Last edited 08 Jul 2016

Computer aided manufacturing CAM

Computer aided draughting (CAD sometimes referred to as computer aided design) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) has allowed computer numerical control (CNC) of highly-automated end-to-end component design and manufacture.

Computers can produce files that translate design information into commands to operate machines, singularly or collectively, to perform pre-set sequences of tasks in the production of building components.

Modern machinery can be multi-functional, combining a number of tools in a single cell, or may deploy a number of different machines programmed to operate when the component is moved from machine to machine, either by human intervention or by computer control. In either case a series of steps are programmed to produce highly-automated components that closely match the original design.

The following functions lend themselves to this technology:

  • Hole punching or drilling.
  • Sawing.
  • Laser cutting.
  • Flame and plasma cutting.
  • Bending.
  • Spinning.
  • Routing and milling.
  • Pinning.
  • Gluing.
  • Fabric cutting.
  • Picking and placing.
  • Tape and fabric placement.

It can be relatively 'low-tech', such as the WikiHouse initiative, which enables users to generate cutting files for components that can be manufactured from standard sheet materials such as plywood using a CNC router. The components can then be assembled, forming joints with pegs and wedges to create a basic dwelling.

However, the movement from 2D CAD to 3D BIM may enable the manufacture of entire assemblies using rapidly advancing robotic technology long established in the automotive industry. However, this is expensive technology and requires a protected, predictable environment. It also requires repetition and high numbers of units to make the investment in the robotics technology required viable. Consequently, CAM is most likely to be taken up in off-site pre-fabrication facilities for the development of repetitive building types such as in the residential market.

It may however, develop with the emergence of 'flying factories', temporary facilities used to manufacture prefabricated components. They are different from conventional off-site factories in that they only operate for the duration of a project and are then closed. Operations may then 'fly' to a new location to service another project. See flying factory for more information.

Computer aided manufacturing may also be transformed by the emergence of economically-viable 3D printing (sometimes referred to as Additive Manufacturing (AM)). This the computer-controlled sequential layering of materials to create 3 dimensional shapes. It is particularly useful for prototyping and for the manufacture of geometrically complex components. See 3D printing for more information.

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