Every user of SOLIDWORKS 2018 on subscription can have SOLIDWORKS CAM Standard at no additional cost. The Pro version, which contains additional features, is still an extra cost add-in.More on the Pro version later. Let’s first focus on all you get with SOLIDWORKS CAM Standard (call it SOLIDWORKS CAM for short).

SOLIDWORKS CAM is designed to automate manufacturing programming for 3D data created in SOLIDWORKS 2018, marking another step toward manufacturing information arriving in the shop without drawings.

SOLIDWORKS CAM for 2.5-axis milling and turning is powered by long-time SOLIDWORKS partner CAMWorks (click for video). The decision to include SOLIDWORKS CAM with SOLIDWORKS 2018 is part of long-term strategy to build a comprehensive and robust manufacturing ecosystem. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

For designers and engineers, access to SOLIDWORKS CAM means having a better understanding of how their 3D data will be interpreted by rules-based machining with knowledge-based machining (KBM) captured for manufacturing. This will enable them to incorporate design decisions and revisions based on the limits of their machining and manufacturing capabilities.

By making more informed design decisions based on this knowledge, design teams can machine prototypes and manufacture them inhouse, which will enable them to control quality, time to market and delivery costs. SOLIDWORKS CAM also empowers companies to employ “build-to-order” strategies—where custom parts can be designed and CAM code generated much faster.


As designers want to check the manufacturability of their designs earlier in the design process, having an integrated CAM system closes the knowledge gap between the digital design data and how that data will translate into its physical form when it is machined.

SOLIDWORKS calls this a Smart Manufacturing ecosystem, and it includes Model-Based Definition (MBD), Costing and Inspection. Another benefit of this integrated CAM system is that it automatically updates toolpaths as changes and updates are made to parts.

SOLIDWORKS CAM is available as an add-in to every version of SOLIDWORKS Desktop for users on the subscription plan.

By utilizing the data-rich 3D CAD model to reduce repetitious manual steps that exist in development processes like programming CNC machines, SOLIDWORKS CAM should save users from making common errors, as well as save them time.

The fundamental structure of SOLIDWORKS CAM uses KBM to make the programming process more efficient. It does this by giving users some headroom to learn as they program. This gives them the ability to focus on pertinent design decisions based on the components or assemblies they’re working on.

Another practical application of SOLIDWORKS CAM is that it not only gives users the foresight to understand how the features of their digital 3D CAD designs will be interpreted by CNC machines, but also gives them insight into how much it will cost to manufacture them.

Key Features of SOLIDWORKS CAM

  1. It enables users to program in either an assembly or a part environment.
  2. It can interpret surface finishes and tolerances to optimize the best routes for manufacturing a part.
  3. It automatically applies standard manufacturing strategies to increase efficiency and uniformity.
  4. It performs automated quoting and analyzes against traditional methods to account for every characteristic of the part in advance.
  5. It makes automatic adjustments of machining strategies based on tolerance specifications and model-based definition.
  6. Its Automatic Feature Recognition gives users automatically generated machine programming for prismatic parts by referencing programming standards.
  7. It has 2.5-axis functionality with part and assembly machining.

Tolerance-Based Machining

Let’s say you’re a CNC programmer or machinist and you use SOLIDWORKS. You come across a part file created by a designer or an engineer and it has data such as tolerances and dimensions that you can see. Your job is to prepare the part to be manufactured.

Every bit of data about the part is critical for CNC programmers and machinists. The part must be manufactured with total precision for it to pass quality assurance (QA). As a machinist or CNC programmer, you may have to alter the machining size or geometric features to develop, create and manufacture a part that is going to meet the demands of the tolerances made by the part’s creator, whether they are a designer or an engineer.

Integrated CAM tools have enabled machinists and CNC programmers to meet the needs of designers and engineers by creating toolpaths based mainly on the part’s geometry, but not without some difficulty. In SOLIDWORKS CAM 2018, machinists and CNC programmers need to perform less drudge work because machining strategies are based on tolerance data rather than part geometry. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

SOLIDWORKS CAM will automatically identify machinable features and provide suggested machining strategies. Since data from the tolerances of a part file inform machining decisions, a CNC machinist or programmer will see both symmetric and asymmetric linear tolerances. If you are dealing with asymmetric linear tolerances, SOLIDWORKS CAM 2018 will automatically adjust the machining allowance on the wall to give you the best chance at manufacturing to QA standards.

