Is Now the Time to Invest in Fusion 360?

A look at how Autodesk’s design and manufacturing SaaS platform is different from traditional software tools.

Autodesk has sponsored this post.

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Is your CAM software too sticky? Many manufacturers invest in CAM software and its associated post processors, training staff on the solution, setting up automation routines, and generally doing whatever is necessary to customize the off-the-shelf software to their operations. With so much time and money spent on the product, it becomes harder to waste all that effort by switching to other software solutions. They get stuck.

Why then are a flood of users switching to Fusion 360? In the last year, Autodesk has seen a significant uptick in the number of commercial subscribers to its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform worldwide—with many of them coming on board for its CAM capabilities.

“It could be that the customer has invested in a mid-range product,” suggested Clinton Perry, Autodesk product marketing manager. “Maybe they’ve invested in software that is over-serving them, going for the high-end 5-axis modular product X for 5-axis machining that they barely use. There might also be a situation where the software doesn’t have CAD modeling capabilities—so they’re being underserved.”

In contrast to legacy solutions, Fusion 360 demonstrates a base level of functionality that caters to a majority of design and manufacturing (D&M) needs. The cloud-based software combines CAD/CAM, PLM, PDM, surfacing, simulation, rendering and more, with extensions available for users who need further specialized tools.

“Fusion 360 is a mature solution that has come at the right time for things like better collaboration,” added Perry. “It’s a sweet spot in terms of providing advanced capabilities with an end-to-end workflow that covers the full breadth of design all the way through to manufacturing and production.”

An Integrated Solution

Most manufacturers purchase multiple point solutions to meet various needs—even to the extent of buying specific pieces of CAM software to support their business.

“The challenges with the traditional approach are that those multiple CAD/CAM systems don’t have particularly good interoperability,” said Perry. “That results in import and export of data, which exposes a huge opportunity for data loss. It also puts a lot more pressure on the workforce. Human mistakes can easily crop up when data gets out of version control.”

That’s not to mention the time and cost of getting multiple solutions up and running, as well as the potential conflict in technical support if process issues cannot be easily pinpointed to any one software product. According to Perry, Fusion 360 approaches integration in a fundamentally different way from other mainstream point solution products.

“Crucially, data is at the center of Fusion 360,” declared Perry. “There is only one definitive model dataset that everybody’s working with. And while we can be using Fusion as a complete solution, if you need to work with other proprietary software products, we can import the datasets from those products using our AnyCAD software—and then have a live connection to associated CAD/CAM data with automatic updates.”

Robert Walker, Autodesk technical marketing manager for manufacturing, was ready with an example. “You could be using Moldflow to verify the design of a part. Within the Fusion 360 environment, if you see an issue on the injection molding side of things—perhaps you’ve simulated and found an unwanted weld mark or sink mark—you can just jump straight back into the design workspace where you created the CAD, make that modification and re-simulate it to check that everything’s okay. Fusion’s integrated environment makes this process a lot easier.”

“We’re not translating data from one place to another,” added Craig Chester, product manager for Fusion 360’s manufacturing division. “It’s not copies of the data, but the same data.”

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

A Collaborative User Experience

In light of COVID-19, remote work has become particularly relevant. Multiple point solutions demonstrate a limited scope for collaboration, with teams relying on emails, Excel spreadsheets, screenshots and phone calls for working together. These are not the most efficient methods, and can slow processes down.

“Because Fusion 360 has data at the center, it’s frictionless collaboration,” advocated Perry. “Everybody has access to data at any time on any device, anywhere in the world. If somebody makes a change within the system, that change is accessible by everybody instantly. Collaboration becomes an order of magnitude more effective within that space.”

By consolidating systems into a single solution, Fusion 360 allows for optimizations to be shared easily across an entire facility. The platform also ensures a common user experience, as opposed to multiple point solutions’ different interfaces and terminologies that negatively impact the learning curve.

“Just because you’ve got domain knowledge or skill in that area doesn’t necessarily mean you can pick up software quickly,” reasoned Walker. “Even simple things like view manipulation—with two completely different software products, it becomes a nightmare because you can’t manipulate the view successfully in one or the other. With Fusion 360, you’re accessing that additional technology within the same interface with the same view manipulation with the same dataset.”

