CamBam Software Review
To help users in their purchasing decisions, I want to review various CAD/CAM software packages to help the end user make educated decisions. As a full disclosure, for each piece of software reviewed, I ask each software company for a license for their product in exchange for one month of free advertising and a product review. My goal in these write-ups is to eventually test and compare dozens of CAM/CAD packages. There are many ways to review software and so it may be helpful to explain the philosophy of this review up front. Rather than try and document every feature, this review focuses primarily on three things:
- User experience. Is it hard to get to the features? Diving into menus for simple operations is not nice. Is the end user’s actual usage in view?
- Intuitiveness. I don’t like reading manuals so please don’t make me.
- Unique features that set this software apart from other pieces of software in its class. Why should I buy this product over the dozens of other products out there that do the same thing
In other words, the basics of any CAM software package are expect so the majority of the content in these reviews is intended to give the end user an idea of how this software is tailored.
To understand where CamBam fits in the lineup of other CAM softwares on the market, I’ll refer you to a survey by Bob at cnccookbook.com. Hundreds of visitors participated in the survey. The survey was divided into “pro” vs “hobby” which is a distinction based solely on the pricing of the most inexpensive module in a CAM company’s lineup. For the purpose of these reviews we will try to compare “apples to apples” and not compare hobby class software to professional class. Here are the results of his survey:
As of December 2010 CamBam had a 12% market share among the hobby CAM usage market which is not bad. One of the main reasons for this is probably the price/performance value! CAM software is notoriously expensive and CamBam is very well priced at a breezy $149. That feels almost free by comparison to some other CAM packages out there. Here are some of the entry level packages of the competition as of 2012: Sheetcam is $175, MeshCam $175, MeshCAM Art $500, Vetric 2D Pro $149, MadCam $750, VisualMill $1250, SprutCAM, $1250, DolphinCAM $399, BobCADCAM $2369, MillWrite $400, TurboCADCAM $299, Heeks CAD/CAM $0
CamBam is well documented and the manual can either be viewed in HTML on the website or downloaded as a PDF. As a rule of thumb however, the manual is always a last resort. :-) Part of the review of any software product is how intuitive it is to use straight out of the box! So raising that banner high, we lay the manual aside for now in favor of trial and error! Opening the software for the first time, the user is presented with a pretty standard interface. A large CAD window in the center and a CAM/options pane to the left. The toolbar at the top of the screen was well laid out and for the most part, the initial user experience was clean and intuitive. Some of the default options of the program did not match my preference. For example, the grid by default is turned off (something normally turned on in almost all CAD programs with which I am familiar) and only extends 3 inches. But these are minor preference issues and easily changed. After I turned on the grid and extended it out to 20 inches in all directions, I felt perfectly at home. Here is what the program looks like:
Notice the row of icons along the top. Green icons are CAD tools while the red icons are your CAM machining operations. My first move in evaluating any CAD or CAM program is to import a model into the program to see what something I am familiar with looks like in a new package. So I imported a simply 2D model of a dust shoe that I developed for my CNC machine. A simple File->Open operation and my model is imports perfectly.
I felt instantly at home with most features but was at a loss as to how to rotate the model. At first I assumed that I could not rotate at all until I watched some tutorials in which this was demonstrated. I had to dive into the manual to discover that I needed to hold down the ALT button while clicking the left mouse button. Once this was discovered I was at home but would have certainly preferred a simple right or middle click. The file tree and tab system at the left was very intuitive. I did like that the author of the program has options to choose between basic and advanced options. The basic option hides a lot of the specialty features making the search for the key “knobs” easy to find and easily accessible. When a more advanced feature is needed, all I had to do was click on the advance button and a host of new options appear. I’d probably prefer the verbiage ”more” and “less” but this is trivial.
The options pane on the left is demarcated by two tabs: drawing and system. Think of the system tab as global variables and global defaults for the software package. Included in this tab are things like CAD colors, display mode, default units and other software based handles. Additionaly and probably more importantly are the machining related variables. For example the user can define which post-processor he is going to use, default tools and user-defined tools, default machining variables (ie. depth increment, lead in, inside/outside on profile cuts, etc.). These can be overridden on any particular operation but this tab provides the user the ability to change the global default which is super helpful if one has a “normal” way in which he does things. This feature is not included on many CAM products rendering them frustrating to use, especially for nearly identical operations.
The drawing tab or drawing tree is broken into two parts: CAD and CAM. The “Layers” folder contains a couple of items as seen in the screenshot below: ”0″ and “DEFAULT”. These are not in any way intuitive to me and am still not even sure what is trying to be represented. Better labels should be used here. Overlooking this confusion, the individual CAD elements are well labeled.