So, instead of programming or machining to CAD data, the tolerance data is used to create automatic machining strategies, but what about surface finish callout data? Say you have two access surfaces with surface finish callout data. Tolerance-based machining in SOLIDWORKS CAM 2018 works in the same way by identifying machinable features. When it comes across surfaces with surface finish callouts, the software will automatically create separate features and machining strategies for each of those two surfaces.

Tolerance-based machining doesn’t quite cover certain depth parameters, parallelism and concentricity—but there is a product roadmap in place to create feature recognition to identify these and other missing “wish list” features.

Bottom Line

As the industry continues to move away from 2D drawings, the amount of information that is contained within a 3D CAD file format is increasing. Adding product and manufacturing information (PMI) data and other manufacturing data is becoming more commonplace within SOLIDWORKS software.

With SOLIDWORKS CAM so accessible to engineers and designers, they’ll be able to pack more manufacturing data into 3D CAD models, CAM users like designers, engineers, CNC programmers and machinists will benefit from the automatic machining strategies provided by SOLIDWORKS CAM.

And it’s free! As long as you are a subscriber.

Not Enough? Let’s Look at SOLIDWORKS CAM Pro

If you do need more functionality, such as turning, high-speed machining or 5-axis machining, SOLIDWORKS CAM Pro may be worth the extra cost.

SOLIDWORKS CAM Pro has a number of features that are not included in SOLIDWORKS CAM, particularly when it comes to turning features:

General Features Included in SOLIDWORKS CAM Pro:

  1. Automatic Feature Recognition – Turn.
  2. Indexing of the 4th & 5th axes including tombstone
  3. Assembly Machining
  4. CAMWorks Configurations

Turning Features Included in SOLIDWORKS CAM Pro

  1. Face Rough
  2. Face Finish
  3. Rough Turn
  4. Finish Turn
  5. OD Threading
  6. Cut-off
  7. Groove Rough
  8. Groove Finish
  9. Bore Rough
  10. Bore Finish
  11. Center Drill – on center
  12. Tap – on center
  13. ID Threading


Features SOLIDWORKS CAM Standard SOLIDWORKS CAM Professional
General Features
AFR – Automatic Feature Recognition – Holes X X
AFR – Automatic Feature Recognition – Pockets, Boss X X
AFR – Automatic Feature Recognition – Turn X
KBM – Knowledge Based Machining X X
Automatic Recognition of Multiple Setups X X
Indexing of the 4th & 5th axes including tombstone X
Sorting of the Operations X X
Toolpath Simulation X X
Step Through Simulation X X
Tolerance Based Machining – C# macro X X
Assembly Machining X
CAMWorks Configurations X
Stock and Work in Process Models X X
Setup Sheets – XML, XMLT, MDB X X
e-Drawings Publisher X X
Universal Post Generator (UPG)* X X
CAMWorks Library Features (supports only 2.5x features) X X
Import / Export of CAM data X X
MES Feed Speed Library X X
2.5x Milling Features
Interactive Feature Creation X X
Rough Milling X X
Finish (Contour) Milling X X
Face Milling X X
Thread Milling X X
Center Dilling X X
Drilling X X
Countersinking X X
Bore X X
Ream X X
Tap X X
Thread Milling X X
Engraving X X
3x Milling Features
Multi-surface feature creation X X
Area Clearance X X
Z Level X X
Flat Area X X
Contain and Avoid areas and features X X
Turning Features
Face Rough X
Face Finish X
Rough Turn X
Finish Turn X
OD Threading X
Cut-off X
Groove Rough X
Groove Finish X
Bore Rough X
Bore Finish X
Center Drill –  on center X
Drill – on center X
Tap – on center X
ID Threading X
Extra – Features
High-Speed Machining X
NC Editor X X
*Ancillary applications installed separately

Complete list of the differences between SOLIDWORKS CAM Standard and SOLIDWORKS CAM Pro.


SOLIDWORKS has sponsored to write this article. It has provided no editorial input. All opinions are mine, except where quoted or stated otherwise. —Andrew Wheeler

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