Value for Money

Free trials aside, Fusion 360 comes in at subscription prices as low as $495 a year—which include software updates, technical support, and access to Autodesk’s entire collection of editable post processors.

“That’s incredibly disruptive in the space, compared with CAD/CAM software products that have been around for many years,” expressed Perry. “It’s not unusual for a traditional perpetual software product to cost upwards of $10,000–40,000 just to get up and running. On top of the upfront costs, you’ve got a rolling annual maintenance fee, which generally in the industry is between 10–15 percent. Add to that, you’ve probably purchased multiple point solutions—so the cost goes up almost exponentially.”

Fusion 360’s prices further enhance flexibility when it comes to business needs, in contrast to traditional models where users are locked in on year-long commitments for software that they may only occasionally need to use. If manufacturers require access to deeper technology, they have the option to temporarily unlock Fusion 360’s range of extensions, which include generative design, advanced CNC machining, nesting, fabrication, and additive technology.

“You could invest and divest in these capabilities as your business flexes across the year,” said Perry. “For example, additive manufacturing technology can be incredibly expensive if you go for high-end metal-based additive. Through Fusion 360, we’re democratizing the technology with an extension that could be as little as $1,600 a year. It’s an incredibly high level of affordability for customers that are considering dipping their toe into additive, without making a $50,000–60,000 investment that may end up being a bad business decision for them at the time.”

The flexibility could even go so far as to meet users’ daily needs, with Autodesk recently announcing flex tokens for access to certain capabilities on a daily basis. In Perry’s opinion, this accessibility is what makes Fusion 360 one-of-a-kind.

“Fusion 360 provides enterprise-level capability without the overhead of enterprise-based costs,” asserted Perry. “We’re not the only end-to-end integrated software package on the marketplace, but we are the unique solution in the fact that we position the right amount of capability for the masses to access at a price point that’s affordable.”

Fusion 360 May Have Breadth—But What About Depth?

With Fusion 360 catering to multiple departments within a business—from design, sales and manufacture to metrology and production—one might wonder whether the software ends up dumbing down certain functionality. To address this concern, Autodesk has made a significant number of acquisitions in recent years, including companies like Delcam, Moldflow and CAMplete.

“We have experience taking established, tried-and-tested-and-trusted point solutions, and reimagining their capabilities to say, ‘Could we do this better?’” conveyed Perry.

For instance, Autodesk took Moldflow’s simulation technology and introduced elements such as multi-threading, cloud-based collaboration and visualization. As for other D&M areas, the HSMWorks and Delcam acquisitions allowed Autodesk to offer enhanced CAM machining for 5-axis milling, including the ability for toolpath optimization, inspection and part alignment through PowerInspect. Hole recognition and automatic feature machining came from Autodesk’s FeatureCAM. CNC machining simulation using NC code and G-code files was driven by CAMplete’s acquisition.

“Within our CAM teams, we’ve developed an Autodesk machining kernel inside Fusion’s PowerMill and FeatureCAM,” shared Chester. “We are continually enhancing this, adding new strategies and doing all the fineries with 5-axis machining. Fusion is now sharing that same capability that made PowerMill famous. As and when you need functionality, it gets revealed within the software—as opposed to providing menus with perhaps too many options for a novice user.”

And it goes both ways; Autodesk’s legacy point solution partners often come with their own Fusion 360 access and potential workflows between the products. “If you use PowerInspect, PowerShare or FeatureCAM, you get access to Fusion 360 as part of your subscription as well,” revealed Walker.

“Fusion 360 is a family of products,” Perry summed up.

The Vision for Fusion 360

When it comes to the future of Fusion 360, Autodesk plans to continue investing in automation across design and CNC machining. Generative design is another hot topic where the technology is rapidly evolving.

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

“Fusion 360 is a great solution for collaboration, being a cloud-enabled tool where data is stored centrally—but there’s so much more we could do across teams and time zones,” said Perry. “We’re also recognizing the ability to change the way that CAM software collaborates with the providers of hardware—not just CNC machines, but additive manufacturing machinery too. We could streamline the transfer of data from CAM software to machine tool, maybe investigate ways of streamlining the use of post processors. Maybe even get rid of post processors altogether. There’s all sorts of things we could investigate in the future to try to remove some of the bumps in the road between designing a car and actually manufacturing it.”

To learn more about Autodesk Fusion 360, visit the website.