Computer aided design (CAD) is the process of creating a design, known as drafting, using computer technology. Computer aided manufacturing (CAM) is the use of computers and computer software to guide machines to manufacture something, usually a part that is mass-produced. The relation between CAD and CAM is one of form to function and they are often used together. CAD creates the design and CAM builds it.
The use of CAD, sometimes also referred to as computer aided design and drafting (CADD), is used across several environments, some that overlap with CAM. CAD is used a lot when simple drafting would be too complex, such as in the design for automobiles, airplanes, ships, and many other industrial design fields, and these are all fields where CAM is also frequently used. In recent years with the proliferation of computerized movie effects, CAD is utilized with many forms of computer animation and design.
Although CAD has many functions that don’t necessarily coincide with the use of CAM, the opposite is generally not true, and CAM is usually dependent on CAD. The use of CAD created designs offers an easy way of inputting information into a CAM software system. Designs done by a CAD device are often put through another program that will utilize computer-aided analysis (CAA) and then through to a computer that handles the software for CAM. CAM and CAD are both referred to as part of an overall process known collectively as computer aided engineering (CAE).
Both CAD and CAM offer similar benefits. They can render things in either two dimensions (2D) or three dimensions (3D), and they both offer expedited processing and manufacture of a design. Many CAM machines have CAD software built-in, although not all designs require the use of a CAD created design.
One of the key differences between CAD and CAM is who implements the technology. Although both utilize computers to aid efficiency, they still require a human to do the processing or input. A CAD user will typically be an engineer with training in CAD software, whereas a CAM user will usually be a specially trained machinist. These types of machinists are highly skilled and are comparable to a computer programmer or mechanical engineer.
The technology used in both processes has gotten very advanced. Where there was once a difference between the training for the operators of their respective technologies, the type of training today is mainly done on computers. This makes the level of skills necessary to operate CAD and CAM roughly the same.