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Strengths and Weaknesses of the 16 Leading CAM Software Packages

Dec 30, 2015   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, Software  //  10 Comments

Meltdown

Picking the wrong CAM package can be a nightmare…

What sorts of things would you like to know before purchasing CAM Software?  CAM is often expensive, you’ll invest hours learning to use it properly, and it may make the difference between success or failure of your CNC project.  Odds are, the more you know about the various CAM packages you’re considering, the better off you’ll be.

This article presents a different kind of analysis of CAM packages because it’s based not on our view of the packages, but on the views of real users of the software as determined by our 2015 CAM Market Share and Usability Survey. The ratings and information here are drawn entirely from those survey responses.  Moreover, when we ran the survey, the questions were open-ended.  We didn’t pick categories, we simply asked folks to tell us the 3 things they liked most about their CAM software and the 3 biggest frustrations they were having with it.  The results give an unprecedented view into how real users react to the various packages.

Despite there having been more than 16 packages surveyed, we decided to only cover the Top 16 in order to ensure there were enough responses for each package to allow meaningful analysis.  We cover the packages by market segment just as in the other analyses. We’ve rated each package in this report on:

– Likelihood of Adoption: Percentage of trials that wound up adopting.
– Customer Satisfaction: Our score based on how adopters rated the package and whether they were shopping for a replacement.
– CAD Integration & Features: Pct of customers calling out CAD integration or built in CAD features as something they really like about the package, or as something that frustrates them.
– Ease of Use: Customer comments relating to Ease of Use, Support, Documentation, Help, and the like.
– Toolpaths: Customer comments relating to quality of toolpaths, level of control, power, MRR’s, and the like.
– Feature Recognition & Templates: Customer comments relating to a grab bag of features that reduce the work needed to set up a toolpath. Feature recognition and templates or styles are the most common.
– Simulation: Comments relating to built-in simulators.
– Value: Comments relating to price or value at the price.
– 4/5 Axis: Comments relating to multi-axis support
– Posts / Setup: Comments relating to posts and setup.

We binned responses into these categories to make it easier to compare the reaction across packages.

Feature Popularity

Let’s start by seeing which areas were most likely to receive positive comment.   In order of popularity:

– 4.17 Ease of Use
– 3.14 Toolpaths
– 2.79 CAD Integration / Features
– 2.08 Feature Recognition / Templates
– 1.63 Simulation
– 0.58 4/5 Axis
– 0.56 Value

The numerical index gives an idea of relative popularity. Ease of Use was mentioned nearly 8x more often than Value, for example. Or, looked at another way, Ease of Use trumps quality of Toolpaths for many in this audience.

Biggest Headaches

What goes wrong with CAM Software?

The areas most likely to receive negative comment were, in order of popularity:

– 3.19 Ease of Use
– 1.99 Post / Setup
– 1.95 CAD Integration / Features
– 1.87 Toolpaths
– 1.60 Bugs
– 1.05 Feeds & Speeds
– 0.85 Import / Export
– 0.56 Tool Library
– 0.41 Feature Recognition / Templates
– 0.34 Value
– 0.20 4/5 Axis

One can conclude that the biggest problem the CAM area as a whole faces, is Ease of Use, followed pretty closely by Post / Setup problems, which are something of a specific area for Ease of Use. It’s disappointing to see Bugs scoring so high, but one of the reasons people buy our G-Wizard Editor is to simulate the CAM generated GCode so they can get a second opinion on whether there are bugs.

Looking at these two categories together, it seems that many just want a CAM package that’s easy to use (and Setup / get the Post working), has decent Toolpaths, and decent integration with their CAD package.  It doesn’t seem too much to ask for, yet the fact these things are coming up in the survey indicates they are not as common as CNC’ers would like.  Having all that goes a long way!

I was also interested to see how high Feeds & Speeds rated on the list of Biggest Headaches.  Again, this was unaided.  Nowhere in the survey were users asked about Feeds and Speeds.  But a great many wrote it in as a problem for the package.  Feeds and Speeds are hard to do and most every CAM package does a pretty lousy job with them.  Toolpaths and the ability to achieve good Material Removal Rates are really hampered by poor Feeds and Speeds, hence it ranks nearly as high.  Do yourself a favor and augment your CAM package with a product like G-Wizard Calculator that can really do Feeds and Speeds well.

