computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), a form of automation where computers communicate work instructions directly to the manufacturing machinery. The technology evolved from the numerically controlled machines of the 1950s, which were directed by a set of coded instructions contained in a punched paper tape. Today a single computer can control banks of robotic milling machines, lathes, welding machines, and other tools, moving the product from machine to machine as each step in the manufacturing process is completed. Such systems allow easy, fast reprogramming from the computer, permitting quick implementation of design changes. The most advanced systems, which are often integrated with computer-aided design systems, can also manage such tasks as parts ordering, scheduling, and tool replacement.
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