No doubt about it, when it comes to the broad world of CAD/CAM, the CAD side always seems to get the glory. For one thing, the CAD market is much larger than CAM, and that's not going to change anytime soon. For another, the interesting technology always seems to come to CAD first. But maybe that second point isn't quite so true anymore. Indeed, it's beginning to look like the manufacturing side is where the real action is.
According to the NC Software and Related Services Market Assessment report recently published by CIMdata, Inc. (Ann Arbor, Michigan), the world CAM market has more than doubled since 1992, and since 1995 has grown at a rate of about 13 percent a year. Included in those numbers is software for NC programming, verification and post processing.
The report's author, Alan Christman, offers some interesting insights as to why the market remains so strong. Among them:
- Competition is forcing manufacturing companies to continually do more with fewer people. That's a powerful incentive to automate, taking advantage of the best software tools available.
- Shorter product cycles mean more frequent engineering changes, more tooling and, consequently, more NC programming to be done.
- To cut costs, products are being designed with fewer parts, meaning that the ones that remain are growing more complex, upping the ante for modeling and programming capabilities.
- New methodologies such as concurrent engineering require better software tools. As Christman puts it, "Manufacturing is becoming co-equal with design in importance. For effective production, designers must improve their understanding of how a part is to be produced, and place greater emphasis on designing for efficient manufacture. Increased communication between these two functions is required, and it is taking place."
It's all true, I think, but it is this last point that is most compelling. Lost in our discussions of technology sometimes is the human component that is almost always more important than the technology itself. CAM systems in particular are growing amazingly smart, but they are no substitute for smart people. It's encouraging to see so many shops investing in the right tools, but hopefully they are also investing in the knowledge it takes to use those tools to their full potential.