens of entries.

Hourly Services – If you need professional assistance on a consistent basis, send us all the details for your proposed project, and we’ll connect you with a pre-qualified designer who can work with you as long as you need them.

To connect with world-class 3D CAD designers, manufacturing experts, mechanical engineers, and other professionals providing product licensing and crowdsourcing innovation guidance, contact us today!