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Software Used in a Manufacturing Workflow. What’s the difference between CAD, CAM, and G-Code.

The modern manufacturing workflow requires the use of a number of softwares. It can be difficult to understand what all of these softwares do and how they fit in the flow of producing a product in industry or making something in the classroom.

Below is an overview of three of the most common software types, and how they work together.


CAD stands for computer aided design and is used in a number of Tech Ed and T&I labs in our area. CAD allows a user to design and develop a schematic of a part that is dimensionally accurate, and should be a near perfect representation of a finished product.

Applications: Architecture, Mechanical Design, Animation

CAD requires a second component to machine a product.


CAM stands for computer aided manufacturing. CAM allows the end user to design for machining. It operates in a very similar manner to CAD, but it expands on CAD capabilities to add machine tool paths to your design. Machines, in this case CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines, are intelligently designed, but they are not inherently intelligent. The end user needs to tell the machine where to make cuts on material in order to get a finished product. CNC machines cannot simply scan a design and figure it out. CAM software provides the machine with a path that it can follow in order to make your product, and this leads to our third software.


G-Code is a programming language that is fairly common among CNC machines. It is possible to program a CNC machine simply in g-code, without using either CAD or CAM software, but it requires a deep understanding of programming, and is a riskier proposition than using g-code in conjunction with CAM. If one line of code is off your part will not be manufactured properly.CAM takes some of the guesswork out of designing and properly machining something.


How do I get the CAM software to create a g-code that my machine understands? Routers, Mills, and Lathes all operate off of g-code, but do it in different ways. How do I get my router to make one thing, my mill to make another, and my lathe to make a third?

CAM software manufacturers develop post processors that allow you to select your specific type and brand of CNC machine, and then translates your design with tool paths into g-code that your specific machine can understand.

The transition from CAD to CAM to g-code is essential in the modern factory, and should be essential in the classroom. If you would like more information on how we can help you with this please contact us.

Below is an idea to part infographic from Tormach.

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