Components of CAD/CAM and their role in CNC Machining
CAD/CAM is a composite entity comprising two elements – Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM). Together, CAD/CAM help in the design and manufacturing of prototypes and finished products across various industries, such as aerospace, automobile, medicine, military, and more! CAD & CAM together are ushering in the era of automation and autonomy in manufacturing, which is now the trend for maintaining resilience in production.
In this article, we will take a look at the components of CAD/CAM (with a focus on CAM) and how they contribute to CNC machining.
What is CAD/CAM?
CAD is a software tool used to create 2D or 3D computer models based on common geometric patterns. These technical drawings and models allow designers, engineers, drafters, and architects to test an object through simulations before realizing it and subjecting it to real-world conditions. Upon running such tests, professionals can make informed decisions on changing the specifications or any other design parameters to improve efficiency or durability.
CAM utilizes the geometric design data present in CAD files as input in the creation of program logic (referred to as cutting tool paths) that will instruct and automate the CNC mill during production. Once the CAM user completes their toolpath logic, they will post-process it into a set of instructions (i.e., a program) for the CNC mill to follow. These instructions strictly adhere to international standards such as ISO 6983. This instruction program is referred to as G-Code named after the subset of operation codes (G00, G01, G03, etc.) used within the standard.
The G-Code program is then transferred from the CAM application to the mill. This is performed either directly using an interface cable, referred to as DNC (Direct Numerical Control) or manually using a USB thumb drive referred to as CNC (Computer Numerical Control). The process of CAM to CNC greatly speeds the production process without trade-offs on design, material strength, and/or accuracy.
|See ISO 6983: Automation systems and integration — Numerical control of machines — Program format and definitions of address words — Part 1: Data format for positioning, line motion and contouring control systems|
Components of CAM Software
At a high level, the CAM software can be categorized into three components. User interface (UI), toolpath generation and toolpath post-processing. Let’s examine these in detail.
User Interface, or UI, is the user-facing component of a CAM application. In simpler words, it is anything that a front-end user can see and interact with during the tool path generation, post-processing and CNC manufacturing process.
The UI essentially acts as the common language between the user and the CAM software, which allows the user to generate, simulate and post-process the tool paths that will be put into action. It contains a suite of workflows and dialogs that offers the end-user complete control over the CAM process.
This layer is more complex and involves software components like:
- The database where the specific CAM toolpath parameters are stored and is controlled through an internal database management system (DBMS).
- The CAD 3D modeler, which supplies the CAM component with all of the geometry upon which the machining tool paths are calculated. The CAD modeler also supplies the CAM component with the visualization, simulation, and analysis of the generated tool paths
The post-processing engine converts the machining tool paths stored internally in the CAM database into CNC machine-specific language that adheres to the ISO 698 standard. Since post-processing generates the C-Code program that operates the CNC machine, it is only performed once the CAM operator has completed the tool path generation stage and is comfortable with the visual representation and the cut material simulations of the tool path logic.
Advantages of CAM in Manufacturing
The ability to control cutting machines numerically using computer driven CAM software introduces a host of advantages that are currently being realized within the manufacturing industry. Here are just a few of these benefits:
- Numerically controlled mills and lathes are more accurate and faster than their manually controlled predecessors.
- CAM empowers designers to build prototypes earlier in the design stage allowing more time for product testing and design modifications. Prior to the introduction of CAM, manufacturing prototypes was expensive and usually only performed once in the design cycle.
- Product designs have become more ergonomic and esthetic due in large part to the ability to produce more accurate and complex molds.
- CAM excellerates the manufacture of the assembly line equipment and processes needed to mass produce components and end products, further reducing manufacturing costs.
- Tabletop CNC mills can now produce highly specific designs thanks to the customization capabilities of CAD/CAM software.
Look around you. Chances are very high that everything you see and touch was designed and manufactured using CAD/CAM software. Now imagine being without it!
About our Guest Author: Peter Jacobs
Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general.
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