Fusion 360 Adds Integrated Electrical Design
Michael Alba posted on November 27, 2019 |
Fusion 360 will soon have an integrated electronic design workspace, as pictured in this slide from Autodesk University.
Fusion 360 will soon have an integrated electronic design workspace, as pictured in this slide from Autodesk University.

Autodesk is infusing yet another design tool into Fusion 360. At Autodesk University (AU) in Las Vegas last week, the company announced that users of its cloud-based CAD software will soon have access to a suite of electronic design tools alongside the familiar mechanical tools already available in Fusion 360.

“This is the first integrated solution for smart product development that has ever existed,” pronounced Stephen Hooper, general manager of Fusion 360, on stage at AU’s product design and manufacturing keynote.

Hooper announced the forthcoming integration (slated for 2020) while demonstrating its use with Autodesk customer Festool, a power tool manufacturing company that Hooper referred to as “the Lamborghini of the power tool world.” The comparison didn’t seem hyperbolic—Festool tools are apparently so desirable that the company has a standing offer to replace any stolen equipment.

Stephen Hooper, VP and general manager of Fusion 360, presenting during the keynote at Autodesk University 2019. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Stephen Hooper, VP and general manager of Fusion 360, presenting during the keynote at Autodesk University 2019. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Part of what makes Festool power tools so theft-worthy are their embedded electronics. For example, Festool sells a portable circular saw that communicates via Bluetooth with a Festool mobile dust extractor, automating dust extraction whenever the saw is operating. Festool is also working to incorporate biometric thumb scanners into its tools to better protect them from theft. These capabilities are emblematic of the increasing intelligence of products, making Festool a fine fit for Hooper’s demonstration.

Festool uses Fusion 360 for its mechanical design, but previously had to use a separate electronic computer-aided design (ECAD) tool for electronic design. This is the norm for many product development teams, and a significant development speedbump. We all are familiar with the hassle of importing and exporting files across different applications. According to a recent engineering.com survey, 72 percent of engineers believe that integrated electrical and mechanical design tools would allow their teams to deliver electromechanical products faster.

Autodesk, it seems, agrees with this assessment. And given that one of Fusion 360’s guiding philosophies is to integrate as many tools as possible across a single workspace, adding ECAD capabilities was a logical move for Hooper and his team.

“When we launched Fusion 360, our goal was to do away with all the disconnects in the product development process and merge design, engineering, and manufacturing together into a single interface,” Hooper wrote in a blog post announcing the new capabilities in Fusion 360.

ECAD in Fusion 360

3D geometry of a PCB design in Fusion 360. (Image from AU keynote.)
3D geometry of a PCB design in Fusion 360. (Image from AU keynote.)

The first step in Fusion 360’s electrical evolution came in 2016 when Autodesk acquired CadSoft, developer of Eagle, a popular printed circuit board (PCB) design tool. Soon after, Autodesk began linking Eagle and Fusion 360 as much as possible. The programs remained entirely separate, but Autodesk created a bidirectional workflow to facilitate moving files back and forth between the two programs. There was compatibility, but it was limited.

Fusion 360 and Eagle have now taken their relationship to the next level and moved in together. All of the capabilities of Eagle will be embedded directly within Fusion 360 in a workspace environment alongside modeling, rendering, simulation, manufacturing and the rest.

The integration will allow electrical and mechanical engineers to have constant access to the most recent changes made by their counterparts. Built on top of a common data model, design data in Fusion 360 will propagate throughout all workspaces, whether it is mechanical or electrical. “Engineering geometry can be referenced in a completely integrated electronics workspace,” Hooper described.

Say a designer makes a change to the geometry of a PCB’s housing. That change will be automatically reflected in the electrical workspace, so the electrical engineer can use the new geometry to layout components. And since those components are physical objects, the 3D geometry data of the PCB automatically propagates to the mechanical model, making any collisions easily detectable.

Link between the PCB schematic and 3D geometry in Fusion 360. (Image from AU keynote.)
Link between the PCB schematic and 3D geometry in Fusion 360. (Image from AU keynote.)

Like Eagle, Fusion 360’s integrated electrical workspace also provides automatic routing. Fusion’s integrated manufacturing tools take this data even further, according to Hooper.

“Because each of those traces is a physical piece of geometry, we can use this data to drive tool pathing,” he said. “And that allows us to mill prototypes of the PCB for testing without ever having to leave the Fusion environment.”

Fusion 360’s built-in simulation environment will also come into play, as the integrated EDA tools will offer thermal simulation of electronic components.

“This allows us to specify heat sinks on the board and define a study to look at thermal convection across the board’s surface,” Hooper explained. “And then we can push that setup to the cloud for on-demand simulation. The user can interact with the results directly in the context of the design.”

If the thermal simulation reveals too much heat, Hooper claimed that Fusion 360’s integrated environment makes for much easier design changes.

“Normally that change would create huge coordination problems between multiple products, but in Fusion, we can simply return to the mechanical workspace and change the board’s housing,” Hooper said. “And because the electronic space is the same data model, we can enable multi-monitor support and watch each chip move on the layout simultaneously reflected in the 3D model. This even includes the board traces that are automatically recalculated. Now, that’s important because it means all our data, including manufacturing instructions, are constantly up to date. A change made anywhere is truly reflected everywhere.”

That’s Great, but What Will It Cost Me?

Earlier this year, Autodesk incorporated the concept of extensions into Fusion 360. The Fusion 360 Manufacturing Extension, for example, is an optional add-on that gives users advanced manufacturing tools for $125 per month (on top of the $495 per year for Fusion 360 itself). It’s the only extension that’s been released thus far, though the Manage Extension will debut in 2020.

You might think (as did we) that the ECAD environment would follow the same paradigm—the Electrical Extension, perhaps. But you (and we) would be pleasantly wrong. The new electrical tools will be included with the base level subscription of Fusion 360, and will be available for all users at no extra cost. The only additional money you’ll spend is on thermal simulations, if you want them. Like all of Fusion 360 simulations, you pay for your cloud usage.

As for Eagle, it will still exist as a stand-alone product for those who want it, but Hooper strongly believes in the new integrated model.

“In our opinion it [Fusion 360 with integrated EDA] is a superior offering, because it unites both disciplines and there’s absolutely no loss of functionality,” he said.


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