Fusion 360: Major New Functionality Since our Last Look

Fusion 360 is becoming a complete product development environment. Here's our review.

fusion360, autodesk, CAD, software, cloud, subscription, product design, Big changes have happened with Autodesk’s cloud-based product design platform, Fusion 360, in the last year.

Autodesk introduced Fusion 360 as the industry’s first cloud-based CAD platform in 2012.  At the time, it provided surfacing, sculpting, and direct modeling features to users for a monthly subscription price of $25.

Fast forward to 2015 and Fusion has seen a rapid development of new features.  Now it is a contender to serve not only industrial designers, but entire product development teams. 

In addition to major enhancements like parametric modeling, there is a new premium package called Fusion 360 Ultimate.  In this article we’ll explore what’s new and give you a better view of which suite is right for you.

The original CAD in the Cloud

There were a number of key selling points to Fusion 360 when it launched as a cloud-based design tool.  Some of these are natural fits for the cloud, including:

1.            Collaboration.  Models that are cloud-native don’t have to be uploaded to share.

2.            No Infrastructure:  Since designs do not reside on your computer, your models are safer from loss

3.            Simple updates.  As you’ll see in this post, the pace of development for Fusion 360 has been rapid, but no user has had to go through a traditional CAD software upgrade. 

The other major differentiator for Fusion 360 is its support for mobile computing.  Designers can use Fusion 360 on a tablet, greatly extending the number of places design work can take place.

Even with these advantages, the primary reasons that designers adopted Fusion 360 in the first place was because of its functionality and ease of use, particularly for Industrial design.  In a bid to make the software more useful to the rest of the product design team, Autodesk has continued to add enhancements beyond its original features of sketching, direct modeling and collaboration. 

Fusion 360 – Parametric included along with Direct Modeling

Fusion 360 now represents an end-to-end solution for product design. With tools that support a wide-range of modelling paradigms (parametric, direct, mesh & surface) the Fusion 360 platform equips designers with everything they need to develop products.

In the past year Autodesk has made a major push to add robust parametric modelling features to the Fusion 360 suite. For mechanical designers more familiar with Autodesk’s Inventor, this change will be welcome. Now designs created in Fusion 360 can be defined by the constraints, relationships and variables that make parametric design so useful. In addition, Fusion 360’s new parametric paradigm will make designs even easier to manipulate so exploring a wider array of design configurations become easier.

If you need to work with a format that comes from a different CAD package, Fusion 360 allows you to import a wide variety of non-native file formats and manipulate them to your needs. That helps you avoid the frustration of importing dumb solids or paying for expensive feature recognition plug-ins.Combining parametric modelling, direct modelling and rapid 2D sketch ideation makes Fusion 360 one of the most versatile choices for generating product concepts.  In the concept stage, 2D sketching can help you quickly generate the basics of a design.  As you work through product iterations, direct modelling will help you shape surfaces, push and pull contours, and build products that are easier to manufacture. Once it’s time to tighten up your concept, parametric modelling is there to help you lock your design down.

Collaboration, rendering and manufacturing are built into the design environment

Sometimes it’s hard to get your entire team assembled in an office to generate and iterate through concepts. To become truly productive your tools have to help your team to work together no matter where they are.

With Fusion 360, teams are afforded the ability to work together on product development by giving them the context they need to understand why a product was designed one way and not another. Comments can be placed anywhere on a model whether that be on the feature or revision history level.

Design team leaders can assign anyone on the team design review duties like checking for interference, making sure surfaces are manufacturable and preforming simple simulations.  What’s more, all of these things can be done concurrently, so there’s no need to stop one type of review to let another move forward.

While collaboration can be an excellent way to generate concepts and develop products it can also lead to branching iterations that quickly move away from a product’s core design elements. To make sure this type of situation is kept in check, Fusion 360 keeps people on track with an easy to access, easy to view product revision panel. From that panel designers can see every evolution of a product’s design and gain access to the most current version. That way your team can ensure it doesn’t lose time designing features for a products that already deprecated.

Once your product’s been reviewed and is ready for presentation, Fusion 360 also comes equipped with a rendering engine so your team can be sure it delivers top-shelf visualizations to management or potential customers.

Fusion 360 also lends your team the ability to move to prototyping or production directly from your modelling environment. If prototyping is your goal any model in Fusion 360 can be exported as a .STL file and shipped off to a 3D printer. If a more solid prototype is needed, Fusion 360 also support 2.5 axis CAM tooling and the ability to create drawings so that a machine shop can manufacture your products. 

Most importantly, since Fusion 360 is an all-inclusive suite everything from conception to fabrication happen within the same, simple to use environment, no matter if you are sketching, tooling or running simulations.

Fusion 360 Ultimate – Taking Collaboration & Fabrication to the Next Level

With the introduction of Fusion 360 Ultimate, the platform offers support for 2D drawing, an important tool for most designers.

While original sketches are often the basis of successful products, sometime a design needs off-the-shelf parts to meet its goals. To simplify your team’s job and make product design faster, Fusion 360 will soon come packaged with a suite of part and content libraries. With these libraries, designers can easily access common fasteners and component and drop them into their assembly.

To expand Ultimate’s visualization package, Autodesk has also added the ability to create exploded views and animations from assemblies.  That makes deep exploration and presentations of designs much more compelling.  

Fusion 360 Ultimate also features upgraded CAM support that includes 3-axis milling where even complex design can be ready for manufacturing.

So to recap, in the last year the following features have been added to the Fusion 360 Suite

1.       Introduction of Parametric Modelling

2.       Integration of CAM 360

3.       Introduction of Publisher 360

4.       Introduction of 2D Drawings

5.       Expanded Collaboration & Data Sharing

6.       Expanded API for Developing Custom Macros and Functions

7.       Expanded Access of 3D Printing

So, What’s Next for Fusion 360 development?

With a robust, two tiered system is place, Autodesk’s mission will be focused on expanding the tools offered in both suites. According to Kevin Schneider, product manager for Fusion 360, Autodesk has plans to introduce more robust simulation and FEA tools soon. 

Kevin’s team is also looking to build a live-streaming, video conference feature directly into the software.  This tool will give design teams even greater access to brainstorming sessions and critical design reviews.

In a nutshell, Fusion 360’s goal appears to be the most flexible, collaborative and broadly functional product design suite, and all hosted on the cloud.

The Fusion 360 Suite is available for $300 as an annual subscription and $40/mo for a pay as you go license.

The Fusion 360 Ultimate Suite is available for $1,200 as an annual subscription and $150/mo for a pay as you go license.

Autodesk has paid a fee to ENGINEERING.com to promote their product design solutions.  They have had no editorial input to this post.  All opinions are mine.  – Kyle Maxey