CAD/CAM software is fast becoming an essential tool for the modern woodworking company. User demand is helping to shape the direction of this industry, making the software even more valuable.


A key feature of CAD/CAM software on the market today is an easy to navigate user interface. Photo courtesy of 20-20 Technologies Inc.

It is amazing what today’s woodworkers can do with the right equipment and some wood. Computers and other advances in technology have transformed modern woodworking into what it is today.

CAD/CAM software makes it possible to conceptualize and design a project and then have it produced to near exact specifications.

To discover what it is that shapes this segment of the industry, and to discern what purchasers should look for when considering a new software package, Wood & Wood Products spoke with producers of CAD/CAM software about the influences that are defining its growth and development.

Software Solutions

Not only does CAD/CAM software make it easier for woodworkers to bring their ideas from concept to production, it can open the door for new designs and, with the right equipment, can improve quality, efficiency and repeatability. But with so many options available, how does a company choose which software is right for it?

The CAD/CAM producers agree that there are two main factors to consider before buying a new software package. Those two factors are: the reputation of and service provided by the software producer, and the company’s need.

Bob Gowen, general manager of 20-20 Pattern Systems Int’l., says customers should look for “industry specific solutions from vendors with experience in the woodworking industry.”

Part of the selection process should include investigating what kinds of service the software provider offers post-sale. This could be something as simple as troubleshooting and technical support, to the availability of training.

“When deciding on a CAD/CAM service provider, it i worthwhile to investigate face-to-face training both pre- and post-sale,” says Mary Shaw, Delcam’s marketing manager.

Greg Milliken, CEO of Alibre Inc., says customers should ask, “Are training materials such as tutorials, training videos and so on available? Also, can you get support, both phone and e-mail, directly from the vendor that develops the software?”

Many companies also offer forums for users to share tips and troubleshooting advice. Once the various vendors have been evaluated, a company should next look at the software itself and see how user-friendly it is.

Many software packages today offer toolpathing and are capable of communicating with most CNC equipment. Photo courtesy of Mastercam.

Easy as Pie

If there is one thing on the top of companies’ lists when they are looking to purchase new CAD/CAM software for the shop, it is ease of use.

“A customer’s primary concern should be that the CAD/CAM systems they are evaluating communicate their designs seamlessly and easily to their CNC machinery,” says Chip Martin, director, product management, for Planit Wood Business. “Features that allow you to easily control what the end results are with 100 percent certainty, are the most important.”

Understandably, a woodworking company would not want to purchase a piece of software and have its employees have to go through a lengthy training process. Gowen says that most often, customers will look for software that is “fast, easy to use and easy to set up.”

The software industry has responded by designing programs that nearly anyone can use effectively, while remaining powerful enough to fulfill the end-user’s needs.

“CAD/CAM technology has become more user-friendly,” explains Shaw. “Anyone with a basic knowledge of any Windows program can learn to use a CAD/CAM system.”

This creates one of the most challenging issues for CAD/CAM software producers, as each company is trying to design software that is user-friendly, but at the same time powerful and versatile.

“The challenges and opportunities in the CAD/CAM software business are the same: Making the software both powerful and easy to use,” remarks John Murphy, vice president of technology for KCDw.

“The mark of truly advanced software is ease of use,” he adds.

Today’s CAD/CAM software can provide designers with architectural drawings, as well as detailed, 3-D renderings. Photo courtesy of KCDw.

Changes to Come

Like all technology, software is constantly changing and evolving. And just like any other industry, it is consumer demand that drives this change.

“Our customers are much more computer and software savvy than just a few short years ago,” says Martin. “Our customers are driving the development of our products in a very powerful way; they are what keeps us on the cutting edge of technology.”

Aside from making their products easier to use, software companies are adding such features as double-sided nesting, making five-axis machining more accessible, the ability to send the product directly to the router and more.

“The woodworking CAD/CAM software market is both growing and changing rapidly,” explains Murphy. “The cabinet/closet business is in the process of switching from traditional construction to CNC construction methods. This switch is causing both CNC machines and the CAD/CAM software that run them to be in great demand.”

“One of the key ongoing areas of development is user interface and ease of use,” says Milliken. “We’re constantly working on simplifying the interface to expose the functionality people need every day, without cluttering the interface with bells and whistles that are only important to a few experts.”

All agree, as time passes, the technology will only become more powerful and flexible.

“Programs today are very versatile, offering a wider selection of ways to create products that are both functional and attractive,” Shaw adds.

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