High End Segment Strengths and Weaknesses

Readers who read the initial analysis of the CAM Survey will recall that we divided the packages into 3 segments:

  • High-End: More expensive packages with more functionality.
  • Tiered: Modular packages available in a range of configurations that span from the Low-End to the High-End.
  • Low-End: These are inexpensive packages most commonly used by Hobbyists, but as we’ll see, they’re starting to come up-market to the Professional World.

Here are the overall winners in each feature category for the High End Segment:

  • Best CAD Integration & Features: HSMWorks
  • Best Ease of Use: OneCNC
  • Best Toolpaths: Edgecam
  • Best Feature Recognition & Templates: Camworks
  • Best Simulation: Edgecam
  • Best Value: HSMWorks
  • Best 4/5 Axis: Mastercam
  • Easiest to Setup / Best Posts: Edgecam
  • Most Pct Positives: Edgecam
  • Highest Customer Satisfaction: Edgecam
  • Most Likely to Adopt if Tried: OneCNC

Clearly Edgecam, HSMWorks, OneCNC, and Mastercam get the high marks from their users in this market segment.

We’ll be publishing a PDF report with a full breakout of the Strengths and Weaknesses of each package in the next couple of days.  Details on how to get your copy will be at the end of the article below.  We’re breaking out that detail into another report because to do that level of analysis on 16 CAM packages results in a detailed 19 page report–way too long for a blog post.  But I did want to give one sample profile here so you can see what the report will contain.  Edgecam won the most categories and scored the highest customer satisfaction in this segment, so here’s what their profile in the report looks like:

Edgecam

Edgecam

Edgecam…

30% of those who tried it adopted Edgecam. Their customer satisfaction score was 1.50—highest in this segment.

Summary: Great Toolpaths and CAD Integration as well as good Simulation are Edgecam’s biggest strengths. In addition Customers like the Feature Recognition / Templates and find Posts and Setup are easier than most CAM. Weaknesses indicate not everyone agrees the CAD Integration and Ease of Use are as good as they could be and Feeds & Speeds need help. With so many areas well regarded and so few negatives, it isn’t hard to see why Edgecam does so well on Customer Satisfaction.

Strengths:

– 83%: Toolpaths
– 50%: CAD Integration / Features
– 33%: Ease of Use
– 33%: Simulation
– 17%: Feature Recognition / Templates
– 17%: Posts / Setup
– 233%: Total Positive Feedback

Weaknesses:

– 33%: Ease of Use
– 33%: CAD Integration / Features
– 17%: Feeds & Speeds
– 83%: Total Negative Feedback

Note:  To win the category, “net” scores were used.  For example, Edgecam had almost equal numbers of users that liked (33%) or complained about Ease of Use (33%).  They cancelled one another out, so this was not called out.

Tiered Segment Strengths and Weaknesses

Overall

– Best CAD Integration & Features: BobCAD
– Best Ease of Use: Visual Mill
– Best Toolpaths: Aspire
– Best Feature Recognition & Templates: Vectric
– Best Simulation: Visual Mill
– Best Value: BobCAD
– Best 4/5 Axis: SprutCAM
– Easiest to Setup / Best Posts: SprutCAM / Aspire (tied)
– Pct Positives: Visual Mill
– Highest Customer Satisfaction: Aspire
– Most Likely to Adopt if Tried: SprutCAM

The highest Customer Satisfaction Score in this category went to Aspire, so here is its profile:

Aspire

Aspire

43% of those who evaluated Aspire wound up buying it. Customer Satisfaction Score was 1.40—the best in this class.

Summary: Biggest strengths would be Toolpaths. Weaknesses are CAD Integration / Features, Ease of Use, Stability, and Feeds and Speeds. But these weaknesses are not felt strongly as Aspire has the highest customer satisfaction in its class.

