The different types of CAM Software
There are many different types of CAM Software. You will need to purchase the type that fits your machine. For example, if you have a CNC Plasma Cutter, you probably only need a 2D CAM Software version. The torch will only move in the X and Y planes. That is if you have a torch height control.
What if you have a CNC Milling Machine with X and Y axes that are powered by stepper motors? You will probably only need 2.5D CAM Software. That is because your parts will have depth.
What if you have a CNC Wood Router and it carves out three-dimensional shapes out of wood? It has three servo motors to control on the X, Y and Z-axis. Yep, you need 3D CAM Software.
What if you want to mill or carve something into a cylinder of stock material? You will need a 4th Axis CAM Software so the machine can rotate the cylinder while all the other three Axis' are moving.
Here are the most common types of CAM Software
4th Axis CAM
5th Axis CAM
What are tool paths and how do you create them?
Tool paths are the paths the tool will take around and through the piece of material to create the part. Tool paths show up as a very thin wireframe movement paths in the CAM process. This is to show you where the machine will be traveling. You want this so you can see if there will be any interference issues while machining.
Once the tool paths are generated, you can usually watch an animation of the action. You can "virtually" watch the machine work and machine the material. This is a very helpful feature of modern CAM programs. I don't know how many times I have found a problem in the simulation before I ever made it to the shop.