by Diane Sofranec, Contributing Editor
Your photos, music and movies are stored on the cloud, so why not your CAD designs, too?
Autodesk’s Fusion 360 is a cloud-based mechanical CAD solution. Officially released at Autodesk University in 2012, Fusion 360 was launched in 2009 through Autodesk Labs as Inventor Fusion.
But it’s not software you install on your computer. A $300 yearly subscription gets you a mechanical, industrial and conceptual design tool, plus frequent updates.
Using a cloud-based design tool means every change you make on your design is saved on the cloud and becomes part of a version history. You have the ability to access each version of your design, so every time you open your design, you will see which version you are getting.
Keeping the application on the cloud allows Autodesk to provide quick fixes and add new capabilities. Updates typically occur every eight weeks; some are minor, whereas others are significant. As a result, Fusion 360 has evolved into a highly collaborative design tool that takes you from concept to prototype, providing you have a decent Internet connection.
Since its initial release, Autodesk has added considerable functionality. Several of the latest updates are worth noting.
The ability to access data and share designs no matter where you are, regardless of the device you are using is what Fusion 360 is all about. Because your data is housed on the cloud, you can look at it whether you’re on a Mac, PC, tablet or smartphone and work with your design team from anywhere as long as you’re online.
A Fusion 360 mobile app that works on iOS and Android devices lets you view, mark up and comment on your CAD models. You can easily collaborate by adding others to your project so they can see your progress anytime. The app includes support for more than 100 file formats, and allows you to store and view just as many data formats. To make viewing easier, you can isolate and hide the model’s components and use your touchscreen to zoom, rotate and pan. It also gives you access to design properties and parts lists, and tracks project activities and updates. You can share project information by posting messages, photos and comments. You can also take and share screenshots of any markups made to your design.
If you’re an Apple aficionado, Fusion 360 employs Handoff, which lets you resume what you were doing exactly where you left off as you switch devices. So as long as you’re signed in to the same iCloud account, you can look at your design on your iPhone and then, when you open your MacBook Pro and launch your browser, a simple click will take you to that same design so you can continue working.
Sometimes you need to show all the components of a product, or how it goes together and comes apart. That’s what makes animations, or exploded views, indispensible. You can add notes, too. This capability works on all iOS devices, so you can share this aspect of your design with clients, manufacturers and the design team.
Fusion 360’s Distributed Design capabilities allow you to create a couple of different designs and insert one of them into another design. It’s a convenient way for multiple users to work on a design together.
The Fusion 360 creators leveraged the AutoCAD Mechanical 2D design tool. In addition, the past few upgrades added mechanical annotations and 2D symbols, making it easier to create patent drawings or communicate with the manufacturing team.
Standard parts libraries
Looking for parts to put in your model? Look no further than the parts library that is built into Fusion 360. Simply find the part you need; one click brings it directly into your design. Autodesk has been working with such companies as McMaster-Carr and Cavenas to create standard parts libraries. The McMaster-Carr parts library is the default and already included; however, you can choose from many others to add.
Application programming interface
Late last year, Autodesk introduced application programming interface (API) support for Fusion 360, and continues to open it up to more and more third party companies. For instance, although CAM capabilities are built in, you can now easily integrate the CAM tools of your choosing.
Speaking of CAM, 2.5- and 3-axis capabilities make it possible for you to turn your designs into parts. HSMWorks, a company Autodesk acquired three years ago, is fully integrated into Fusion 360 (as well as its Inventor software). This CAM functionality makes it possible for designers to take their products to market, whether they are seasoned professionals working for major corporations or hobbyists launching their dream inventions.
3D printing capabilities are integrated through Spark, an open software platform just for that. Spark can generate supports for designs that need them. Plus, it lets you control the printer you’re using as well as the outcome. A layer-by-layer preview shows exactly what you can expect.
For a product that’s updated every eight weeks, training is definitely necessary. Autodesk constantly updates its help section with new tutorials to ensure ease of use. Built-in tutorial videos and links are designed to help you get up to speed quickly.
For those who need to learn the basics, there’s Fusion 101, detailed instructions on nine different capabilities. You can learn how to sketch, sculpt, model, manage and collaborate, render, and get the basics on assemblies, drawings, CAM and animations. Each training module takes an hour to two to explore and includes videos for those who learn by watching and printable documents for those who prefer written instructions.
In addition, if you were a SolidWorks user, you can check out videos with more advanced content designed to help make the switch to Fusion 360 go smoothly. Because you already understand 3D design concepts, these videos simply show how the tools and workflows differ in an effort to make the transition easier.
Autodesk worked with the Apple Education team to offer the Autodesk Design Academy iTunes U course. Students and others new to CAD can check out iTunes U for a course in Fusion 360. Autodesk is one of the few businesses with educational content in this space. But because it’s a cloud-based design tool natively written for the Mac, a partnership with Apple seems natural.
Longtime professional CAD users, inexperienced hobbyists and students just launching their careers can easily learn how to use Fusion 360 to create and collaborate.
The road ahead
Collaboration isn’t limited to the members of your design team. To learn what’s next for Fusion 360, its developers include a roadmap in the Autodesk Community section of the application’s website that details the upgrades you can expect to see soon. Such transparency also provides an opportunity to weigh in on what you would like to see in future versions. Sometimes, proposed features include links with more detailed information. Simulation is coming soon, for instance, and Fusion 360 developers have shared what it will encompass and why. They also put out a call for feedback. It’s not everyday you can collaborate with the developers of your CAD application just as you would with the members of your design team.