CAD Program Moves Toward Push-Button Manufacturing
Roopinder Tara posted on July 28, 2015 |

Fusion 360 is looking more and more like Autodesk’s CAD software of the future. Solid modeling, cloud-based, built-in collaboration and equally at home on an iPad as on as desktop, it performs in every way future engineers will be creating and manufacturing. It’s making Inventor and especially AutoCAD look like the dowdy aunts who can’t keep up with the kids at the family reunion sack race.

Send your model right to Proto Labs from the recent version of Fusion 360.
Send your model right to Proto Labs from the recent version of Fusion 360.

And with just one additional menu pick, Fusion 360 has jumped to the head of the pack for all modern design applications. You can now elect to send your 3D model to Proto Labs from within the Fusion 360 interface. Proto Labs will ship you the part in a few days.

With that one additional menu pick, Autodesk, which has forever shown you parts on the screen, has provided a way to have parts in your hand. No trying to whittle a prototype from wood, no trying to find a buddy with a lathe in his workshop or Googling a 3D printer. Pick Proto Labs from the menu, and your part is sent to a place with a hundred CNC machines just waiting to do your bidding.

While the process is not completely seamless (there may be some back and forth about what feature can be made, some choices about materials, some haggling about the cost — you get a quote from Protomold before it cuts), the fact that a CAD program sends a part to a service to be created is significant. While every CAD program can interface with CAM, this is way better. I don’t have to learn a CAM program. Or depend on a machinist — if I can even find one.

As of yet, Proto Labs can only do molds and machined parts. They hint that 3D printing will be offered next. The service is available only in the U.S.

Hooking up a major CAD company with a major manufacturing operation is an idea whose time has come. This deal is not exclusive to either company, so I look for other arrangement to be made soon. All with the goal of being able to create the parts we have designed — just by pushing a button.

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