Fusion 360 Shifts the Steps in the Design Process

Extension gives users material sensibility and provides a path to electronics.

Plastic component design is now material dependent.(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Plastic component design is now material dependent. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

When Autodesk University 2021 kicked off on October 5, the upcoming enhancements to Fusion 360 were front and center. Fusion 360 is the most modern of Autodesk’s products for product design and development. Garin Gardiner, senior product manager for Fusion 360, spoke about the new Product Design Extension that will be released in early 2022.

The first iteration of the Product Design Extension focuses on consumer electronics, as Autodesk has responded to its customers shift toward smart products. One of the main goals of this extension is adding some automation to the design process to save design engineers time and ultimately costs.

Taking inspiration from sheet metal design, Fusion 360 now considers what would happen if a designer declares the material at the beginning of the development process. Calling out a material before the product takes shape will apply rules and give advice in later stages of the design, for example, offer suggestions for wall thickness based on the material chosen or look for undercuts and draft allowances.

Declaring the Material up Front Is the Key

Demonstration of an Arduino Enclosure Design using the new extension. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Demonstration of an Arduino Enclosure Design using the new extension. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Fusion 360 will load the Product Design Extension with several common plastic materials, but users can also define a new material or a specific chemistry of different plastics. The wall thickness range also comes into play when running a simulation study on a part, where a user might find that the component is only strong enough with a wall thickness that is greater than has been specified.

Changing plastic material anywhere in the design process can cost time and effort but with the design and simulation easily shifted early in the process, the cost will be far less. New users might be hyperfocused and comfortable with one material and always choose that as their base. Experimenting with other materials may lead to a part that does not meet requirements.

Adding a boss, web or snap fit is easier for users when the design adviser in the extension already knows the rules for geometry and location.

Designing an Arduino enclosure

Gardiner demonstrated the design of an enclosure built around an Arduino board. The board was already modeled in Fusion 360, and the first step was to specify the material. In this case, ABS. Features like the shell of the enclosure signal that the part is using the specified material, and by extension, the rules associated with that material. When looking at a cross-section of the enclosure, changing the specified material will change the wall thickness in real time.

Adding a web into the part also adds the ribs and fillets that will be required for the web, and all these details are material dependent. Bosses are built in the same way and the bosses from both sides of the enclosure can be built at the same time. Customers with a standard set of rules can make their own presets for draft angles or geometries.

The demonstration ended with a geometric pattern designed into the enclosure that can be used for airflow, customization or lighting. Designing for the aforementioned can take a long time to build the geometry and then to subtract it from the model. The pattern tool lets designers choose the shape, pattern distribution and size of a model, and determine whether material will be added or removed from it. The pattern then follows the contour of the existing part.

A big takeaway from the demonstration is that the only additional work required up front is calling out the material family. The design adviser then applies the design rules of that material to the part as the user develops their design. Gardiner estimated that the enclosure could be built in four minutes using the Product Design Extension but noted that without the new tools it would take 20 minutes to build the part with the same features.

Autodesk University took place October 5-14 as an online event. Much of the event was recorded and is available for viewing.