Before there was CAD / CAM, there were pencils and paper – in other words, all designing and prototyping were done manually. This meant that designs were slow to be developed and the development of a prototype could be very tedious. Needless to say, this manual process was also loaded with costly trial and error.
CAD / CAM software and technologies have made the whole design, development, prototype process easy, faster, and most certainly less costly. Now, the design problems can be worked out during the design process. This is especially true with 3D CAD, where structures and products can actually be built and tested in a virtual design. For all of these reasons, the traditional “drawing board” has pretty much gone the way of the Model T Ford (although, if we really wanted to we could design a Model T using CAD, and even construct a virtual 3D model).
While it’s common knowledge that CAD / CAM is used in AEC functions (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction, as well as in Manufacturing) it’s interesting to note that there are other less well-known areas that make use of CAD / CAM technology – dentistry and dress design, to name two. In fact, nearly any industry that produces a tangible product or device makes use of CAD / CAM in one of its many forms. Here’s the list that compiled (let me know in a comment if there are others I should include in a future article):
This is one of the high-tech industries that uses CAD / CAM. The aerospace industry includes manufacturers of everything from space vehicles to satellites, aircraft to missiles. Because these products are high-priced items (any single aerospace product can be several million dollars), CAD / CAM software, in both its 2D and 3D forms, plays an integral role in the design process. Before the product is built, every detail will be thoroughly planned and virtualized using sophisticated design software.
Buildings are another big, expensive project. When creating something as large and as expensive as a building, flawless planning is a must. This is another instance where both 2D and 3D CAD are used. Aside from the actual architecture and layout of a structure, the software is used to determine proper specifications including measurements, volumes and weights before construction even begins.
Then, 2D floor plans are used in the field for the actual construction, while 3D visualizations are used not only to ensure the accuracy of the 2D plans, but also to help backers visualize the finished project so they’re more likely to fund it. This is particularly true with office buildings and other commercial structures, although 3D visualizations are being used more and more by home builders and designers as well.
Sophisticated CAD / CAM software is used in every aspect of auto design. CAD services for the auto industry is used to create 3D prototypes of new body styles and to design auto components such as tires, engines, circuitry boards, upholstery, and more. Information from the CAD drawings is fed into CNC machines for cutting steel, as well as into robots who help construct the automobiles on the assembly lines.
Urban planners use CAD / CAM software to plan urban infrastructure including bridges, parks, industrial units, office complexes, and more. This is another area where 3D CAD is being used, if not exclusively, then certainly most of the time. Urban planning requires funding and taxpayer dollars. Most people cannot visualize what a park or a playground will look like based on a 2-dimensional drawing, let alone visualized a huge professional stadium. So, if the planners want financial backing and support for a taxpayer referendum, 3D CAD visualizations are the way to go.
Have you had a crown made for a tooth in the past 10 years? If so, most likely you found out that your dentist has embraced technological advances in computer-aided dentistry and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD / CAM). Actually, for the past 3 decades, computer-aided dentistry has been employed to digitize dental structures and the oral cavity for the virtual design of simple and complex prosthetic units. The difference today is that often, with the help of special dental materials and dental 3D printers, the structure is created in the dentist’s office while you wait, rather than being sent out to a lab for construction. Dental CAD / CAM design and printing technologies can provide unparalleled anatomical accuracy “while you wait.”
While many reputable fashion designers may opt to initially design their one-of-a-kind creations by hand, fashion CAD / CAM software is typically used in the latter portions of the design process, and nearly always used in the “ready to wear” industries. The software is used to determine the most efficient cut of fabrics and to adjust the scale of the pattern for different sizes. Using virtual models, the software can even be used to show how the clothing will fit and move. Designers can then make any necessary modifications to the design. At the manufacturing stage, the cloth can be cut, often in huge layers, using CNC machines to speed the process.
Yes, your favorite CSI show uses CAD / CAM technologies to solve their cases, as do their real-life counterparts. The role of CAD / CAM within forensic sciences can help to deal with age estimation, injury analysis, and postmortem identification. Often the postmortem identification process compares dental records (radiographs and models) of an individual before death (ante mortem) to that after death (postmortem), while injury analysis may involve comparisons of bone fragments or contusions to types of weapons or known injuries. Forensic sciences can even employ CAD / CAM technology to assist in the 3-dimensional (3-D) reconstruction of crime scene investigations.
CAD / CAM design software allows interior designers to bring their vision to life through detailed digital designs. This allows them to show clients, right down to the paint color, what the project will look like upon completion.
Landscapers use CAD software to conceptualize their outdoor creations and determine the best placement of various landscaping components such as trees, fences, gardens, patios, and more.
Three dimensional CAD reconstructions of accidents and crime scenes, similar to those used in forensics can also be used in courtrooms to help the jurors visualize the events are being tried.
Computer-aided mapping is a form of CAD that is specifically related to mapping and cartography and is often used to generate parcel, street, and utility maps, which can then be used alone or with GIS. While CAD is similar to GIS, there are important distinctions between CAD and GIS — the most important being that CAD is designed to create and edit graphic entities and generally has minimal database capabilities, although this is less true with 3D CAD), while GIS is a spatial database that uses graphics to display the results of the analysis, with graphic editing being a secondary capability. It is worth noting that some CAD programs do provide GIS functionality as an add-on to their core graphic editing functions.
Much like the use of CAD / CAM in dentistry, CAD / CAM is used in medical applications for the reconstruction of body parts (some today, even printed out on specialized medical 3D printers), or construction of prosthesis. CAD has been traditionally used to assist in engineering design and modeling for representation, analysis, and manufacturing. Advances in Information Technology and in Biomedicine have created new uses for CAD with many novel and important biomedical applications, particularly in tissue engineering in which the CAD-based bio-tissue informatics model provides critical information of tissue biological, biophysical, and biochemical properties for modeling, design, and fabrication of complex tissue substitutes.
Advances in computing technologies both in terms of hardware and software have helped in the advancement of CAD / CAM in applications far beyond the scope of traditional AEC design. It’s important to realize, however, that while the applications may range from manufacturing to medicine, from the virtual to the 2D, CAD / CAM, in whatever use is a powerful tool that makes many things possible faster, better and safer.