Generative Design for Everyone? Meet Automated Modeling From Autodesk

Fusion 360’s newest design tool is a fast, free, and fun way to create geometry—and it might just get you hooked.

CAD is hard. It’s too mathematical to come naturally to artists and too much of an art to come naturally to engineers. Those who’ve managed to master it have done so through practice, patience and grit.

But fortunately for the rest of us, CAD is getting easier.

One way is a new tool called Automated Modeling, which debuted in Autodesk’s Fusion 360 over the summer. The tool automatically creates geometry in line with a user’s design criteria, saving the time and effort of manual modeling.

Sound familiar? It’s not quite generative design, that vaunted technology now offered in nearly every major CAD package. But it’s not far off, either. Automated Modeling is something of an entry-level generative design with the potential to make the technology useful to many more users—of Fusion 360 for now, but perhaps other platforms in due time. And it may be just the boost generative design has been waiting for to reach its full potential.

Super Lofts

Automated Modeling has been in preview in Fusion 360 since July, and Autodesk is aiming to release it officially early next year. Unlike the optional generative design extension, Automated Modeling will be available to all Fusion 360 users as part of the base subscription.

So, what is it? Forget generative design for a second. The first time Mike Smell, Senior Product Manager of Fusion 360, described Automated Modeling to, he likened it to a “super loft,” a souped-up version of the classic CAD command that connects 2D cross sections with a smooth 3D shape. It’s a fitting description, because the goal of Automated Modeling is the same: to automate creation of geometric connections.

But Automated Modeling takes the concept several steps further. For one thing, users can specify any face as an input, not just planar cross sections. For another, users can specify preserve areas—that is, they can select bodies that Automated Modeling will avoid overlapping.

The Automated Modeling interface in Fusion 360. The blue faces will be connected such that the red bodies remain clear. (Source: Autodesk.)

The Automated Modeling interface in Fusion 360. The blue faces will be connected such that the red bodies remain clear. (Source: Autodesk.)

Most importantly, Automated Modeling does not simply return the mathematical answer to the loft equation. Instead, it presents users with six viable options for bridging the geometry gap. And since each option can be adjusted for five levels of thickness, Automated Modeling essentially gives designers thirty ways to accomplish their goal. All that’s left to do is pick one.

Automated Modeling vs. Generative Design

Automated Modeling uses the same underlying technology as Autodesk’s generative design tool, according to Smell. As such, the models have the same sinewy, organic look associated with that technology—a look that hasn’t exactly won engineers over.

But it’s less about the look, and more about the quick results. Unlike Autodesk’s generative design tool, which can take hours of cloud processing time, Automated Models are ready in just a few minutes. And since shapes created with Automated Modeling are T-splines, users can directly edit them to fit their aesthetic taste.

“It’s sort of an automated T-Spline builder,” Smell says. “Rather than spending a bunch of time creating a bunch of sketches and planes and lofts to make some more sophisticated shape, [users] can use Automated Modeling to fill that space essentially in a couple of clicks.”

Three model variations created automatically with Automated Modeling in Fusion 360. (Source: Autodesk.)

Three model variations created automatically with Automated Modeling in Fusion 360. (Source: Autodesk.)

Although Automated Modeling and Autodesk’s generative design share some algorithms and are used for design exploration, they’re intended for different stages of the design process.

Automated Modeling is meant for more preliminary, unconstrained exploration. There are only two inputs available to the user—faces to connect and areas to preserve. While that’s enough information to create several possible shapes, the results are oblivious to any real-world criteria.

The generative design extension, in contrast, asks users for much more information upfront—not just connection points and preserve areas but expected loads, materials and manufacturing methods. This extra info requires extra processing time, but it means that the results from generative design are essentially pre-validated against the design specifications.

“With generative design, our goal is to create multiple CAD-ready, manufacturing, and performance-aware solutions,” Smell explains. “Automated Modeling is an attempt to change the dynamic of how folks think about design exploration… where they don’t have performance or manufacturing information, or they’re just not ready to dive that far into the problem.”

In short: Automated Modeling is the quick and dirty way to get geometry—any geometry—while generative design computes the optimal geometry for a specific scenario.

Hooked on Automation

Despite the different use cases, make no mistake: Automated Modeling is meant to evoke generative design, a technology that Autodesk has offered for nearly five years. It hasn’t exactly been a smooth road, with lower-than-expected adoption rates and multiple changes to its price and licensing model. Despite Autodesk’s best efforts at promoting the technology, generative design still hasn’t settled into the killer app status Autodesk clearly envisions for it.

But with Automated Modeling, Autodesk might finally have made a breakthrough. “Automated Modeling is our effort to bring the concepts of generative design to a more approachable mass market,” Smell says.

Autodesk has done exactly that, if its beta release is anything to go by. Automated Modeling is extremely easy to access. Unlike the dedicated workspace for generative design, hidden away in a menu, Automated Modeling exists right alongside the standard CAD commands in Fusion 360. It’s impossible to miss. And it’s so easy to use that a complete CAD novice could get started within minutes. It’s so quick that they’d see the results in just a few more. Processing takes place in the cloud, so users don’t have to worry about taxing their systems—and apart from the standard fair use policy, there are no usage limits and no fees to download Automated Models.

All of this adds up to a version of generative design that engineers might actually use, and use often. And once they get hooked on automation, the generative design extension could start to look tempting—perhaps too tempting to resist.

Written by

Michael Alba

Michael is a senior editor at He covers computer hardware, design software, electronics, and more. Michael holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Alberta.