Celebrating the Union of CAD and CAM

Milestone mergers and partnerships brought design and manufacturing closer.

Milestone mergers and partnerships brought design and manufacturing closer.

With integrated CAM simulation, Fusion 360 users can identify collisions. Image courtesy of Autodesk.


The merger had been happening in slow motion over two decades, right under our eyes in plain sight. The integration of design and manufacturing, or CAD and CAM, got tighter over time. Now, manufacturing simulation is a standard part of design programs—so much so that the original term, computer-aided design, may need to be revised. This article examines the corporate handshakes, partnerships and milestone acquisitions that paved the way.

Assembling Fusion 360

In 2008, Autodesk acquired Moldflow, which allows users to simulate and analyze plastic injection molding of parts. In 2012, the company also acquired HSMWorks, a CAM package. It went on to acquire Delcam, another CAM package, in 2014; Netfabb, a metal-additive simulation package, in 2015; and CAMplete, an advanced machine-tool simulation package, in 2020. 

In 2023, the manufacturing simulation technologies from these purchases have been woven into the digital fabric of Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk’s mainstream product development and manufacturing platform.

“What people want us to deliver is a seamless integration of different tools,” says Seth Hindman, director of product management and strategy, Autodesk. “Whereas HSMWorks allows us to connect CAD and CAM, Delcam gives us the breadth of manufacturing technologies we need,” notes Al Whatmough, director of product management, Autodesk.

HSMWorks was initially developed to augment SolidWorks, as apparent in its brand name. Today, HSMWorks is still available as a CAM plug-in for independent CAD packages, including SolidWorks. 

“For a time, HSMWorks and Autodesk Fusion 360’s CAM tools were in parity,” says Whatmough. “But as we added the Delcam features to Fusion 360, Fusion got ahead of HSMWorks.”

After the acquisition, Autodesk continues to develop and sell CAMplete as a package for rival products to Fusion 360. However, in the integrated Fusion 360 environment, “You get instant feedback so you can make decisions in real time,” says Whatmough.

The purpose of the acquisitions is not to create “walled gardens,” according to Whatmough. However, the workflow is “much better in the intentional platform we put together,” says Hindman. “It allows us to solve a lot more problems, overcome other inhibitors and provide a better experience.”

With Moldflow, arguably the most mature of the acquired technologies, Autodesk made the strategic decision to cater to two distinct personas: An engineer with limited mold expertise and a mold expert with the need to perform complex analyses. In the engineer-targeted Moldflow Advisor, the software makes certain assumptions based on the topology (for example, meshing) to simplify the process. 

But in the expert-targeted Moldflow Insight, the user makes the critical decisions and has more control. In 2020, Autodesk integrated the Moldflow solver service with Fusion 360, allowing direct access to component and mold analysis from the design program.

As a result of the CAD-CAM integration, the engineering community’s CAM expertise appears to be increasing. “In the past, we had to do 5-axis PowerMill [part of Fusion 360] demos before we could close the deal. Today, we are selling the same technology in our e-store,” says Whatmough. “Because we have made it easier for people to understand manufacturing, we now have more engineers conducting manufacturing simulation.”

At publication, Autodesk announced a preview of three new machining functions in Fusion 360: Rotary Pocket, Rotary Contour and Deburr. The latest additions are the result of a partnership between Autodesk and ModuleWorks.

SolidWorks and 3DEXPERIENCE Options

Autodesk’s ownership of HSMWorks pushed rival SolidWorks, owned by Dassault Systèmes, to look for a different route for integrated CAM. For SolidWorks users, the de facto CAM add-on is SolidWorks CAM. It was the outcome of a partnership between SolidWorks and CAMWorks, a long-time SolidWorks partner. SolidWorks CAM made its debut in 2017 as a 2.5-axis milling and turning offering. SolidWorks CAM Standard is now a part of the SolidWorks subscription. More recently, Dassault Systèmes’ DELMIA portfolio added CAM and advanced simulation solutions on the company’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

Announcing the launch of SolidWorks CAM in a blog post, “Having integrated CAM capabilities is becoming more important than ever, especially when efficiency is involved. For example, users want to be able to check their components for manufacturability earlier in the design process. By designing, simulating and manufacturing your products in the same virtual environment, businesses can minimize costs and ensure their offerings can adapt to any disruptions in the supply chain or marketplace,” says Mike Buchli, 3DEXPERIENCE Works partner sales manager, Dassault Systèmes.

Handshakes in the Cloud

PTC’s September 2022 acquisition of CloudMilling was the latest example of a mainstream CAD vendor augmenting its flagship offering with manufacturing tools. Mike Johnson and Rylan Johnson, a father-son duo, developed CloudMilling for hobbyists as well as professionals. The software generates toolpaths for 2- to 5-axis milling jobs. The two joined Onshape as employees after the acquisition.

Announcing the acquisition, David Katzman, senior vice president of Onshape, PTC, remarks, “Delivering CAM functionality as part of Onshape will help our customers create even more as they demonstrate what’s possible with cloud-native product development.”

PTC’s browser-based CAD product Onshape was part of the CAD industry’s merger and acquisition history. In 2019, PTC snatched up Onshape for $470 million. Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s president and CEO, says, “We look to our future and see a new growth play with SaaS.”

CloudMilling’s CAM features are expected to become part of PTC’s Onshape CAD software. Image courtesy of PTC.

After the initial purchase, PTC has made several strategic acquisitions to bolster Onshape’s original CAD tools with ancillary features. With the purchases of Migenius, ECAD/MCAD and Arena Solutions, PTC was able to deliver Render Studio, printed circuit board (PCB) studio and product lifecycle management (PLM) tools to Onshape users. 

PTC also added simulation functions, based on the TrueSOLID modeling engine from Frustum, a generative design startup it acquired in 2018. The pattern suggests CloudMilling will eventually become a CAM module, available to Onshape Pro and Enterprise subscribers. These additions significantly expand what was originally a browser-based parametric CAD design program.

No More Mental Jiu-Jitsu

Joe Dunne, director of technical partnerships, Onshape, PTC, describes juggling separate CAD and CAM programs as “doing mental jiu-jitsu.” With such a workflow, he says, “You’re always wondering, if you resize a feature or change its shape, what’s the implication in manufacturing? I’ve seen people managing this with spreadsheets. It’s wasted mental energy. With true integration, you understand the manufacturing implications immediately. And all the version releases and machining processes used are documented.”

On the CloudMilling acquisition, he says, “It was a decision we had to make at some point. We knew that, instead of relying on the third-party developer ecosystem, we could make certain things happen faster by owning a CAM technology.”

Third-party CAM software developers need to devote R&D efforts to serve a wide range of CAD products. Consequently, they will not likely be able to refresh their codes whenever one partner CAD product introduces new features. On the other hand, an integrated CAM program can take advantage of the built-in features in Onshape, such as its cloud-based version-control system.

CloudMilling’s cloud-based code was an important consideration for Onshape integration. Dunne points out, “CAM takes time to regenerate. Everything is interdependent, so if you change one parameter, it needs to be recalculated. It benefits from the cloud, the ability to cache and parallel processing.”

“We don’t want to call Onshape a CAD program anymore because it’s much more than that,” says Greg Brown, VP of product, Onshape, PTC. “It has built-in product data management (PDM). We’ve already added simulation and rendering. These raise the bar. We’ve always felt CAM should be part of that bundle.”

Kenneth Wong is DE’s resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at [email protected] or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.

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Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering’s resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at [email protected] or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.

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