How do I pick a CAM program?
This will sound very familiar to the CAD section on this topic. There are multiple CAM programs available for generating tool paths and machining operations. Generally, people become familiar with one and stick with that. As far as selecting the right one for you, my advice is this. Most software companies have free trial. Thirty-day trials are common. Take advantage of these trial periods and test the software out. Then at the end, decide if you want to try another or stick with your best one. I would advise you try out at least three different packages.
The one you select will probably have to do with your liking the interface or finding it intuitive. Keep in mind it may work for you now. A simple to use and understand interface probably has some limitations for your designs. The very best programs are complex with many tools that give you the most control. I have found that I start with a simple program and outgrow it. At some point, I move up to the next level of software. This usually means a higher price as well.
The difference with CAM Software levels is the number of Axis the software allows for. You will see the standard types below. Think of it like this, as you add more Axis‚EUR(TM), the more sophisticated the software must get and the more it will cost. It will also give you more flexibility though. That is the trade off, money for flexibility.
The different types of CAM Software
There are many different types of CAM Software. You will need to purchase the type that fits your machine. For example, if you have a CNC Plasma Cutter, you probably only need a 2D CAM Software version. The torch will only move in the X and Y planes. That is if you have a torch height control.
What if you have a CNC Milling Machine with X and Y axes that are powered by stepper motors? You will probably only need 2.5D CAM Software. That is because your parts will have depth.
What if you have a CNC Wood Router and it carves out three-dimensional shapes out of wood? It has three servo motors to control on the X, Y and Z-axis. Yep, you need 3D CAM Software.
What if you want to mill or carve something into a cylinder of stock material? You will need a 4th Axis CAM Software so the machine can rotate the cylinder while all the other three Axis‚EUR(TM) are moving.
Here are the most common types of CAM Software
4th Axis CAM
5th Axis CAM
So what does CAM Software cost?
This is going to sound very familiar to the CAD section with the same question. I consider there to be a few different price points in the CAM Software Market. These can be categorized as hobby or professional price points. This is usually a good break as well in the features a program offers. Here is a quick rundown.
Hobby CAM Software
Could possibly be free, but not likely
$0-$300 price point
Could be 2D, 2.5D or 3D capable, usually 2D or 2.5D
Stand alone licenses
Meant of ease of user interface and simple machining operations
Probably missing some advanced tools
Professional CAM Software
$300-$10,000 price point
2D, 2.5D and 3D capable plus you can add other axis‚EUR(TM)
Network version that let multiple designers interact
Different modules or plug-ins to add more and more axis capability
Full featured, most every type of tool is available
Art CAM Programs
There is a whole sub-section of CAM programs that deal with Art. These CAM programs specialize in the Art side of CAM verses the Part side of CAM. Most have specialized interfaces where you can upload logos and patterns and they crank out the G-Code with ease.
Art CAM Program Examples
3D Sculpture Web
Ivan is active in Mastercam and CNC Software. Carvewright is one of his expertise.