Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is the use of computer software to control machine tools and related machinery in the manufacturing of work pieces. This is not the only definition for CAM, but it is the most common; CAM may also refer to the use of a computer to assist in all operations of a manufacturing plant, including planning, management, transportation and storage. Its primary purpose is to create a faster production process and components and tooling with more precise dimensions and material consistency, which in some cases, uses only the required amount of raw material (thus minimizing waste), while simultaneously reducing energy consumption.

Since the age of the Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing process has undergone many dramatic changes. One of the most dramatic of these changes is the introduction of Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), a system of using computer technology to assist the manufacturing process.

Through the use of CAM, a factory can become highly automated, through systems such as real-time control and robotics. A CAM system usually seeks to control the production process through varying degrees of automation. Because each of the many manufacturing processes in a CAM system is computer controlled, a high degree of precision can be achieved that is not possible with a human interface.

The CAM system, for example, sets the tool path and executes precision machine operations based on the imported design. Some CAM systems bring in additional automation by also keeping track of materials and automating the ordering process, as well as tasks such as tool replacement.

Computer Aided Manufacturing is commonly linked to Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems. The resulting integrated CAD/CAM system then takes the computer-generated design, and feeds it directly into the manufacturing system; the design is then converted into multiple computer-controlled processes, such as drilling or turning.

Another advantage of Computer Aided Manufacturing is that it can be used to facilitate mass customisation: the process of creating small batches of products that are custom designed to suit each particular client. Without CAM, and the CAD process that precedes it, customisation would be a time-consuming, manual and costly process. However, CAD software allows for easy customisation and rapid design changes: the automatic controls of the CAM system make it possible to adjust the machinery automatically for each different order.

The author is associated with IPFonline.

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