Yes We CAM: A Survey of Computer-Aided Manufacturing
Short for computer-aided manufacturing, CAM has all but replaced the classic machinist and has enabled unprecedented production skills — all with a precision and accuracy that humans can’t imitate.
It's not without its limitations to be sure, but this digitally empowered means of production has already changed the way we build, and our economy along with it.
What is CAM?
As its name implies, computer-aided manufacturing describes any manufacturing process performed by automation rather than by hand. This is done as digital code is entered into a machine through a software product, so the machine has pre-programmed toolpaths to follow.
The History of CAM
The earliest versions of computer-aided manufacturing began with hand-written lines of code on paper index cards that were fed into first-generation computers.
Spanning about the size of an entire room and possessing a small fraction of today's computing power, early CAM software was inefficient at best, but software improvements would streamline the process exponentially.
The digital set of instructions that serve as the backbone of most CAM software is known as G-code, and while most CAM software no longer requires this direct input, some exceptions remain.
For the most part, however, CAM is carried out as a digital model created by computer-aided design (CAD) software which is automatically converted to CAM instructions.
How Does CAM Work?
There are two basic types of CAM processes, namely:
Additive, where products are built up layer by layer without a base material, eventually forming a final product (example: 3D printing)
Subtractive, where an initial material block is reduced into a final design through a series of tooling processes (example: CNC mills)
In each case, user-operated machining is replaced by automated tools following digitized pathways until a final design is reached.
Like all manufacturing processes, CAM production requires consideration of multiple parameters (material properties, model features, and machinability among others), but a general overview of computer-aided manufacturing can be characterized by three phases:
Model completion (usually generated by computer-aided design software, or CAD)
Tool selection to determine how best to complete the desired operations
Toolpath determination after recognizing the needed part features
Once this process is complete, either additive or subtractive machining methods are used to engineer the part according to spec.
Advantages & Benefits of CAM
While the nostalgia of the classic machinist has been replaced by CAM technology, the advantages of the latter are nearly innumerable. The greatest benefits offered by CAM are:
More intricate part details
Machines can perform almost any task with greater precision, speed, and accuracy than humans, and the same is true for manufacturing processes.
Still Not Human
They may have an advantage over humans in monotonous tasks, but machines aren't superior in every respect — and neither is CAM.
As they follow pre-programmed toolpaths, CAM-operated machines do exactly as they're told — nothing more, and nothing less. This means that they're incapable of reasoning through any manufacturing obstacles, and also that the quality of their machining is only as good as the code it receives.
Garbage in, garbage out, as the saying goes, and a single faulty input can turn a costly part design into rubbish.
Careers in CAM
Just as computer-aided manufacturing has revolutionized the way products are built, it has also transformed the modern manufacturing workforce.
Today's machinists and technicians may have as much experience with CAD/CAM software as they do with the tools that machine their products. And the tools they do use will require some digital knowledge to operate.
The most common CAM careers can be divided into two categories:
Programmers. Responsible for the setup of the machine, these CAM professionals select the tools and operations required for proper machining, and write the G-code that makes the software run.
Operators. By loading the machine, attaching the proper tools, and fixing the raw materials in place, operators are the ones who make CAM machines run.
Don't let the two basic career types fool you: a wide variety of CAM-related positions exist within this subset of the manufacturing sector.
Some examples are CAM technician, CNC machinist, and CAM software engineers, to name a few. With so many possibilities, those looking to enter the manufacturing industry would do well to consider a career in CAM.
Fictiv: Your CAM Solutions Experts
At Fictiv, our CAM experts provide on-demand manufacturing that can accelerate a new product launch and optimize your engineering processes, making them more adaptable along the way. From providing you with a quote in minutes to delivering your custom-made part in a matter of days, your manufacturing capabilities are sure to reach new heights.
Not only that, but our start-to-finish platform puts manufacturing data at your disposal, keeping you informed and your project on track. If your product needs a part, contact us today, and we'll use our CAM expertise to get your project off the ground.