UW CBE Digital Fabrication Resources
The College of Built Environments enjoys a substantial collection of CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided-Design and Manufacturing) resources accessible to all students and faculty for study, teaching and research. Supplementing the outstanding design teaching resources within our departments, these tools support standard, advanced and alternate global standards of digital practice. Our Digital Input Devices, Design and Design-Development software and Digitally-Enabled Machine Tools permit a deep and practical understanding of the current and future potential of digital-design and downstream manufacturing applications. Active relationships with other departments within the University allow access to additional, related resources.
What is CAD/CAM?
Computer-Aided-Design-and-Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) is also referred to as "Digital-Design-and-Fabrication", "Digital Fabrication", "DigiFab", "Fabbing" and a variety of other terms, but they all refer to the enabling of design and manufacturing processes through the use of digital technologies. Many of these uses were developed from earlier forms of Numerical-Control.
The digital manufacturing technologies we enjoy today are based on systems developed hundreds of years ago to automate machines such as Jacquard looms, monotype machines for casting lead type, automata to amuse royalty, and musical instruments (have you ever seen a player piano?) These machines used tapes, rolls or cards made of paper, card stock, wood, metal, plastic and even ivory with drilled or punched holes to provide binary data by allowing pins to pass through the holes, or by controlling the passage of compressed air. Binary data can directly control the movement of mechanisms, but many machines require the use of electro-mechanical "readers" to control motors through the use of language made up of letters and numbers; hence the term, "Numerical Control", or NC. Modern numerical-control languages such as APT and, later, G-Code were first developed and codified at MIT, and then offered to the manufacturing world at large.
Computer-Numerical-Control (CNC) developed following the development of the computer, first using numerical-control languages to operate standard machine tools. While these languages still control a remarkable variety of tools sold world-wide, a variety of proprietary languages have also been developed. HPGL, (Hewlett-Packard-Graphics-Language) developed to control plotters and printers, is one of the most common (in the background for the most part) used by designers.
Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) developed well after Computer-Aided-Manufacturing (CAM) had matured as an industry. The continuous tapes that controlled the first generation of Numerical-Control Machine Tools relied on a typewriter-like device connected to a hole-punching machine. These tapes were then fed into an electro-mechanical "reader" at the machine tool that translated the pattern of holes into electrical impulses to direct motors connected to feed mechanisms on the tools themselves.
Once Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) environments were developed efforts were made to relate design directly to manufacturing applications within the same environment. Some programs thus developed incorporated both a drawing module and a manufacturing module that allowed the compression of many design-and-fabrication methods. These environments became known as Computer-Aided-Design-and-Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) programs.