CAD/CAM: from the 1950s to your future career


CAM, CAD, Trends...

Computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) have a surprisingly long history. To discover where it all started, we have to look as far back as the 1950s.


The birth of CAD

The term ‘computer-aided design’ was first used in the early 1950s by Douglas T. Ross, an MIT researcher studying military radar and computer display systems.


Ross worked on early CAD projects like Automatically Programmed Tools (APT), the forerunner of AED (Automated Engineering Design) and hosted conferences to discuss the technology with other innovators.


One of these was Patrick Hanratty of General Motors, who invented Design Automated by Computer (DAC), believed to be the first CAD system with interactive graphics. As it was also the first commercial CAD/CAM system, Hanratty is often called ‘the father of CAD/CAM’.


However, the first true CAD software was Sketchpad, created in the early 1960s by Ivan Sutherland, a PhD student at MIT. Incredibly ahead of its time, Sketchpad allowed the designer to interact with the computer graphically by drawing on the monitor with a light pen.


The birth of CAM

Computer-aided manufacturing also goes back to the 1950s, when computers created G-code, which was turned into punched cards and used to control machines. These cards evolved into punched tape, which could deliver instructions much faster, speeding up manufacturing. CAM was first used commercially in the aerospace and auto industries.


The CAD/CAM union was born when CAM started using CAD drawings to create instructions, or toolpaths, enabling automated tools to make items directly from design files.


In the late 1960s, Renault’s Pierre Bézier invented UNISURF, the first surface 3D CAD/CAM system, to help designers create clay models and masters. It integrated drawing machines, computer control, surface design, 3D milling and interactive free-form curves.


CAD/CAM goes commercial

After the unsuccessful launch of his first CAD/CAM company, ICS, in 1970, Hanratty struck gold the following year when he founded Manufacturing and Consulting Services (MCS), whose flagship product Automated Drafting and Machinery (ADAM) is said to be the origin of 90% of modern commercial drafting.


1977 saw the introduction of CATIA, a multi-platform suite for CAD/CAM and computer-aided engineering.


The appearance of the first affordable desktop computers in 1981 massively accelerated the development and spread of CAD/CAM. John Walker founded Autodesk and launched AutoCAD for PC in 1982. The software began to offer 3D modelling in 1985 and came out with a Windows version in 1992, becoming an industry leader.


The 1990s saw the next milestone for CAD/CAM: the move from UNIX to PC. This made CAD/CAM affordable for millions of engineers and consumers.


The future of CAD/CAM

Now new trends in CAD/CAM are emerging as it becomes integrated with today’s most innovative technologies.


Artificial intelligence: Combining AI and machine learning with CAD/CAM allows design tasks to be automated, quality control to be perfected, and unique designs to be created with no human input.


Cloud collaboration: With cloud technology, CAD/CAM can move beyond the computer and become universally accessible, allowing people across the world to collaborate on the same project.


Virtual reality: VR can create realistic 3D visualisations of CAD designs, such as walkthroughs of planned buildings.


Customisation: Software providers are making CAD/CAM configurable for different environments and jobs, allowing users to save money by choosing only the features they need.


Far from replacing human workers, these developments are adding new dimensions to the work of CAD/CAM professionals.


CAD/CAM job opportunities


Drafters turn data, sketches and specifications provided by engineers and scientists, and turn them into drawings that guide the production of everything from cars, computers and machines to buildings, roads and water systems.



An experienced drafter can take the next step up in their career and become a designer. Designers take drafters’ drawings from concept to production. They specialise and become experts in one field, such as architecture, fashion design, interior design, or game design.



The buck stops with CAD managers, who have a deep understanding of the tools and can predict potential problems. They schedule the team’s workload, review drafters’ work, set the standards for the company, stay up to date on new releases and ensure that they’re compatible with the team’s standards.


View our current opportunities at Technical Resources!