CAD for Hobbyists: Autodesk Fusion360

fusionSplash
Fusion 360

The final CAD program we will be looking at in this series is Autodesk Fusion 360. At first glance, Onshape and Fusion 360 are rather similar.  Both are  a sketch/feature based modeler where you define a 2D profile and then convert that into a 3D shape.  Both also offer the ability to create an assembly (or collection of parts) without drawing a hard distinction between a part or assembly file.  So what sets Fusion 360 apart from Onshape?

Foremost, Fusion 360 is a desktop application.  This means you do have to install in on your hard drive.  This however, is a double edged sword; while you are tied to having an application installed and taking up hard drive space, you have the ability to work in places where you do not have an internet connection (offline!).  To offset this, your models are continuously being synced to the cloud.  This gives you the ability access your files from any Fusion 360 installation ( no more forgetting the thumb-stick with all of your CAD models on it).

Next, Fusion 360 has additional modeling tools that allow you to work on surfaces or meshes.  These tools allow you to “sculpt” your model into more organic shapes.  The mesh and surfacing tools are also very useful when cleaning up imported 3D models.  Often, when importing a 3rd party CAD model, it comes in as a series of surfaces instead of a solid which can be problematic.  Fusion 360 makes it simple to stitch the surfaces together to convert the component into a true 3D body.

Finally, there are four additional tools included in Fusion 360 that really sets it apart: Rendering, Animation, Simulation, and CAM.  The built in rendering capability allows you to produce somewhat realistic looking concept images of your CAD model (the renderer isn’t as good as the Photoview in Solidworks or a dedicated rendering program, but it’s free and integrated).  The animation feature allows you to show how a mechanism would work in practice.  Simulation gives you the ability to test a components strength before producing it.  This is especially useful to hobbyists who are trying to minimize weight for a component (such as meeting weight requirements for a robot competition).  The CAM (or Computer Aided Machining) feature allows you to generate tool paths for a CNC machine.  This is probably my favorite feature (as I own a small CNC mill) because it will allow me to easily produce the parts I designed.  The CAM feature also allows you to visualize manufacturability (even if you aren’t going to be the person making the part).

Sample Project

When you first launch Fusion 360 it opens a new blank part which makes it super easy to jump right in and start designing a part.  There is no “home” screen, if you close all your open documents, you will still have a new blank part.

The interface uses the now ubiquitous (in Windows anyway) ribbon interface to display commands for the application context you are in (modeling, rendering, CAM, etc.).  The interface also allows for a lot of customization to how it is displayed, hotkeys, etc.  The one customization many users (myself included) will probably fiddle with first is the mouse control options for pan/tilt/zoom (SolidWorks style vs. Inventor style).

Fusion 360 Main Interface
Fusion 360 Main Interface

As with any feature based modeler, the first thing we’re going to want to do to create a new part is start with a sketch.  When you select a new sketch (or alternatively select to create a new sketch entity) Fusion 360 will prompt you to select a plane or a face on which to sketch.

Selecting a Plane on which to Sketch
Selecting a Plane on which to Sketch

To create the body of the bottle opener I am going to use a center point rectangle.  I select it from the sketch drop down menu.  There are also many shortcuts and right click menus that also present many of the same options as the drop down menus.

Sketching A Rectangle
Sketching A Rectangle

You can add dimensions directly when creating a shape, or you can add them after the fact.  Before I put in dimensions I want to change the units for the document from mm to inches.  You can also type the unit directly into the dimension tool if you do not want to change the document’s units.

Selecting Modeling Units
Selecting Modeling Units

As I chose to not add dimensions when I created the part, I will use the dimension tool (hotkey D, or right click menu).

Adding Dimensions to Our Sketch
Adding Dimensions to Our Sketch

With our 2D profile for the bottle opener body complete, I’m going to extrude it into a 3D shape.  I can select extrude from either a drop down menu, right click menu, or the hotkey E.  I typically use the hotkey.

Extruding the bottle opener body
Extruding the bottle opener body

When extruding we have the same options you will be familiar with if you have used SolidWorks or Inventor for any period of time.

Main bottle opener body created
Main bottle opener body created

We now have the main body of the bottle opener created.  We’ll now create a new sketch on the side to create the bottle opener opening.

Adding the bottle opener cutout
Adding the bottle opener cutout

We’ll quickly use lines to rough out the shape of the opening.  We’ll go back and add relationships and dimensions to the sketch to get the desired shape.

Adding new sketch relationships
Adding new sketch relationships

I used parallel and perpendicular constraints to make sure the opening was the proper shape and finished it off by adding dimensions.

Using Cut extrude to create the bottle opener opening
Using Cut extrude to create the bottle opener opening

I again use the E hotkey to create an extrude feature.  Unlike SolidWorks (but similar to Inventor and OnShape) there isn’t a different tool for an extrude vs. a cut extrude.

Using the Hole Feature
Using the Hole Feature

To create the keyring hole, I am going to use the hole tool.  To do this, you need to create a sketch that has a point where you would like to create the hole.  With my sketch created and the location of the hole defined.  I launch the hole creation dialog with the hotkey H.  I can then define different parameters about the hole such as depth and diameter.

Cutting out the keyring hole
Cutting out the keyring hole

With the keyring hole created, all that is left to do is to create the chamfers on the keyring hole.

Selecting the Chamfer Feature
Selecting the Chamfer Feature

The chamfer is easily create by selecting the edges and defining their distance.  A great feature of Fusion 360 is you can drag the arrows that display on a feature while editing it to directly modify the dimension.  This interaction helps you quickly play around and adjust dimensions that you aren’t quite sure about.

Chamfering the Keyring Hole
Chamfering the Keyring Hole

We now have a completed bottle opener.

Completed Bottle Opener
Completed Bottle Opener

Conclusions

Fusion 360 is great option for hobbyists who are looking for a free, fully featured CAD package.  It has all of the modeling options you would find in a professional CAD package such as SolidWorks or Inventor (more advanced features such as sheet metal tools are coming soon!).  If you are coming from one of those programs, you will have no problem picking Fusion 360 up right away and getting started.

I also love that Fusion 360 includes both CAM and simulation into the software.  Both of these features and indispensable to me (and many hobbyists) speeding up my workflow and giving me features that you normally only find in higher end packages.  For example, you don’t get simulation with SolidWorks until you get into the higher tier packages (which cost a ton!) and with Inventor it’s a separate piece of software all together.

Fusion 360 is my go to CAD package for personal use (I still prefer SolidWorks at work).  It has all of the features I could want (well, maybe not all, *cough* wire routing *cough*) while not imposing any limitations on me (such as OnShape’s number of private files limitation).  Combined with the fact that Fusion 360 is constantly being updated (I feel like every time I open it there is an update to install)  Fusion 360 is always getting better.  I highly recommend giving it a try.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *