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How to Create a CAM Package Short List + More CAM Survey Info

Feb 1, 2017   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, GCode, Products, Techniques  //  No Comments

Fellow CNC’ers, there’s still more information to be gleaned from our CNCCookbook 2016 CAM Package Survey, it just takes a while to crunch all the numbers with so many folks having responded.

So far, we’ve covered:

This week I want to delve a little bit into the murky process that is selection of a package.

Typically, you get a trial of a package and evaluate it.  Your decision of which packages to evaluate will be affected by many factors:

  • Whether you’re aware of the package
  • What others whose opinion you value say about it
  • Whether you think it is in the right ballpark for you, especially on price

Here’s some interesting data to start:

How many CAM Packages did you evaluate before making a purchase?

Stop before reading further and take a wild guess.   I know I look at a lot of them, but it is my job here at CNCCookbook and vendors are constantly approaching me wanting me to evaluate their software.  My biggest issue is time, and I suspect yours is too.  Evaluating a CAM package is a big job. Heck, just getting most of them to produce a part program for an average part for the first time means you have to overcome a significant learning curve.  Most of us don’t tackle that just for fun–it’s too hard.

So here’s the scoop:

If you’re buying a high end package (see what’s what shortly or in our Market Share edition), you evaluated more than one package.  In fact, you probably looked at 2, with the exact average being 2.27.

If you were buying into sort of the mid market, what I called the “Tiered” category because these packages are available in a variety of versions at different price points, you also looked at an average of 2 packages, and the exact average was 2.29.

If you were looking at the low end, you also probably looked at 2 packages, but not always–the average there was 1.81.

Hmmm, that doesn’t exactly bode well for really digging in and finding the absolute best one for your needs, but as I said, evaluating these darned things is hard.  An important key, since its clear most CNC’ers don’t have time to look at 5 packages, is to have a really good process for creating your evaluation short list.  I will have more to say about that towards the end of this article.

How likely are you to be aware of each package?

It’s obvious to all that awareness is a factor.  If you don’t know about a package, you can’t evaluate it.  I didn’t measure true awareness in this survey, because I didn’t inquire which packages people had heard of.  Maybe next year’s survey will cover that.

But we can still get a decent idea because I asked respondents to tell us all the packages they evaluated.  That means these packages had a high likelihood of showing up on your short list, or you wouldn’t have evaluated them, and that might be even better than pure awareness, because it reflects the thought that goes into pulling the trigger and evaluating a package for real.

Here is Overall CAM Package Visibility, where Visibility is defined as folks having used the package.

cam package visibility

The top folks who are getting the most people to try their software are:

  • Autodesk w/ Fusion 360
  • Mastercam
  • BobCAD/CAM

But, it makes more sense to go back to our market segments.  The low-end is probably not looking at $10,000 a seat packages so much and vice versa.

So here’s the breakdown for the High-End CAM Market:

high end cam package visibility

Mastercam is much stronger here.  As the industry leader for a long time, it makes sense.  Everyone in this market segment has heard of it at some level and probably knows someone who uses it.  Not everyone, not even a majority have tried any of these packages, so there’s plenty of room for folks to keep finding new audiences to expose to their products.  In fact, 29%, almost 1/3 of the respondents in this segment, say they are actively evaluating new CAM packages.

Here’s the Tiered Market:

cam package visibility tiered market

This segment has fewer players, and is probably closer to being saturated.  To find new candidates to try their software, these players most likely need to find brand new entrants to the market segment–either new CNC’ers who like the Tiered idea or perhaps Low-End CNC’ers who are thinking of moving up.  Given the power of Fusion 360, which is low-end on price only, it’s not clear to me how much opportunity is left for the latter category.

FWIW, this category is slightly more likely to be in the midst of evaluating new CAM software–31% vs 29% at the High-End.

Here are the results for the Low-End Market:

cam package visibility low end

Wow!

Fusion 360 dominates, which isn’t surprising, it’s got the power.  The advantage for CamBam and MeshCAM is they’re much easier to use.  If you’re a total beginner, you should be looking at those packages as a way to get to making parts sooner.  You can always come back and pick up a package with more features later, but meanwhile, the learning curve is steep enough on CNC.

