Save Up to 50% on Your Tools

CAD/CAM 2020: Slouching and Splicing on the Path to Additive

Unless you are spending $1M on a hybrid additive machine generative design is still somewhere between a curiosity, pastime, and moonshot. But a number of brandname CAD/CAMs are close to/already offering design-to-manufacture solutions that will bring us one big step closer to integrated manufacturing.

Courtesy of Fallontonight 

For most machine shops additive has come far, but not nearly far enough. On the one hand, hybrid additive machines are being sold for astronomical amounts, like DMG Mori’s Lasertec 65 3D hybrid (pretty much a supercollider). Then on the other side of the spectrum hobbyists can easily pick up a full line of 3D printers retailing for somewhere between $100 and $5,000. But neither of these options serve the needs for precision, speed and cost if you are making parts on a tight budget. Even the machines you can buy for mid-range prices don’t bring generative design to actual machinability for most applications. ><

Whether you are a hobbyist wanting the possibility of designing and producing more professional products, or if you are a machine shop wondering when additive will become something useful for more than occasional tooling, robotic end effectors, and quick turn press brake jigs or forming dies, we think you’ll get a lot out of this article. Because either way, you want an integrated solution that will give you maximum design freedom at the highest level of efficiency.

So first, some context.

Generative Design’s Awkward Moment: Actual production

Giphy courtesy of @betterthiingsfx

Hey, we all have awkward moments. You know, 5G is super awkward right now too; it’s kind of available in some places but only the most expensive new phones can use it, and only a few cities have the infrastructure. But of course we expect 5G will get through the awkward phase,  and so will additive…eventually.

Additive is taking a bit longer because, unlike 5G which for consumers is just faster-and-better of pretty much the same digital connectivity, there wasn’t a market for additive capabilities to drive development. Producers developed 3D printers first, so now we need to figure out what we can build with them. 

Which brings us back to design and CNC machining because: in order to discover an application, you need to design the part. Then you need a toolpath. And anyway it’s way more complicated than that.

State of CAD/CAM Industry for Machinists in 2020: Where are we?!

In a way additive manufacturing is just another kind of machine… Except that the machining process is literally moving in the opposite direction. That’s all.

If we are to truly exploit the advantages of additive machining, then we will need to design in a fundamentally different way. That’s not just in terms of file types and software. It’s in terms of our thinking, which might be the toughest part to change.

That’s why artificial intelligence is becoming fundamental to additive. Additive manufacturing can produce shapes that are mind-bendingly complex. How do you design for something that can do this?

CADs with Additive and Subtractive

Courtesy of Ji Shi

There are actually three different approaches to additive (and some would say backwards) design.

  1. Topology Optimization
  2. Latticing/Lightweighting
  3. Generative Design

Each of these approaches take an even more computer-driven approach to design, where we start with an existing part, or even just a series of specifications. Then we apply an algorithmic process to reimagine that part so that it can be constructed additively.

Here are the major CADs that currently have the software for these approaches, in no particular order.

Generative Design Software

  • Autodesk Netfabb
  • CREO 7.0 (not released yet but coming soon)
  • Siemens Solid Edge
  • Dassault Systemes Solidworks
  • nTopology*
  • Rhino**

*nTopology is generative design only and does not support subtractive processes

**Out-of-the-box Rhino does not have generative design capabilities, but with open source python-driven packages, it is only a matter of time until solutions become available. If you use Rhino for generative design please let us know!


After the model is created/reimagined algorithmically, machinists start to translate the design into an actual build program. Simulation is very important because the machine is adding material instead of removing it, so there are more possibilities that you’re going to crash your tool.

Essentially none of the same calculations apply to an additive context. But while it has taken some time most of the major CAD/CAMs now have this capability. And in the same way that tools matter to the toolpath, additive process and material matters. Algorithms will change across metal powder bed fusion, directed energy deposition, binder jetting, etc., so it will be important to understand where your CAD/CAM’s focus is, maybe even before you choose a machine.

  • Netfabb Simulation
  • Siemens NX
  • CREO 7.0 (coming soon)
  • Dassault Systemes Virtual Printing
  • Mastercam
  • Cg Tech Vericut
  • Ansys
  • Simufact Additive
  • FLOW-3D

Hybrid Additive CAM

Building professional parts with additive requires a subtractive layer to remove support structures and finish the part. This can be done all at once, meaning additive is finished before subtractive process begins, but the most advanced machines allow for more complex layering, which allows finishing processes to reach areas that would become unreachable after the full additive process completes. This requires splicing machine programming programmatically, and although some CAMs do have this functionality, many have not quite reached this point.

Almost one year ago we wrote about hybrid additive before it was hybrid additive. Literally less than one year ago. We are talking bleeding edge here.

  • Siemens NX
  • Autodesk Powermill
  • hyperMILL

When Will Additive Manufacturing Be Affordable?

If this research proves anything it’s two things.

  1. Additive CAD/CAM software is progressing rapidly
  2. Subtractive developers are creating tools to support hybrid additive processes

Now that the software exists it is easier to imagine a future in which additive and subtractive processes are integrated. Actually you don’t really need to imagine anything because that is happening right now…for some shops. But the cost is still too high for most practical purposes.

That will likely change. As developers stop feeling the pain of creation they will drop prices. At the same time there will be more use-cases for hybrid additive, ultimately even in markets other than aerospace and medical. The same thing will happen with additive as happened and continues to happen with 5-axis, and more and more shops will have a real business case.

How quickly will that happen? We think it will take 4 years at least until smaller shops start to adopt hybrid additive in a big way. 2024. Great year in the making. We also suspect the opportunity will be there for more aggressive businesses before that time. Definitely something to monitor and stay apprised on.

Are you working with additive already?

We’d love to hear about your projects! Please contact MachiningCloud to share what you’re working on!

MachiningCloud is a one-stop, industry-wide resource that gives you the ability to fast-track the process of creating tool assemblies. Our application reduces the time it takes to find, select, and assemble tools by 75% or more, so try MachiningCloud today. It’s easy to get started. 

Keep up on MachiningCloud

Sign up for product info and news

  • Your information will be handled in accordance with the MachiningCloud Privacy Policy.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.