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How to became a CAM Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Updated: Mar 13

How to became a CAM Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Earning a Mechanical Engineering Degree

The first step to becoming a CAD/CAM engineer is earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related field. Mechanical engineering programs provide the foundational knowledge in math, science, and engineering principles that are essential to CAD/CAM engineering roles.

When selecting a mechanical engineering program, look for the following:

  • Accreditation by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Graduating from an ABET-accredited program is highly recommended and often required by employers.

  • Relevant courses like statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, manufacturing processes, instrumentation, and CAD. Taking courses that align with CAD/CAM engineering will help prepare you for the field.

  • A strong focus on hands-on labs and projects. Look for courses that provide opportunities to gain practical experience with engineering tools and software like CAD programs, CNC machines, and 3D printers.

  • Recommended math and science courses including calculus (through multivariate), linear algebra, differential equations, chemistry, and physics. Mastering advanced math is critical.

  • Design project opportunities. Capstone projects and design courses allow you to integrate all your skills to develop mechanical designs and prototypes. This experience is invaluable for CAD/CAM engineering roles.

Choosing the right mechanical engineering program and excelling in your courses will lay the ideal foundation for launching your CAD/CAM engineering career after graduation. Focus on developing hands-on skills along with theoretical knowledge during your studies.

Learning CAD Software

CAD (computer-aided design) software allows engineers to create digital prototypes and designs for mechanical components and systems. As a CAM engineer, having strong CAD skills is absolutely essential. Here are some tips on developing your CAD expertise:

Get Experience with CAD in School - Look for mechanical engineering programs that integrate extensive CAD coursework into their curriculum. Courses in SolidWorks, AutoCAD, and other mainstream CAD programs will give you hands-on practice and build your skills. Doing CAD projects for engineering classes is a great way to develop proficiency.

Complete Internships at Manufacturing Companies - Internships are invaluable for gaining real-world CAD and CAM experience. Look for internships at product design firms, machine shops, or manufacturing plants where you can work alongside experienced engineers using CAD/CAM software on a daily basis.

Use CAD in Student Projects - In addition to coursework, seek out opportunities to use CAD for extracurricular projects like Formula SAE race cars, solar-powered devices, robots, and other mechanical designs. The more you use CAD, the more adept you will become.

Get Certified - Some CAD software vendors offer certification programs that validate your skills and expertise with their tools. Certifications like the Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate (CSWA) and Autodesk Certified User can give your resume a competitive edge.

Practice on Your Own - Don’t just use CAD for school assignments. Challenge yourself with new CAD projects like designing custom parts, modifying existing models, or recreating products via reverse engineering. Staying engaged will help you become a CAD expert.

Mastering CAD takes time and dedication, but it's a critical skillset for CAM engineers. Take advantage of every opportunity in school to gain hands-on CAD experience through courses, projects, internships and certifications. With sustained practice, you’ll be well prepared for a career in CAM.

Understanding Manufacturing Processes

To succeed as a CADCAM engineer, you'll need hands-on experience with the key manufacturing processes used to turn CAD designs into physical products. These include:

CNC Machining

CNC (computer numerical control) machining is a manufacturing process that uses pre-programmed computer software to control machining tools. CNC machines can produce highly precise components from materials like metal, plastic, wood, foam, and wax.

As a CADCAM engineer, you'll need to become proficient in CNC programming and operation to translate CAD models into machining code like G-code. This involves selecting the right tools, calculating toolpaths, setting feed rates, and defining machining parameters. Hands-on CNC machining experience will give you critical insights into design for manufacturability.

Look for opportunities to get firsthand experience with CNC mills and lathes while in school or through internships. The more time you can get "behind the machine", the better prepared you'll be for real-world CADCAM engineering.

3D Printing

3D printing is a transformative manufacturing process that builds parts layer-by-layer based on a 3D model. As an additive process, 3D printing enables complex geometries and custom designs that would be impossible with conventional machining.

CADCAM engineers need to understand the capabilities and limitations of different 3D printing technologies like FDM (fused deposition modeling), SLA (stereolithography), and SLS (selective laser sintering). Hands-on experience printing your CAD designs will allow you to refine the models to optimize them for 3D printing success.

Look for 3D printing access while in school or through makerspaces in your local community. Get firsthand experience with the process through internships, freelance projects, or personal 3D printing of your own designs. These opportunities will help develop your skills for leveraging 3D printing in your engineering career.

The hands-on experience with key processes like CNC machining and 3D printing will prove invaluable as you embark on your CADCAM engineering career. Take advantage of every opportunity to put theory into practice!

Obtaining Licensure (Optional)

While not required, obtaining licensure as a professional engineer (PE) can open up more career opportunities for CADCAM engineers.