Clicking through each of the CAD elements highlights the relevant part of the model. CamBam is not meant to compete with production level CAD programs, but helpfully basic CAD operations are available to clean up or fix errors that are detected in the CAM process. These basic CAD tools save the hassle of making small changes in your model by closing down CamBam, reopening the source CAD program, making a correction, exporting, importing and starting over. These simple, effective tools save lots of time. In all fairness, there are some powerful CAD tools that are VERY useful for certain situations and would make me choose to actually design and model in this environment over my own default CAD package (Rhino3D). Particularly striking is the “open offset” command which creates a offset polyline all the way around an open shape. This is useful for creating a groove or pcb trace. Here’s an example from the CamBam tutorial video. The red line around the simple arc was created using this function.
The “Machining” folder contains all the machining operations and their associated variables. A key concept to understand is that all these variables are inherited from either the system defaults or a particular style. The power of inherited parameters lies in the ability to simply “trust” that the values are correct based previous test runs. When a known style is selected, there is no need to dive through the menus double and triple checking every value. It just works. Think of styles as a snapshot of your current settings for a particular machining operation. Additionally, CamBam does a great job of selecting reasonable default values. I was consistently impressed at how the software “knew” what I wanted to do. The algorithm for selecting these default values was well thought through.
CamBam comes with several standard machining operations. A summary of the available operations are as follows:
- Profiling (2.5D machining operation, typically used to cut around the inside or outside of a shape). A unique feature in this operation is the option to leave “holding tabs” (sometime called bridges), which will hold parts in place once the full depth of the stock is cut through. This is a really cool feature that is easy to use, saves time and is very intuitive. Another worthwhile feature to checkout here is the side profile option which gives users the ability to create 3d profiles from a 2d contour (i.e. creating a countersink profile from a simple 2D circle that represents the through-hole). This is powerful, time-saving tool as well.
- Pockets (2.5D machining operation to clear out stock within selected shape outlines. Pockets will detect selected islands, or closed shapes within other shapes to form more complex shapes. This can be used to create raised lettering effects such as on a name plate). The options here are pretty standard.
- Drilling (2.5D machining operation used to drill holes at selected point lists or circle centers using drill tooling.) It is worth noting that end mills can also be used to spiral mill holes larger than the tool diameter and complicated operations can be achieved using custom drilling scripts.
- Engraving (2.5D machining operation used to machine over selected lines. As well as 2D geometry in the XY plane, they can also be used to follow 3D lines with varying Z heights such as in bitmap heightmaps).
- 3D Profiling (3D machining operation used to machine 3D shapes from surface mesh objects such as those imported from STL and 3DS files). A number of different 3D methods are supported including waterline and scan-line methods with roughing and finishing options. Front and back face operations are provided as well as creating inverted 3D machining operations for molds.
- Newly introduced in the most recent version of CamBam is a machining operation designed for lathes. This looks promising and is already feature packed.
Overall the machining operations are pretty standard with some great bonus tools that set CamBam apart from others in its class.
CamBam is a value packed CAM software solution whose primary benefits are price/performance ratio, intuitive use, and stability. Overall we were VERY pleased with the product and surprised at how easy it was to use. In fact our first machining operation we ever tried ran flawlessly without cracking the manual once. That is impressive. The software package is deceptively robust and sophisticated. This is a highly recommended product for the entry level CNC enthusiast but we see no reason why this should not be in production shops especially with the ability to create styles and the intelligent defaults. The lack of built in simulation software is noticeable but understandable at the pricepoint (although it is worth mentioning that Cutviewer integration is built into the software). Documentation was well done and there are some great introduction videos available on their website. Additionally, there are many other bonus features that we did not expect but were pleasantly surprised to use (i.e. a feeds and speeds calculator, timing pulley and involute gears generator, the newly introduced lathe functionality, and much more). The focus of this software is clearly on solid performance. It is easy to detect “junk” software and this is anything but. Attention to detail (ie. intelligent defaults and organization in menus) is noticed and appreciated.
The trial software generously allows users to output real Gcode with their own CAD files so feel free to download and give it a go. Forty free and fully functional evaluation sessions are available in the trial. After this time CamBam will still produce around 500 lines of gcode so you can continue to evaluate and run small jobs. There is also a free version available on their website that has no time or length restrictions but represents an old version with many known bugs.
Final Ratings on a scale of 1-10 (Ten being best):
- Value -10
- Feature Rich - 8
- Intuitiveness - 7
- Documentation - 7
- Professional - 7
Feel free to leave feedback on your experience with this software! Thanks.