The Future of CAD/CAM

The Computer Aided Design (and computer Aided Manufacturing) industry has seen quite a boom in its 60 something years of history and development. It can be tracked back to the modest commercial programming system PRONTO which used numerical control mechanisms to develop structures and simulate their movements. Even these simulations were just calculations and numbers not showing any graphics, not even close to what we see today on a designers screen when designing complicated, photo-realistic models and landscapes. Following that, around 1960 MIT engineers and programmers developed the first drawing software by the name of Sketchpad.

This and other developments were simple alternatives to drawing by hand and were devoid of many features which we don’t even think about nowadays. 2D wireframe development were used to create 2D designs of the same. But the productivity had increased with much controversy surrounding the fact that the hardware required and the time needed for learning the software was simply an unnecessary backlog. None the less, the fact that very few people saw the potential and subsequently even fewer had the resources to invest in these systems were the reasons why the development and popularization of such potential system was slow.

Fast forward 60 years and we’re looking at systems that allow us to design the product and simulate the manufacturing process. And now the big question is where do we go from here?


future of cadThe number of software packages and features available, mutually available or proprietary have increased by more than ten folds. This boost in development has also left the industry facing a gap that may not be readily apparent but nonetheless has significant potential for improvement.

For example, nowadays with the number of packages available, there is a heavy limitation in standardization techniques and although there are products available that allow portability of designs, an all across standard has yet to be defined. This is one of the unmet expectations of the industry, to allow all designers working on a range of products to seamlessly integrate their designs. The advent of XML has opened the door for this. Let’s talk about this and other expected future advancements.

XML Standardization

With the number of packages available, taking a design from one package with special functionalities and exporting it to another for further processing is not all that easy or inexpensive. Every mainstream CAD/CAM product has an import/export option in its suite of arsenal but uses the base platforms development properties when converting from one format to another.

This means that the interfacing format, the one that both of the products need to be able to read and write to is limited in its ability. XML, however works on the concept of translating every single property of the element being translated to text with tags hence allowing a standardized and transparent system of translation. This poses the threat of transparency to all closed source systems because not only will this shed light on the inner workings of the system, this will also allow a designer to take a design from one product and export it to another without any special costs or intervention mechanisms. Almost like creating a single package out of all the packages available in the market, for comparatively nothing in financial and logistical costs.

Integrated Realization

Nowadays, packages allow you to place textures and colors with the onset of lighting systems that show shadows and enhance the visual properties of the 3D models. This however is a very limited approach and to a realistic render and focuses on visual appeal rather than actual realization techniques. The next step forward, which is already somewhat in the making, is real time analysis integration of realization techniques allowing designers to perform fluid dynamic analysis or Finite Element Methods while designing, without having to resort to final renders and subsequent in-depth analysis. Being able to perform an FEM analysis with a contextual perspective of the developed model and its environment will definitely save time and money.

Cloud CADing

OnShape is currently the only completely cloud based solution for professional CAD/CAM engineers with all features that the rest tend to leave out. Even though software developers like Autodesk and Dassault Systems have cloud based products, there is still much demand for the complete cloud package. OnShape currently leads with phone, tablet and desktop browser options but is limited due to the SaaS (Software as a Service) architecture and its own development. Pushing an entire CAD/CAM system to the cloud is definitely something designers and industrialists are waiting for with fingers crossed.

Check out our article on the top cloud-based CAD softwares.

Design and Application Partnering

Where many of us may think the ability to design is the application of CAD/CAM principles, the scope of application extends much further. Nowadays, gaming models and games themselves are developed using high end CAD systems just as the characters and sets are in 3D feature film productions. But the integration or partnering of such firms and practices directly into the discipline of CADing or vice versa is something not many are looking into. This basically refers to game console manufacturers developing hardware specifically meant for 3D developments with the end user in mind, game developers producing 3D visuals with a set of CAD/CAM techniques and principles meant to target the logistical gap between development and deployment and facilitate the user as well as the process of upgrading etc.

Quantum Computing

This is a theoretical side of computing, one which has received much attention but only is research and pure developments. The application of such systems is deemed out of our reach, but any breakthrough holds much more than just promised. With such advancement in hardware technology and capability we may just see GPUs and CPUs get combined into element, a singular chip housing separate cores for the intended functionality as opposed to a whole GPU communicating with the CPU back and forth about every little instruction set via an interfacing motherboard. If this integration were to actually happen, the GPU and CPU would be talking to each other the same way an AU and LU talk to each other (for the non-techies, that’s pretty fast and seamless!).

