Autodesk Introduces Fusion 360 Extensions
Michael Alba posted on August 07, 2019 |
First up is the Manufacturing Extension for automation, additive, and more.
(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Back in October, Autodesk announced a licensing change to their popular cloud CAD software Fusion 360. At the time, Fusion 360 was available in two product tiers: Fusion 360 Standard, which cost $310/year, and Fusion 360 Ultimate, which had additional features and cost $1,535/year. In a move to make the features of Ultimate more accessible and affordable, Autodesk switched to a single version of Fusion 360 available for $495/year.

This month, Autodesk announced their plans for the future of Fusion 360: extensions.

Going Vertical

Fusion 360 has always delivered on a wide range of capabilities. Users have had access to tools for modelling, manufacturing, rendering, simulation, data management, and more, all self-contained within Fusion 360. Now, Autodesk has decided to expand Fusion 360 upwards. The company plans to release a series of specialized extensions to give subscribers à la carte access to the functionality they need.

“We’re extending our product offering to provide access to specialized tools, or tools that you may or may not need on a regular basis,” said Sam Sattel, Senior Marketing Manager at Autodesk. “And we're giving the power back to the customer to add on or extend their tools whenever they want.”

Sattel compares the plan to internet services like Hulu or Amazon Prime, where customers can choose what they want and pay only for what they need. While the core Fusion 360 won’t change, subscribers will soon have access to additional toolsets that they can use as flexibly as they need. While there’s only one extension currently available—for advanced manufacturing—Autodesk will continue to roll out more as they move forward with the new paradigm.

Here’s how it works from a user perspective. You’re a Fusion 360 subscriber, and you just got a new project that will require tools for metal additive manufacturing. Those tools aren’t available in the core Fusion 360, but the new Manufacturing Extension has just what you’re looking for. Within Fusion 360, you’ll simply click on the extension, specify how long you’ll need it, and pay 125 cloud credits (equivalent to $125 USD) per month. There’s nothing new to install or download—the tools you need will be immediately available. At the end of the subscription, when you no longer need the tools, you won’t have to pay for them anymore. You’ll be back to your previous Fusion 360.

Currently, the minimum time users can subscribe to an extension is one month. However, Sattel envisions that at some point, users will be able to meter their usage of extensions as finely as they need. Whether that’s by the day or by the minute, the goal is for users to pay only for exactly what they need, no more and no less.

Users of Fusion 360 may worry that the extensions will start to cannibalize the existing functionality of Fusion 360, but Sattel emphasizes that that’s not going to happen.

“We are not taking anything away from the tool,” he asserted. “There's already a tremendous amount of manufacturing, CAM, toolpathing, and post processors within Fusion 360 today. We will never ever take away any of that functionality for our commercial users. When we add on these specialist activities, you won't have to pay for those as part of the full suite of tools. You can extend or add on when you desire to do so.”

The Fusion 360 Manufacturing Extension

Alongside the announcement of Fusion 360 extensions, Autodesk released the first such extension: the Manufacturing Extension. This extension was one of the catalysts for the whole paradigm, and its goal is to provide more advanced manufacturing capabilities to users of Fusion 360 than those offered in the core program.

For example, one new feature enabled in the Manufacturing Extension is support for additive manufacturing workflows. Users of the extension will be able to select print parameters, orient parts for printing, generate supports and toolpaths, and export files to 3MF format or directly to select powder bed metal AM machines.

One of the focuses of the Manufacturing Extension is automation, according to Sanjay Thakore, Business Strategy Manager for Fusion 360.

“We've been concentrating on tools for automating the programming process, which are going to help people program faster and spend less time in the software,” he said. “One of the features is drilling automation—recognizing holes and automating the process of hole-making—so people that are programming parts with lots of holes will be able to automate that. The software will recognize holes, select tools, and order operations for faster cycle times and to speed up the process that a programmer would typically have to spend in creating a hole-making process.”

The Manufacturing Extension will also enable the ability to program surface inspections and create probe paths to verify components are up to spec. In addition, parallel and contour toolpaths have been combined into a unified steep and shallow toolpath, used for machining shallow and steep regions of a part.

“It's much, much simpler to self select a toolpath and have that across a part's geometry,” Thakore explained. “Steep and shallow combines steep and shallow regions into one toolpath that will give better surface finishes, avoid dwell marks, remove cusps, extend tool life, and can allow for certain wall allowances and clearances to really make sure the two areas are complementary.”

Like Fusion 360 itself, the Manufacturing Extension will receive regular updates and improvements.

“It won't be just the features I've mentioned today,” Thakore said. “We're going to be adding more and more technology both to the core product and to this Manufacturing Extension. So it will be an evolving endeavor where people will get more and more value the more they use it.”

Democratizing Technology

With Fusion 360 extensions, Autodesk is hoping to increase the accessibility of its CAD and CAM tools. In Thakore’s view, the move to extensions helps customers of all sizes take advantage of the tools suited to their business.

“We're really trying to innovate with what we're doing and provide technology in a way that is democratizing it to people,” he said. “So whether you're a smaller business or a large business, you can access the technology.”

To learn more about Fusion 360 extensions, you can read Autodesk’s blog post on the topic.

Autodesk has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  --Michael Alba

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