Fusion 360 is Autodesk’s Cloud-based industrial design and CAD application. Since it was previewed in December 2012, the user community has grown to around 17,000. I spoke with several designers to find out why they adopted this new technology and what they are getting out of it.
They brought forward 3 main themes:
1. It’s an outstanding Industrial Design tool
With its roots in Alias software and the t-splines suite of tools, the Fusion 360 “Sculpt” functionality was a big driver for adoption, according to Matt Harris of Orphanage Guitars.
Maritza Garcia, a student at Rochester Institute of Technology added that she finds the surfacing functionality outstanding. The organically shaped models can be converted into an actual model with a couple menu picks. There is, however, no road back.
Kendrick Hunter pointed out that the intuitive interface allowed him to come back to industrial design after 20 years away and quickly be able to model virtually any organic shape. Matt echoed this sentiment. As an industrial designer he used to be frustrated that he had to learn a modeling tool to communicate with the engineers on his team. With Fusion 360, he says the engineers are happy to work in his environment.
Rendering is an important part of Industrial Design, and Fusion 360 has a “Rendering as a Service” offering that takes advantage of cloud-based resources. Fusion360 also has a very tight integration with Keyshot.
Fusion 360 runs natively in a Mac environment. Of the eight people I spoke with for this article, fully half of them used it with a Mac. This is another indication of Autodesk’s commitment to make Fusion 360 a strong tool for industrial designers.
2. The CAD functionality works for a broad audience
Beyond industrial design, users reported that Fusion 360 works well as a lightweight CAD tool. Ron Russell of Ocean Concepts said he appreciates that Fusion 360 can import any kind of CAD file and work with it.
He emphasized how he frequently uses the cloud to process file conversions from Solidworks to Fusion360 because the file translation quality is so good.
At this time, Fusion 360 lacks parametric feature-based modeling. That is the primary concern from the user group and the number one thing that is stopping design teams from using Fusion 360 as their primary design tool, according to Colin Smith of Autodesk.
It is also something that they are going to fix in an upcoming release. Of the top 10 user requests in the first year, Autodesk has implemented eight of them. The Fusion 360 team intends to continue to base a lot of their development on community feedback
The cloud lends three important attributes to engineering design software:
1. Collaboration. Models that are in the cloud are easy to share and easy to comment on.
2. Storage and back up. With the cloud being inherently “not on your computer”, models are safer from loss.
3. Data crunching resources for heavy modeling or simulation.
Fusion 360 does a very nice job of delivering a seamless user experience. Although the data is stored on the cloud, most of the model processing is local, so it all goes swift and smooth. Meanwhile, versions are being automatically saved in the background, so users can just choose their favorite versions for keeping track.
The cloud is great for collaboration, and all of the Autodesk 360 tools share a social-media style UI that allows users to easily create and manage groups. Maritza found this feature helpful for gathering feedback on an early stage design from her colleagues and manager. Then she was able to turn off their access when she found they were getting a little too involved. Matt had another story. He collaborated with Autodesk CEO Carl Bass to create a custom guitar that he played on-stage at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.
What they didn’t say about Fusion 360
I believe that the common software platform that powers all of the 360 apps will provide a lot of leverage for customers who want to manage design, simulation and PLM through a common interface. So far, however, none of the users I spoke with had experience using more than one 360 app.
The users also didn’t say they love the cloud. In a recent survey of Fusion 360 users, 76% said the cloud functionality didn’t factor into their decision to use the product. But in conversation they do say they like the ability to access from anywhere, on any device. So maybe they aren’t thinking “cloud” when they are thinking of “cloud functionality”. Or maybe the early adopters of Fusion 360 are primarily industrial designers. As engineers and larger design teams get added to the user base, they will likely get better use of the infinite elastic computing power of the cloud.
Where to from here?
Now that Fusion 360 has a core base of industrial designers, other members of design teams will likely begin using the tool as well. A new version of Parametric modeling will be available as a beta later this month and available to all in January. That should allow it to become the core modeling tool for many design teams. With the extensibility of PLM 360, Sim 360 and now CAM 360, some design teams will find a near full-product solution from the Autodesk cloud tools.