To become a licensed PE, CADCAM engineers need to meet the following requirements:

  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. This is a 6-hour computer-based exam that tests your knowledge of subjects like mathematics, engineering economics, ethics, and more. It's generally taken during your final year of an engineering degree program.

  • Gain at least 4 years of acceptable engineering experience after passing the FE exam. This experience should expose you to increasing levels of responsibility, leadership, and project management. CADCAM engineers can gain this experience working under the supervision of a licensed PE.

  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. This 8-hour exam goes beyond testing theory and focuses more on applied engineering knowledge. It's discipline-specific, so CADCAM engineers would take the mechanical engineering PE exam.

  • Meet your state's licensing requirements. These involve submitting an application, references, and fees to your state's licensing board. The process varies by state.

Though optional, getting a PE license demonstrates mastery of core engineering principles and a commitment to ethics and public safety. It qualifies engineers for leadership roles on projects, expands career options, and signals expertise to employers and clients. For CADCAM engineers seeking leadership and supervisory positions, PE licensure is strongly recommended.

Finding a Mentor

As you embark on your mechanical engineering career, having a mentor can provide invaluable guidance and support. Connecting with an experienced engineer who can share their knowledge and offer advice can help accelerate your professional growth. But where can you find such a mentor?

One of the best places to look is at your college or university. Build relationships with professors and more senior students who may be able to provide mentorship. Attend office hours, ask questions after class, and express your interest in gaining wisdom from those further along in their mechanical engineering journey.

You may also find potential mentors at your internships, co-ops, or first engineering job. Seek out seasoned engineers who take an interest in your career aspirations. Politely ask if they would be open to an informal mentor/mentee arrangement. Offer to learn from their experiences and seek their advice. With some luck and perseverance, you may gain an invaluable mentor at your workplace.

Finally, join professional engineering organizations like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), and American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). These organizations have programs to connect young engineers with more experienced mentors. Attend local chapter events to network and meet potential mentors. Building these connections early in your career can pay dividends for decades to come.

No matter where you find them, mentors can share practical advice, provide career coaching, introduce you to the engineering community, and give technical guidance as you embark on your journey to become a successful mechanical engineer. Cultivate these relationships and you’ll have an invaluable asset and guide along the path.

Developing Communication Skills

Strong communication abilities are essential for succeeding as a CADCAM engineer. You'll need to clearly explain complex mechanical concepts, share design proposals, and collaborate with cross-functional teams.

Master Technical Communication

  • Use simple, straightforward language when explaining technical details to avoid confusion. Break down complex concepts.

  • Emphasize the key takeaways upfront in documents and presentations. Don't bury the most important points.

  • Use charts, diagrams, and visual aids to enhance understanding of specifications and instructions.

  • Practice translating engineering jargon and acronyms into plain language for non-technical audiences.

  • Focus on precision and accuracy in all communications to avoid errors or misinterpretations.

  • Double-check your work. Have someone else review to catch mistakes.

Improve Your Presentation Skills

  • Grab attention right away by highlighting the purpose and agenda.

  • Use storytelling elements to make your presentation more engaging and memorable.

  • Limit text-heavy slides. Use images, infographics, videos, and demonstrations instead.

  • Be prepared to answer questions to demonstrate expertise. Anticipate what might be asked.

  • Practice your delivery to polish your cadence, tone, and body language. Record yourself.

  • Gauge reactions and adjust on the fly if needed. Read the room.

  • Close with clear action items and next steps. End strong.

Creating a Strong Resume

When applying for CADCAM engineering roles, your resume needs to highlight your relevant skills, education, and experience. Focus on quantifying your achievements in engineering projects using metrics and data.

For example, instead of saying "Designed mechanical parts and systems," say "Designed over 20 mechanical parts and prototypes using SolidWorks, resulting in a 25% increase in production efficiency."

Make sure to include key skills like:

  • Proficiency in CAD software (SolidWorks, AutoCAD)

  • Experience with CNC machining and CAM programming

  • Knowledge of 3D printing and rapid prototyping

  • Understanding of machine design, mechanics, and manufacturing processes

  • Ability to read and interpret mechanical drawings and specifications

In the experience section, feature any internships, co-ops, or projects related to CADCAM engineering. Describe your specific contributions and highlight any positive outcomes.

When applying for a specific role, customize your resume by matching your skills and experience to the job qualifications listed. Read over the job posting carefully and tailor your resume content to fit.

For example, if the role requires machine shop experience, highlight your CNC machining skills. Or if it requires experience with AutoCAD, make sure to feature AutoCAD prominently in your skills section.

With a tailored, achievement-focused resume that highlights your CADCAM expertise, you'll make a strong impression on engineering recruiters and hiring managers.

