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The focus of this guide is on computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), the latter of which is sometimes known as computer-aided modeling or computer-aided machining.

Although they are separate processes in a production firm, the trend today is to integrate them, as CAD/CAM, which is the use of computers to perform functions in design and production of products.

CAD refers to the use of a computer system to facilitate the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. The CAD system generally includes the computer, graphics display terminals, keyboards, and other hardware, while the CAD software is the computer programs used to implement computer graphics on the system, along with any applications needed to facilitate the engineering functions of the user's company. These applications might include a stress-strain analysis of components, dynamic response of mechanisms, heat-transfer calculations, and numerical control part programming. Of course, the applications will vary from one firm to another, given differences in product lines, manufacturing processes, and customer markets.

CAM involves the use of computer systems to plan, manage, and control the operations of a manufacturing process through direct or indirect computer interface with the manufacturing plant's production resources. The two main applications of computer-aided manufacturing. The first is computer monitoring and control, which refers to a process in which the computer is directly connected to the manufacturing process, either for monitoring or controlling the production. The second refers to manufacturing support applications, which are indirect applications in which the computer is used in support of the production operations, but without a direct interface between the computer and the manufacturing process.

Although the earliest efforts in computer-aided design were in the 1950s, and the term itself was coined in 1959, modern CAD software began in the mid-1960s with the IBM Drafting System, which provided more capability than the mere ability to reproduce manual drafting with electronic drafting.

CAD is mostly used for detailed engineering of 3D models or 2D drawings of physical components, although it can also be used throughout the engineering process, through the design and layout of the product, analysis of assemblies, and the definition of manufacturing methods and components. Modern CAD software allows for advanced rendering and animation capabilities, permitting engineers to better visualize their product designs. Through CAD, designers can layout and develop their work on screen, then save it for future editing.

There are numerous commercial CAD applications, including Alibre Design, AllyCAD, AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, AxSTREAM, BricsCAD, CATIA, Cobalt, IRONCAD, KeyCreator, MEDUSA, Modelur, Onshape, ProgeCAD, Promine, PTC Creo, PunchCAD, Remo 3D, Rhinoceros 3D, RoutCad, Siemens NX, SketchUp, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, SpaceClaim, T-FLEX CAD, TurboCAD, and VariCAD. Free and open-source CAD applications include 123D, BricsCAD Shape, BRL-CAD, FreeCAD, LibreCAD, OpenSCAD, QCad, and SolveSpace.

Commercial applications of CAM were in large companies, largely in the automotive and aerospace industries. The integration of computer-aided design with computer-aided manufacturing and computer-aided engineering has not eliminated the need for CNC machinists or machine operators. CAM packages are not able to reason in the way that a skilled machinist can. As CAM software and machines become more advanced, the skills required of a machine operator and CNC machinist will need to advance to that of a computer programmer and engineer.

Major CAM software packages include APT, Bobcad, BricsCAD, CATIA, Cimatron, ColorCAM, Delcam, EXAPT, FORAN System, MazaCAM, Machining STRATEGIST, Mastercam, MaterialCenter, MPDS4, MSC Marc, MSC Software, NC Graphics, NC-CAM, NTT Data Engineering Systems, Siemens NX, OrthoGraph, PowerMILL, PTC Creo Elements/Pro, RoutCad, Sexcoi, SmartCAM, SprutCAM, Surfware, Tebis, Tecnomatix, Vero Software, VoluMill, and WorkNC.

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