Mechanical Engineering Blog

Best CAD-CAM Software

Best CAD-CAM Software

CNC machining software is necessary to translate your drawings and CAD models into code. CNC stands for computer numerical control. Meaning that computers read the code and run the manufacturing machinery accordingly.

It is, of course, possible to create the code on your own. But why risk making mistakes? Automating this part is easy with CAM software. CAM is an acronym of computer-aided manufacturing. So these programs are the ones doing the coding part for you.

There are a few different CAM packages to choose from. Some are CAM only, meaning you can feed in the drawings and models for translating it to CNC programs.

The more common option is CAD-CAM. This means CAD software that also has CAM capabilities. This way you can create your models, translate them to code and go back and forth between making changes and getting feedback on the producibility of parts.

This last feature can be very powerful, as taking all the intricacies of CNC machining into account may be difficult for people. CNC machining software, on the other hand, easily detects faces and surfaces that would be difficult to create using milling or turning.

Types of CNC

We have actually written a longer piece about this topic, giving an overview of CNC machining and CNC machines.

But let’s make a short summary here as well. CNC machining services include CNC milling and CNC turning. But computer numerical control finds use with other fabrication methods as well. Like laser cutting, plasma cutting, etc.

In short, every contemporary automated metal fabrication system uses this method. And talking about CNC is not limited to machining only.

Having clarity helps us move on, as we are focusing only on milling and turning here.

CAD-CAM Software

So, having already touched the subject, we can easily find a lot of programs that have CAD-CAM capabilities.

Designing the parts with such programs helps us to go back and forth, getting feedback about the possibility to produce a certain part. The software highlights the problems, so we can easily fix them.

Also, no translation of file formats is necessary, simplifying the whole process considerably.

But what are those programs? And which one is suitable for your needs?

Fusion 360

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Fusion 360 CAM
An example of translating CAD into CAM

Also listed in our best free CAD software post, it comes up here as well. On top of the free version for hobbyists, Fusion 360 has a powerful and cheap option for professionals. And this includes CAM capabilities.

The video above takes you through a quick tutorial, showing how to set up a cutting program for CNC machining. The ability to import your exact CNC cutting tools makes it very easy to take all into account.

Visualising the tool path is simple and straightforward. An excellent option for both hobbyists and professionals.

SolidWorks CAM

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Solidworks CAM Add-On
A short tutorial depicting how the CAM add-on for SolidWorks operates.

Everyone knows SolidWorks, the most popular computer-aided design program out there. It also has an add-on to upgrade it to a CAD-CAM software.

Using the CAD file for producing the machining code, you can rest assured that the final part will be as close to the digital representation as possible. And there is no necessity for giving this software a separate input.

The add-on layer comes in a few different packages. So you can pay for what you actually need. Whether you are looking to design parts for CNC milling on 3-axis or multi-axis machines, there is an option right for you. As you can imagine, the more complex your parts and manufacturing processes, the costlier the package.

The video above also shows how generating the G code with the CAM system works. You can check the simulation in both 3D view as well as code view. Having your own tools library helps to make this generation process very quick but also check for interference errors, should there be any. You can then easily make some changes to the choice of machine tools or sequence of operations to amend that.

There are a lot of online tutorials available to ease the learning curve. Also, the user interface is friendly for beginners, as is the case with other SolidWorks programs.

Solid Edge CAM Pro

Another CAD program with a wide range of users. And with a CAM add-on. Solid Edge CAM Pro is pretty similar to the equivalent package of SolidWorks, as is the main program itself.

Toggling between the CAD and CAD windows is easy and quick. All the changes to the 3D models will be accounted for automatically in the computer-aided manufacturing software. Thus, new cutting routes and tooling suggestions are available at once, reducing time-consuming activities in the process.

Solid Edge CAM Pro promises a lot of templates and guides to help you get started with the software. At the same time, we can see the usual situation for online tutorials where SolidWorks users are posting a lot more user-generated content online. While this may not be so important for an experienced user who know what to look for, it can be of great help to a beginner.

However, this is definitely a great tool to accompany excellent CAD software. Solid Edge itself is easy to use and so is this add-on. Getting a complete manufacturing workflow takes only a few clicks. The program also displays cutting times that help manufacturers give out quick price quotes.

CATIA

Similarly to SolidWorks, it is a product of Dassault Systèmes. This is the flagship product of the company, coming with a higher price but also more capabilities. CATIA was, at first, meant for industries with very high expectations. These include automotive, marine, industrial equipment, etc.

Aside from CAD, it has powerful CAE (computer-aided engineering) tools for finite element analysis. And the same applies to CAM.

It can process very complex parts that require high-speed machining operations, 5-axis, spiral milling, etc. The tool path creation bases on the tools library, as in the above-mentioned programs. Interference-checking is also possible along with a view of the finished parts.

CATIA’s higher cost can pay for itself when using it to its fullest. The capabilities include roughing and finishing. It uses previous data to shorten cycle times for both milling and lathing operations, helping increase the tool life.

Conclusion

CAD-CAM software is an excellent choice if you create your own design and produce the parts as well. The CAM packages can give crucial information about the ability to produce parts fast, or even just produce them, to the CAD engineers. It can give live feedback and update the CNC programs instantly when a change occurs in the CAD model, making calculating CNC machining costs easy.

Most of the packages are powerful enough to satisfy the needs of average users, especially when using more traditional 3-axis machining.

There are also CAD plugins, like HSM that can be used on top of CAD without buying the CAD-CAM package.

Designated CAM programs offer flexibility and accuracy with more complex parts and processes. These are the best option when looking for very powerful software for more advanced manufacturing solutions. Computing the tool paths and making the right choices for tooling are just more intricate with 5-axis milling, for example.

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