This raises the question, how much more share can Autodesk take with Fusion 360 and HSMWorks?  Their share grew about 40% year-over-year from last year’s numbers.  At some point, they will plateau, these things always do.  Not clear if we are there yet, but I suspect we are close.  To grow another 40% means they’re going to wrest a huge amount of mind and market share from the other players.  They’ve done some of that, but they’ve also grown by stalling the growth of the others to a certain extent.

What’s yet to be seen is if they can wrest share from folks that already made another choice.  Price is a powerful incentive, and the existing players will want to be very careful that prices for new versions are not so high as to trigger too much evaluation.

Speaking of evaluation, the percentage of respondents looking at further new CAM packages is very low–18%.  That’s a bit more than half what it is in the other segments.  These folks are evidently pretty satisfied with what they’ve got.  If nothing else, the cost of other packages is very high compared to what they paid in this segment.

Classically with computer related products, the low-end has relentlessly eaten its way up into the higher end markets.  It’ll be interesting to see if that happens here.

Visibility is all fine and well, but what about adoption?

Evaluating packages is fine and well, but what about adoption?  Who is winning the evaluations and by how much?

There are many ways to look at what the “Best” packages are based on survey results like these.  Market Share gives a popularity contest.  Customer Satisfaction shows what the people think who’ve lived with a product for a while.  We’ve covered those two, but Adoption is also important.

Adoption shows how easy it is to fall in love with a package during the brief period that evaluations have.  They shouldn’t be the only judge, because people wind up having to make a purchase decision a long time before they are able to master a particular package.  That’s why the Customer Satisfaction winners are at least somewhat different than the adoption rate winners.

On the other hand, lower adoption rates can signal that at least during the brief evaluation, the prospect was not able to get confident enough with the package to spend money to buy it.  That can be an indicator of ease of learning problems, lack of training materials, or inability to really find and master some of the unique advantages each of these packages has.

Enough with the yada, yada, as they’d say on the Sienfeld show, here are the overall adoption rates (basically adoption rate per trial):

cam package trail to adoption rates

Some of these adoption rates are extremely high and indicate that the evaluation went very well.  It would have to when such a high percentage of those trying a package wind up buying it.

How to Build Your CAM Package Short List

We’ve delivered a lot of the ingredients you’ll need, and we’ll have the rest shortly or you can find the rest yourself.

Here is the type of information you should use to put together your short list:

cam software evaluation criteria

Let’s go over each category of information and talk about why it matters and how you can research it.

Market Share

We always want to understand how popular things are before we adopt them–it’s human nature.  We’re hardwired to care about it for very good reasons–popularity is a good proxy for some very important things.  It harnesses the wisdom of crowds in your favor.  Popularity gives you insight into the hard work others before you did evaluating products.

But, be careful!

You’re an individual with specific needs.  Popularity is far from everything.  There are popular packages that you might find terrible for your needs, and less well-known packages that might be just perfect for you.

All I’m saying is popularity can only be one of the dimensions you consider.

Popularity is also important because it goes to the size of the community and ecosystem that are behind a product.  Popular products are easier to find help for.  There are more people you can ask.  More people with experience who can help or even be hired by you.  There will be more add-on products, training, and other resources to choose from.

Determining popularity used to be hard.  People paid a fortune to market researchers to buy their proprietary reports.  CNCCookbook changed all that by giving away such results in the form of our surveys.  We cover a huge part of the market–four and a half million visits a year to our web site and hundreds of participants in the surveys.

Customer Satisfaction

This one is important–it tells you what the people who’ve lived with the product day to day really think.  These are the folks that eventually did master the product, not just the looky loos and the people who have an opinion about everything.

Here again, this used to be hard to find anything about.  But, CNCCookbook is now giving annual customer satisfaction awards to CAM Software vendors and you get to see who they are.  Take full advantage of that information as you’re building your short lists.  Give extra weight to those products whose customers are particularly enthusiastic about them and be a little more skeptical of others.

Don’t just take our survey’s word for it either.  Once you have narrowed your list a bit, go visit the online community for the software.  If they won’t let you in before you buy, go to online communities you have access to that talk about the product.  Check into the following:

  • Common complaints
  • Seriously unhappy customers and what their story is.  It’s okay if there are a few, but do the other participants try to support the product and suggest their experiences were better, or do they just kind of stand back?  The best products will have fans that come to the rescue when others are running it down.
  • Passion: Are their folks extolling the virtues of using the software?

