The terms CAD and CAM are often mentioned when talking about product development and product design. But what do they both mean?

We’ve taken a look at the two terms, to establish what they mean and how each process is used.

What is the difference between CAD and CAM?

Computer-aided design (CAD) is a process used to design components in a virtual environment and typically appear on a computer as 3D models and 2D drawings. These models can usually be altered on screen by changing different parameters, which enables designers to view objects in a wide variety of ways. These models are now frequently used instead of hand drawn technical drawings. In comparison, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is the process in which these computer-aided designs and models are then manufactured by a system that controls automated machinery.

Modeling with CAD systems offers several advantages over traditional methods For example, designs can be altered easily without have to erase or redraw anything. This saves time and is a lot easier for designers of a product if iterations need to be made.

CAD systems also offer “zoom” features analogous to a camera lens, whereby a designer can magnify certain elements of a model to allow for deeper inspection of a component. This combined with 3D computer models helps to give designers and their client a fuller sense of a product. CAD systems also offer the ability to create modeling cutaway drawings, in which the internal shape of a part is revealed and designers can also more effectively show the spatial relationships among different parts.

The conceptual overlap between design and manufacture of CAD and CAM is the reason they are generally considered together as a system. Whilst the design and manufacturing processes are conceptually separable, these two terms are often used on conjunction with each other, because they are combined to provide a full process of design to manufacturing. In order to use CAM, one must first use CAD to design a product and create a model.