Fusion360 Review – I was introduced to Fusion360 through the Engineer vs Designer podcast, which one of the hosts casually included in a list of maker accessible 3D modelling software suites. I gave it a Google, watched the 2 minute pitch video and well, I drink the Koolaid on this one. The tutorials are extensive and well paced and could probably take someone that has never 3D modelled before to 3D printing a god-damned dinosaur in one hungover Sunday. Free if you don’t make too much money off it, cloud based storage and supporting apps for any LCD internet rectangle you own, it seems like the first 3D modelling software designed for the social age.
What is 3D modelling?
If you have never used 3D modelling software (often called Computer Aided Design or “CAD”) before, then this post may be a little confusing. 3D modelling software is used by engineers, designers, architects, artists and makers to create a computer representation of a 3D object. This can be incredibly useful. A model can be shared in 3D form or via 2D drawings, prototyped with 3d printing, laser cutting or traditional model making, mass manufactured with injection moulding or CNC milling… if you want to make something properly a 3D model is always a good place to start.
Fusion 360 is “free for hobbyists, enthusiasts, start-ups and students and emerging businesses that make less than $100,000 revenue per year.” Beyond this, Fusion 360 costs $25 per user per month, with an “Ultimate” package including features such as 5 axis machining and advanced mechanical stress simulations costing USD100/month/user. This is a big deal.
The typical price for a traditional, professional level CAD program is around USD15000 per user per year. When your user base is used to paying 12 dollars a month for all the music ever made, $5000 a year seems like a lot for a 3D design program. Autodesk, the company behind Fusion360 as well as more “traditional” packages like AutoCAD, knows that makers and start-ups cant afford this and are more likely to go for an opensource or even pirated version. I hope they are rewarded for their altruistic price-point with a massive user base that gives them the revenue they need to continue to offer this product.
Coming from a user of more “traditional” programs, the user interface seems just so… fresh! Buttons are kept to a minimum, instead of endless side menus and drop down menus there are just 5 icons with a menu off each of them. I also find that other software has two features that do similar things, because they came up with a better way to do it but “legacy” users would have complained if they got rid of the old feature, so they put both in the next version. And maybe Fusion 360 will get to that cluttered stage in half a decade or so but for now this top-down design is fresh, clean and beautiful to use.
An extensive right click menu makes for quick modelling once you know where things are kept. There are just a few things I’ve struggled with so far. Converting files to STLs for 3D printing, you need to right click the model name in the model tree to get this option, you can’t find in in the “Save As” menu which seems more logical to me. This functionality does let you save individual features or objects in your model as its own STL though which could definitely come in handy. It also seems strange that patching is given its own separate menu outside of the”Model” menu, but how does that saying go? “If you want to make a clean interface omelette you have to break a few lesser-used-menu eggs?”
Solid Modelling vs. Freeform
With a background in engineering I was trained in Solid modelling software; Solidworks and ProEngineer. Solid modelling can be slow and laborious, often every dimension that defines the shape of an object has to be manually defined by the user, shapes are often drawn in 2D and then extruded or revolved to give a 3D model. Freeform modelling (used in Industrial Design programs like Rhinocerous 3D and Atlas Studio Tools) is less native to engineers because it is inherently less defined, but can be very useful for quickly creating geometries that don’t need to be rigidly defined such as aesthetic or ergonomic features. Fusion 360 has the capability to do both, and they work together beautifully.
I found that making organic shapes was easy, just insert a sketch or photo as a guide, and pull push and shape the cells as you would a ball of clay. Geometry like the shower-head pictured, I would instinctively make using solid modelling techniques with a bunch of offset planes and circular sketches. Instead I used a free-form cylinder that I pushed and pulled and rotated until I had the final result. This was very fast, and fantastic for producing concepts, but I would still use solid modelling for more of the model if it was actually manufactured. It excites me way more than it should to have both techniques at my fingertips.
“From a non 3D modeller to 3D printing a god-damned dinosaur in one hungover sunday or less.” Thats the Fusion360 promise.* And with hundreds of videos on their YouTube channel, a video and text based learning centre and a easy to start, easy to follow course on Udemy, I don’t doubt it.
*Not actually promised by Fusion360, made up by me.
Having only made simple models, I can’t speak for how “powerful” the software is, i.e can it deal with complex, large models without crashing or slowing down. It’s run fine so far on my 2011 Asus laptop (a feat in itself), I’ll let you know if the old girl gives up on a more complex file.
Give it a Go!
So whether you’re an experienced modeler who wants to have a go at the fusion between two sides of CAD world, or a novice who’s tired of giving people the same, boring , non 3D printed birthday objects, check out the pitch below and consider giving it a go!