You get the idea of what to look for.  This kind of research is easy to do in our digital world and very valuable.

Make sure a few of the winners land on your short list.

Adoption Rate

We just covered adoption rates.  My primary thought is to use them as a way to understand how easy it is to realize the value of a product during the evaluation.  That doesn’t mean products with lower adoption rates can’t be valuable–it just means you’ll have to work harder or learn more than people do during an evaluation to get there.

It’s like the difference between ease of learning and ease of use.  These are not the same thing if you think about it.  Ease of Learning is how easy it is for a beginner to get started using the product while ease of use is how easy for someone who knows the product to be productive with it.

Strengths and Weaknesses

CAM Software, like a lot of other things, is not really one-size-fits all.  Your needs may not be the same as the next CNC’ers needs.  We can approach this in a couple of ways.  The first thing to check out are the product’s strengths and weaknesses.  As I write this, we haven’t released the 2016 CAM Strengths and Weaknesses Results, but they’ll be out shortly.  Meanwhile, you can look at the Strengths and Weaknesses reported in our 2015 Survey.

Try to compare the Strengths and Weaknesses to your needs.   If you don’t plan to run 5-axis any time soon, it’s probably not an issue if this is not a strength.  On the other hand, if you are going to be making complex parts and you need to save every last penny, you probably want a package that’s strong on toolpaths.

Product Fit

Is a gauge of similarity to what others are doing.  Do the same kind of online community research I described under Customer Satisfaction.  This time you’re looking for:

  • Photos, stories, and examples of parts and projects made with the product that are similar to what you want to do.
  • Get a feel for the audience–are they people like you?  Radically different?  Can you relate to what they have to say?

These are all clues about how good a fit this product might be for you.

Value

This should be the last thing you research, and not necessarily the first.  I am very deliberate in choosing the word “Value” over “Price.”  A cheap product may be worthless if it doesn’t solve your problem, or if it makes it so hard that you more than offset any savings with frustration and extra time spent.

You have some idea of your budget, so knock out the products that are clearly way out of bounds first.  After that, you’ll be focusing on value rather than price.  Value is defined roughly as Utility divided by Price.  You might be willing to pay twice as much for something that is twice as useful, or at least you’re more likely to consider the higher price.  For two products of roughly the same utility, why pay more?

You can see why Value has to be considered last–all of the other dimensions are put together using a weighting scheme to arrive at the Utility for the package to you.

Let’s use a sample Excel worksheet to quantify how that might work.

A worksheet for building your CAM Software Short List

Go ahead and click this link to download an Excel worksheet you can use as a template to create your CAM Software Short List.  It looks like this:

You can see there are columns representing each dimension–Market Share, Customer Sat, etc..  The goal is to rate each package on a scale of 1 to 10 for each dimension.  Make sure 10 is the best and 1 is the worst so we have apples to apples.

Notice how there are numbers above the dimensions and they’re labelled, “Weights.”  This allows you to weight each dimension as you like.  Ignore the numbers there, they’re just hypotheticals.  Enter whatever you like for the weights, but leave the value above Utility alone.  It represents the highest utility score any package can get if every dimension scored a perfect “10”.

That’s right–Utility aggregates the weighted scores to create an overall utility score for each package.  We then take the price, divide by the Utility, and arrive at Value.  It’s sort of a $ per utility rate, so smaller Values are better.

When you have everything filled out, sort in descending order of value.  Take the top 2 or 3 packages and evaluate them fully to see who the real winners are.

As far as individual formulas for the dimension ratings, you either eyeball it as I did with Product Fit, or try to create more quantitative metrics.

For example, on Market Share, I took the largest market share (20%), and scaled 1 to 10 based on how large a share this package had.  This is based on the Market Share values from our survey.  On Customer Sat, I took a theoretical perfect 2.0 score, figured what percent the sat was from CNCCookbook’s surveys, and scaled that to a 1..10 value.

There’s no point in getting to crazy and analytical about what are in the end of the day somewhat subjective numbers, but it can help to be a little rigorous in converting them to your 1 to 10 ratings.

If you create a worksheet like this, it can really help you narrow your choices in an educated way to a small number of packages which you’ll then do a full evaluation on.

What are you thoughts on how to create the best short list of packages to evaluate?  Tell us in the comments!

 

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