From one point of view, the goal of the turnkey CAD/CAM vendors (to totally automate, and totally integrate) is certainly worthy of our respect. Taken as a whole, the complete design/manufacturing process, which begins with a concept and ends with a manufactured part, is very complex. In any large company it requires literally thousands of separate steps from beginning to end, including the cooperation of hundred of individuals and tens of different departments.
The gain of even a small improvement in efficiency in any step of the process is absolutely guaranteed to result in a directly measurable increase in the profitability of that company, allowing it to better compete in its marketplace. This, plus the guarantee of an increase in quality of the finished product, is the ultimate promise of automation and is a siren's song that cannot be (and should not be) ignored.
The credit for revolutionizing the world's manufacturing industries must go to the turnkey vendors, of course, and not companies like Autodesk. We have made Autodesk one of the world's most successful businesses, and we affect the practical use of CAD on a scale which the turnkey vendors can still only dream about. But the credit for being there first belongs to them.
The widespread use of CAD/CAM in U.S. industry enabled it to remain competitive with nations such as Japan, which constantly threaten it with their ability to offer America's consumers cheap, but high quality finished products. Further progress is still possible, since the really difficult problems remain yet unsolved.
It is to totally automate and integrate the manufacturing process itself which the turnkey vendors have chosen as their goal. In the following paragraphs, we shall see what the scope of this really is, and begin to realize the scale of the problem which the turnkey vendors have set for themselves.
Editor: John Walker