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CAD/CAM is an acronym for computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing. The use of A CAD system used for Boeing airplanes. © Ed Kashi/Phototake NYC. Reproduced by permission. computers in design and manufacturing applications makes it possible to remove much of the tedium and manual labor involved. For example, the many design specifications, blueprints, material lists, and other documents needed to build complex machines can require thousands of highly technical and accurate drawings and charts. If the engineers decide structural components need to be changed, all of these plans and drawings must be changed. Prior to CAD/CAM, human designers and draftspersons had to change them manually, a time consuming and error-prone process. When a CAD system is used, the computer can automatically evaluate and change all corresponding documents instantly. In addition, by using interactive graphics workstations, designers, engineers, and architects can create models or drawings, increase or decrease sizes, rotate or change them at will, and see results instantly on screen.

CAD is particularly valuable in space programs, where many unknown design variables are involved. Previously, engineers depended upon trial-and-error testing and modification, a time consuming and possibly life-threatening process. However, when aided by computer simulation and testing, a great deal of time, money, and possibly lives can be saved. Besides its use in the military, CAD is also used in civil aeronautics, automotive, and data processing industries.

CAM, commonly utilized in conjunction with CAD, uses computers to communicate instructions to automated machinery. CAM techniques are especially suited for manufacturing plants, where tasks are repetitive, tedious, or dangerous for human workers.

Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), a term popularized by Joseph Harrington in 1975, is also known as autofacturing. CIM is a programmable manufacturing method designed to link CAD, CAM, industrial robotics, and machine manufacturing using unattended processing workstations. CIM offers uninterrupted operation from raw materials to finished product, with the added benefits of quality assurance and automated assembly.

CAE (computer aided engineering), which appeared in the late 1970s, combines software, hardware, graphics, automated analysis, simulated operation, and physical testing to improve accuracy, effectiveness, and productivity.

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