Software development has simplified work in the construction and designing industry, allowing to work collaboratively with on-site and remote teams across the world. Although the earliest CAD/CAM and BIM models data from the ’80s, it was only 10 years ago when engineers and construction professionals widely embraced the design modeling technology.
It is indeed more accessible to work with CAD/CAM now than it was 40 years ago. But besides “decent” software and hardware becoming affordable, construction and design process grew in complexity. For instance, developing and developed countries alike are clamping down poor environmental laws, tighten belts of construction and design companies to follow with more strict regulations.
Construction and civil design sectors are not the only benefited with CAD and BIM software development. In fact, there is a wide offer in the market for programs to streamline efforts in the manufacturing industry (CAM). Yet, it is construction professionals, architectural and civil designers the most benefited.
How CAD/CAM and BIM work together
CAD/CAM and BIM, although complement each other, have different principles. Computer Aided Design (CAD) oversees the design of a product and document the process. CAM means Computer-Aided Manufacturing, and similar to CAD it helps to create models to automate processes, in this case, related to manufacture.
CAD files are often 2D or 3D drawings or models. A CAM file is a set of G codes and M codes giving instructions to machines for the manufacturing process.
Building Information Modeling, on the other hand, is one of the core collaborative programs allowing designers, managers, and construction professionals to work in the same model simultaneously, including handling operational details.
While CAD is limited to make lines to make geometrical objects, BIM assign more complex characteristics to elements, that are represented as geometrical objects. For instance, the profiles/views for a building made with CAD are generated one by one, because they are simply lines put together making a figure, then the designers need to work on each layout separately.
BIM model allows the designer to allocate features to certain geometrical patterns and figures for them to interact with each other. A water tank looked from the top is a circle, but if that same circle has width, height, and material, the program is able to generate automatically section views from the sides.
Therefore, CAD/CAM and BIM work together to save time and avoid human mistakes projecting profiles and views of different objects.
CAD/CAM and BIM in the Construction Industry
CAD has been a major player in the construction industry for the past 20 years. The advantages are clear: CAD software is faster and allows engineers and architects to produce detailed plans in less time. They can make changes on the go and notice mistakes in measurements faster while gaining the ability to work in more complex projects.
CAM in construction is still somehow unexplored terrain. For instance, CAM models are used to design custom-made steel parts or molds for casting concrete. It is common to produce these molds using 3D printers, hence, CAM design.
Another widespread practice for CAM models is in modular construction. Pre-engineered construction is gaining strength all around the world as it is affordable and requires less energy and materials to produce the parts (in the majority of cases).
Modular buildings are a clear example of the results that can be achieved once the manufacture and construction industries merge. While CAD creates the 2D sketches and 3D models, the G code is extracted from BIM drawings. Then, CAM facilitates the production process and decreases the amount of waste during the manufacture of the parts.
BIM in Construction
There are multiple valuable features in BIM software worth highlighting. BIM currently is causing a substantial impact on the development of construction projects, above CAD and CAM. BIM environment focuses on information more than the design per se. It aims to manage the details of the project: description, materials, structure, geometry, costs, and budget in a single user-friendly interface.
In that order of ideas, BIM allows improving coordination between teams. It assists contractors for different areas, for instance, plumbing and electricians to avoid conflicts of the design before the construction starts.
The bottom line is reduced to increase efficiency, productivity, planning, and communications with the better scheduling process, construction simulation, risk management and building handover.
Most popular CAD/CAM software
Understand how CAD and CAM software work is the first step to choose the programs that suit specific industry needs. Generally speaking, CAD intends to provide a visual aid to a model, regardless of the metric system or dimensions. Geometrical objects draw with CAD can be given properties and can interact with each other in simple ways, but properties don’t interact among them.
CAM models are more down-to-earth and are concerned with sizes and materials, as they are for manufacture processes. CAM turns the geometrical figures into codes with commands for the machine to create the product. CAM makes easy for manufacturers to check on pieces dimensions and save time avoiding future mishaps in the production.
Free Software CAD/CAM
Programs for building and manufacture modeling are by any means inexpensive. Although free software is comparably inferior quality than paid ones, there are a couple of interesting open-source packages for first learners, among them FreeCAD, Fusion 360 and NanoCAD. Sites such as Sourceforge also feature multiple options to download CAD/CAM software without charge.
Most of the free programs are for educators, first learners, student, and startups. So, people trying to download the software will need to provide with information about where and what they are studying or working on.
Paid CAD/CAM Software
Leaving aside the best-known software such as AutoCAD, Sketchup, and Revit – this last one, is for BIM but is highly used in the construction industry – the most popular software for architecture and engineering CAD designs are:
- Lumion: this program integrates with Revit and Sketchup and it is used widely to produce presentations of renders for clients. Lumion is highly used for visualization and aesthetics purposes. Basic Lumion package cost $1499
- Rhino: for product designers and engineers, Rhino is a game-changer for those who are involved with structure and landscaping. Full user access price is $1695.
- ArchiCAD: ArchiCAD focuses on BIM. This software is widely used to identify future problems during the early stage of the design process. Price ranges of different licenses go up to $4995.
- Dynamo: Dynamo integrates with Revit and allows architects to create customized code to combine data and automate tasks, improving the performance and saving time.
- TinkerCAD: TinkerCAD is user and budget friendly. It allows the designer to create 3D designs with basic geometric shapes, then it is perfect for beginners and highly used during first CAD classes.
- SolidWorks: SolidWorks is highly popular among designers working with complex industrial parts. Professionals can perform rapid assembly and collaborate during the evaluation of the pieces. You can find the software from $1295.
- CATIA: Models created with CATIA interact with each other providing more accurate results. The platform features CAD, CAE, and CAM altogether while enabling collaboration between professionals in the same project. CATIA is probably one of the most expensive CAM software out there, a full license cost around $11,000.