## Acing the Interview

The interview is your chance to showcase your mechanical engineering skills and make a strong impression on the employer. Be sure to prepare thoroughly to increase your chances of landing the CADCAM engineering role.

Common Interview Questions and Answers

  • Why do you want to work as a CADCAM engineer?

  •   Talk about your interest in translating designs into physical products and your hands-on experience with CAD software and CNC machines. Share an example project that got you excited about manufacturing.

  • What experience do you have with CAD software?

  •   Go into specifics about the CAD programs you know like Solidworks, AutoCAD, etc. Mention any training courses you've taken and talk about modeling projects you've worked on. Quantify your hours of CAD experience.

  • How would you go about programming a CNC machine?

  •   Provide a step-by-step overview of the CAM programming process. You can mention defining operations, specifying toolpaths, setting feed rates, assigning cutting tools, simulating toolpaths, and post-processing into machine code. Reference any specific CAM software you have experience with.

  • How do you ensure your CAD models are manufacturable?

  •   Discuss design for manufacturability concepts like avoiding overhangs, minimizing assembly steps, standardizing components, eliminating secondary processes, and mitigating tolerance stack-ups. Give examples of times you've optimized designs for manufacturability.

How to Impress the Employer

  • Ask insightful questions that show your understanding of the role and interest in the company. Inquire about specific projects you would work on and the types of software/machinery you'd use.

  • Provide specific examples when answering questions. Reference your portfolio showing CAD models, drawings, and CAM programs you've created.

  • Convey your passion for engineering and manufacturing. Share what excites you about bringing designs to life and seeing your work physically produced.

  • Follow up within a week thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in the position. Send a personalized thank you note as well.

  • Stress how your skills and experience directly match their open position. Highlight your enthusiasm and ability to quickly contribute value to their team.

CADCAM Engineer Job Duties

A CADCAM engineer's main responsibility is to use computer-aided design (CAD) software and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) equipment to develop and produce mechanical components and products.

On a day-to-day basis, a CADCAM engineer may:

  • Design 2D and 3D CAD models and detailed technical drawings for mechanical parts and assemblies using software like SolidWorks, AutoCAD, or CREO.

  • Perform simulation, stress testing, and analysis on CAD models to evaluate and optimize the performance and manufacturability of the designs.

  • Program, set up, and operate CNC machines, 3D printers, laser cutters, and other CAM equipment to produce prototypes and finished parts from the CAD files.

  • Develop toolpaths and machining plans to optimize the manufacturing process, limit waste, and meet specifications.

  • Collaborate with mechanical engineers, technicians, and manufacturing specialists throughout the prototyping and production processes.

  • Document and track all design revisions and manufacturing plans.

  • Conduct quality control checks on machined components to ensure they meet requirements.

  • Research and recommend new CAD/CAM equipment, tools, and workflows to enhance efficiency.

  • Maintain CAD/CAM equipment and software to ensure equipment uptime and performance.

CADCAM engineers generally work in manufacturing facilities, machine shops, or engineering firms. They spend significant time interacting with computers and CAM equipment, but also collaborate regularly with teams of engineers, technicians, and other specialists. Strong communication skills are essential. CADCAM engineers may be on their feet for extended periods while overseeing production runs and conducting quality control.

Salary and Job Outlook for CADCAM Engineers

CADCAM engineers can expect strong compensation and job prospects thanks to high demand for their specialized skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for mechanical engineers was $92,250 as of May 2021. However, CADCAM engineers tend to earn more than the average mechanical engineer due to their niche expertise.

Most CADCAM engineers earn between $95,000 and $105,000 per year, with senior engineers at large corporations potentially earning $120,000 or more. The highest salaries tend to be concentrated in manufacturing hubs and major cities. For example, the top-paying metropolitan areas for mechanical engineers include San Jose, Houston, Seattle and San Francisco.

In addition to robust pay, the job outlook for CADCAM engineers is very promising. Employment in the overall mechanical engineering field is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS. This equals about 14,200 new jobs nationally. An aging workforce with many retirements in the mechanical field is contributing to strong hiring demand.

For CADCAM engineers specifically, job growth could outpace the broader mechanical engineering field. Manufacturing industries are rapidly adopting newer CAD software, CNC equipment, 3D printing and other technologies that require the expertise of specialized CADCAM engineers. Engineers with knowledge of the latest CAD and CAM tools will be in high demand.

Overall, the attractive salary ranges and ample job opportunities make CADCAM engineering a wise career choice for those with interests and aptitudes in mechanical design, manufacturing technologies and computer-aided tools. By developing expertise in CAD and CAM, engineers can access rewarding roles that leverage both their technical and software abilities.

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