CAD/CAM Markets

Some might argue that with websites that offer 3D models this is already happening. But thinking in terms of an actual market place dedicated to the 3D CAD and CAM discipline and not just a place to buy 3D printed mantle pieces is something to definitely look forward to. To explain this, think about it this way. You can sit at home and sow yourself a sweater or have your grandmother bake you an awesome apple pie.

But do all of us have a grandmother within arm’s reach? Or can all of us sow and stitch? And even if we can, do we all have the time? Market places dedicated to CAD/CAM offering rendering services or 3D printing services or better yet in-depth technical services for your CAD/CAM needs are definitely on the way, even though they won’t be here unless CAD/CAM matures into an industry with the individual or consumer in mind, something definite but far off.

Input and Output Devices

The orthodox approach to using a computer, in general, is by handling a keyboard and mouse. Even though CAD/CAM users have been using the same technology all their lives, with abstracted implementations such as the rotating knob that complements the mouse for view and perspective changes, the mouse and keyboard still exist. The fact that virtual reality systems are available added with developments in human computer interaction models will undoubtedly change the way CAD/CAM processes are performed.

One very straight forward prediction is the use of hands to mold and shape parts by moving the hands as if the object was really in the hand. The best part would be that sheet metal could be bent without the need of actual force and could be done in virtual reality with visual gear that would let you view the whole process as well as output in 3D as opposed to a 2D flat monitor.

3D Arbitration

As of now, any CAM specialist will attest to the fact that the manufacturing process is essentially 2D. Meaning every 3D design is basically translated to 2D wireframes for the manufacturing process before it actually comes out the door. Until a better understanding of 3D models is developed specifically for the manufacturing process, the manufacturing process will take it’s time and cost in completion.

Design Metadata

Currently, all design metadata being fed to systems produces overhead. Advent of better insertion systems, such as PointCloud data will greatly help the design process and the designer as scanning a 3D design or importing its PointCloud data saves the time that user takes when entering information using a keyboard or by importing such data in other file formats exporting them from a different package.


Go to Nike’s website. Or go to your favorite brand of kitchen knives. Or perhaps even furniture. The websites allow some level of customization with branding and coloring options. In the near future, the adaption of such abilities of customization will be a sure plus for any brand or company. This may seem far-fetched but as more and more 3D solutions are developed and the discipline becomes easier to access and practice, it is only a matter of time when the consumer or end user has enough of an idea about these concepts to wander off into the world of CAD without special support.

With cloud based products we already have the platform developed for putting together and taking apart designs. As more and more users reach the ability to use CAD or at least experience it like other mundane aspects of life on the internet and within a browser window, this level of customization will literally dictate the difference between the users’ choice of brands.

Artificial Foresight

As opposed to artificial intelligence, artificial foresight will allow a system to automatically detect potential in the design. Now, some might say that the definition of the word “potential” is way too vast. And that is exactly what is intended. With the limitlessness of designs, a system automatically being able to detect clashes or telling you if the theme park ride in it’s due course will cause accidents with respects to its environment (the rest of the theme park and simulated logistical operations). Even though this is possible nowadays, it is not automatic and only when true constraints are applied and analysis run, can come to light. AF would allow the system to check these clashes just as seamlessly due to integrated realization techniques.

Informal Professionalism

This is a take on an excerpt from SolidWork’s CEO Gian Bassi interview where he talks about personalization and the informal aspect of professionalism when it comes to design engineers especially.

The concept comes out of collaboration and talk about how design engineers are always collaborating. Because of the fact that a very small population (compared to the world’s population) are design engineers, it is not surprising that designers and engineers are resorting to using social media, other internet forums and technologies in order to acquire help and resources as and when needed. Even engineers on the same team use products like Dropbox and Google Drive while communicating on enterprise proprietary communication channels. Freelancers around the world don’t have the luxury of enterprise sponsored mechanisms and hence resort to personal means of transferring data as well communication. This is a social change that CAD/CAM professionals are experiencing and because of the financial scope of the industry is shaping the future of how CAD/CAM proceedings are carried out.


Finally, we see that CADing and CAMing have a 60 year history of booming growth, with no signs of slowing down. Infact, it would be safe to say that with the recent advents in technology in general, the prospects that are opening up are limited only by our imagination and need to move forward. All in all, the future of CAD/CAM is controversial only in terms of how it will proceed and shape but as the above text clearly proves, it’s a very prospective one.

Moreover, CADing and CAMing are booming so where the industry will lead us or where the acquisition of a greater user base will lead the industry is a vast and profound area of interest with the potential to further revolutionize many aspects of technology and industrial application of technology. Its pragmatic and simplified approach to the complicated and resource-intensive tasks of the industry is the driving force behind the growth spurt.

So be sure to leave comments below for what you think may or may not happen in the future of this flourishing industry because we all know, the potential is bound only to our imagination.

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