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Computer Aided Manufacturing: What is It?

Society currently sits on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. As such, we’ll see more factories turn to computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). 

The manufacturing industry has always featured some automation. However, it has become more widespread over the last few years. 

It’s easy to see why. It can reduce errors, increase yield and make the production process cheaper. 

But what exactly is computer-aided manufacturing? The following guide will answer this question and more.

Table of Contents

What is Computer Aided Manufacturing?

CAM describes using computers or software to control machinery. In some cases, CAM does not require the input of human operators. Thus, CAM facilitates automation for parts of the production process.

How Does Computer-Aided Manufacturing Work?

CAM often goes together with computer-aided design (CAD). Most CAM implementations use translated designs that a specialist created through CAD software.

CAM systems use machine instructions to fabricate and assemble a company’s products.

An Example of a CAM Implementation

  • A human (or AI) operator or AI designs the product or component using CAD software. The operator specifies a set of parameters during the design phase. These parameters may include the component/product dimensions, weight, material, etc. 
  • Before the production phase commences, the company reviews the design. It assesses and adjusts the designs (if needed). This ensures that it meets the needs of customers on the market.
  • Once the company verifies the design, a programmer derives a set of instructions from it. These instructions outline the steps it will take to make the product.
  • The company then feeds the programmed manufacturing instructions to the necessary CAM machinery. 

These steps may differ from company to company. Regardless, companies can only use CAM with specialized machinery. Numerical Control (NC) is the technical term for this machinery.

Industrial Worker Programming a CAM machine

Industrial Worker Programming a CAM machine

What is CAM NC Machinery?

Once again, automation isn’t a new concept in the manufacturing industry. Numerical Control machines originally used punched tape (or cards).

The punched tape contained instructions that the NC’s controller could interpret. A manual operator or worker would feed these instructions to the NC machine.

The NC machine would process the instructions and activate the machine transmission. Accordingly, this would cause the machine to perform movements.

Older factories still employ NC machines. However, they have become obsolete for most modern manufacturers. Thus, most companies have replaced them with CNC and DNC machines.

CNC Machines

Computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines allow factories to manage factory equipment’s movements through programmed instructions.

These instructions are typically in code (usually G-Code) that a programmer inputs into a computer or directly into the CNC machine. 

Worker Entering Data into a CNC Machine

Worker Entering Data into a CNC Machine

DNC Machines and Systems

Direct numerical control is the next evolution of NC. A DNC system uses a centralized high-powered server system to control multiple machines (as opposed to one).

The machines act as clients in a computer network configuration. DNC allows you to easily distribute machine instructions and automate and optimize the production process. 

Now that we’ve covered the various CAM machines, let’s highlight some advantages.

An Example of a DNC

An Example of a DNC

Advantages of CAM

The advantages of CAM include: the following

  • Allows companies to increase the efficiency and productivity of the manufacturing process. 
  • Enables companies to reduce waste. CAM allows companies to construct products to the exact dimensions specified by the CAD and/or programming instructions Because mistakes are rare during the CAM process, it reduces the number of wasted materials. 
  • Increase in the speed of production. Again, because CAM limits errors, it allows companies to reduce the time it takes to assemble or fabricate a product. Additionally, CAM can work at a faster pace than manual operators or laborers. 
  • Improve the length of production. Machines don’t get tired or sick. Thus, they can work longer hours without rest. CAM is also more consistent than manual manufacturing.
  • Reduction in total labor costs. Since companies do not have to pay CAM to work in the same way they do manual workers, it reduces the total cost of manufacturing. These savings can help you lower the price of the final product, allowing your company to be more competitive in the market.
Happy Engineer Creating a CAD Plan for CAM Implementation

Happy Engineer Creating a CAD Plan for CAM Implementation

Disadvantages of CAM

Unfortunately, no system is perfect. CAM comes with a set of downsides including:

  • Installing all the necessary equipment that a CAM system requires can be lengthy and expensive. CAM must have specialized machinery to run. Thus, it may not be accessible to all companies. 
  • In most cases, companies will be required to hire highly specialized programmers and designers who are proficient in the use of CAD and CAM software. These skilled employees will often require high salaries.
  • CAM forces companies to terminate the jobs of redundant employees. This may attract questions of ethics or corporate social responsibility (CSR). 
Portrait of a Sad Engineer

Portrait of a Sad Engineer

Examples of Industries That Use CAM

We can apply CAM to any industry that requires product fabrication and assembly. CAM is ideal for:

  • Automotives
  • Chemical engineering
  • Pharmaceuticals and other medical technology
  • Aerospace
  • PCB fabrication
Automatic Soldering using CAM

Automatic Soldering using CAM

What is the Difference Between CAM and CAD?

Both CAD and CAM are computer-aided technologies. However, manufacturing plants use it to design specifications and blueprints.

The factory then uses these designs to develop programming instructions that it eventually feeds into the CAM system. Simply put, CAD is for design, while CAM is for fabrication.

What are Examples of CAM Machines?

CNC Milling Machine

CNC Milling Machine

The most popular implementations of CAM include: 

  • Laser Cutters
  • Millers/Milling Machines
  • Electrical Discharge Machines
  • CNC router machines
  • Lathes
  • Pick and Place machines


In many instances, the advantages of CAM outweigh the disadvantages. Thus, making it a viable solution for optimizing your operations.

While it was not stated in the above text, 3D printers that everyday users can buy are examples of CAM.

With the Industrial Internet of Things becoming more popular, we can expect CAM to become more sophisticated and available to more companies.

If you have any PCB-related questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.        

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Emma Lu
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