Strengths

– 20%: Toolpaths
– 10%: CAD Integration / Features
– 10%: Post / Setup
– 40%: Total Positive Feedback

Weaknesses

– 20%: CAD Integration / Features
– 10%: Ease of Use
– 10%: Post / Setup
– 10%: Bugs
– 10%: Toolpaths
– 10%: Feeds & Speeds
– 70%: Total Negative Feedback

 

Low End Segment Strengths and Weaknesses

Overall

– Best CAD Integration & Features: HSMWorks (Fusion 360)
– Best Ease of Use: MeshCAM
– Best Toolpaths: CamBam
– Best Feature Recognition & Templates: – none –
– Best Simulation: MeshCAM
– Best Value: CamBam
– Best 4/5 Axis: CamBam
– Easiest to Setup / Best Posts: – none –
– Pct Positives: CamBam
– Highest Customer Satisfaction: HSMWorks (Fusion 360)
– Most Likely to Adopt if Tried: HSMWorks (Fusion 360)

We were very pleased to see MeshCam won Ease of Use.  We’ve been saying it’s the World’s Easiest to Use CAM for some time and it seems MeshCam users agree.

Since the Highest Customer Satisfaction went to HSMWorks (Fusion 360), here is its profile:

HSMWorks (Fusion 360)

Fusion360

67% of those who tried HSMWorks (Fusion 360) adopted it (Highest in Class). Customer Satisfaction Score is 1.23 (Highest in Class)

Summary: HSMWorks (Fusion 360) owners report high customer satisfaction, love the CAD Integration / Features, good Ease of Use and Simulator, Good Toolpaths, and a Good Value.

Strengths

– 43% CAD Integration / Features
– 23% Ease of Use
– 21% Simulation
– 17% Toolpaths
– 13% Value
– 117% Total Positive Feedback

Weaknesses

– 15% Post / Setup
– 15% Tool Library
– 13% Ease of Use
– 9% Toolpaths
– 9% 4/5 Axis
– 6% CAD Integration / Features
– 6% Feeds & Speeds
– 4% Bugs
– 85% Total Negative Feedback

 

Conclusion

This has been an unusual way to review CAM Software since the actual users were the reviewers and we just reported what they thought.  There are a lot of great packages out there with differing strengths and weaknesses.  As mentioned, we will shortly have a detailed 20+ page PDF report you can download that has all of this information plus the detailed profiles on the 16 most popular CAM packages.

To get your copy, you need to be a CNCCookbook newsletter subscriber.  You can sign up right below just by giving us your name and email.  You’ll receive a weekly email digest of our latest blog posts plus a link to a page that has the detailed report I mention plus a number of other special resources we offer our newsletter subscribers.  Go ahead and sign up now and you’ll get the link to the page.

 

 

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Strengths and Weaknesses of the 16 Leading CAM Software Packages
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10 Comments

  • Bob,
    Love this comparison!
    one more to add to your list for the hobbists too: computing power requirement. Aspire is simple enough to use on a net top PC with minimal memory and processor speed. On the contrary, Fusion et al require more grafics processing as they are 3D.
    We use Fusion 360 for most of our CAM needs nowdays as it was free for startups and give more reliable gcode in post. I have used Aspire at a clients machine and although simple to use, left much to be desired in terms of efficiency.

    Regards

    George

    • Hi George, thanks for joining the discussion.

      Keep in mind, one of the things that makes this report unique is we didn’t guide the feedback. Nobody mentioned computing power requirements, so we didn’t consider it. Perhaps this cross section just didn’t encounter it as a problem, or maybe it didn’t make their top 3.

      The efficiency issue is exactly the sort of thing the “Toolpath” category is about. Aspire did get dinged a bit, but did okay. Apparently the Toolpaths were good enough for most but not all the customers who adopted it.

  • Bob,

    Great data. Could you share the link to the complete report again.

    Thanks,

    Carl

  • […] Bob Warfield on Strengths and Weaknesses of the 16 Leading CAM Software Packages […]

  • Bob,

    This is great data and the full report is excellent. Ease of Use appeared as both the top positive and negative comment overall, as well as an individual strength and a weakness for several products. Were you able to see the things that customers liked best and least that led to this split?

    Ed

    • Ed, I have some further drill down in terms of the specific 3 positives and 3 frustrations from each respondent. It’s voluminous and hard to present in any concise manner (hence I chose the categories), so I probably won’t publish it.

  • Hi bob,
    Im actually pretty new to professional cnc work. I got my degree in cnc machining and now have an airspace job machining all kinds of things. I had to learn a completely new software when I started. My shop uses catis for our 5 axis and solid cam for our 3 axis. There has been some descussion on just using solidcam. I was hoping to find one of these software’s in here but they didn’t make the cut.I’m curious if you have had any feed back on either of these cam programs.

    Thanks for your time
    Stephen

  • Excited to see the full report

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