Well, well, well. We have quite a cocktail coming together here. We’ve poured in some Fusion 360 part modeling and assembly features, and squeezed in a little simulation. Now it’s time to add that dash of collaboration. On the CAD capability excitement meter, this gets about a two. The geekiest of the geeks don’t even get excited about collaboration. (Maybe if we dressed it in jeggings and a Ferrari that would change. No?) Yet, collaboration is likely the aspect that is driving the most profound changes in CAD software today. Features, UI, versions control? That all has to be thought about as any number of simultaneous users viewing and working with the CAD data, not just one.
So in an effort to make this post a bit more exciting, let’s try something interesting. Think of someone in your life who isn’t an engineer. Now, think of them eating a stick of butter. Now, share the project you are working on. Yes, right NOW. You have 5 minutes. Go. No friends? That’s ok. Do what I did and check your parent’s Facebook page.
Like me, I’m sure you’re going through a mental checklist on data preparation, files sizes, suppress/hidden/config states. The comical reality is that this, that process, is not a difficult task for us–We deal with it all. the. damn. time. The fact that we have to “deal with it” at all is the decades old lip rot of the cad software industry. And it’s lookin’ pretty gnarly. So, I’m sitting here, thinking what would be needed to get rid of that mental checklist–Accessibility? Shareability? Securability? What else? Any with fewer than five syllables? Simultaneous Viewing? I guess not. Ahh, Project Info? Version Control? There we go. So, let’s explore what Autodesk is doing in Fusion 360 with regard to collaboration and see if it picks the list of features that get rid of those mental data prep lists.
Data Access Anywhere
Ok, this is at the top of my list. I’ve harped on accessibility for years. Not only data accessibility, but the ability to access the software. (How fast can you get and install [enter traditional CAD software of choice here]?) But let’s focus on accessing the data. Once a project is saved in Fusion 360, the data can be accessed through Fusion 360 of course, but also A360, Fusion 360 Mobile or through a web browser. And to my surprise, and the delight of my network drive that’s bursting at the seams, I don’t have to configure desktop/network access – I can access the data anytime on any device, log in on another laptop and access the same data there. This is something we don’t think about, unless we realize we have it. I’m writing this article in Google Docs. I started on my laptop, switched to my desktop, checked for comments on my tablet. I think were just beginning to see what the same accessibility adds for product development.
Share With Others
As a result of being able to access your data anywhere on any device, you can share that data with others just as quickly with Share Public Link. Share Link is as simple in execution as it is in concept (a rare occurrence in software apparently). Right from within the Fusion 360 Data Panel, right-click on a file and choose Share Public Link, or with a model open click File, Share, Share Public Link. Only a ‘Share’ button on your keyboard would make it faster. A dialog will appear with a link, hit Copy, set a password and make it downloadable if you like, and send it to your co-worker, neighbor, or friend who acts totally interested in what you do.
What does that allow? From that one link, the recipient has the ability to view the file directly from a browser (no login or account creation required), and gives them the ability to download a file type of their choosing just in case they wanted to work it into their design. What? An example?
Live Review is an interactive, real-time design review feature that takes the GoTo out of the Meeting. (Ha! Always wanted to use that.) Updates are streamed live, in real time–I see what you’re doing, you see what I’m doing. You can give control to anyone on the Live Review session. Share markups and move to action more quickly than playing the “imagine if you will” game.
Redline and Markup
This wasn’t on my list, but I’ll add it here. The power of the red pen. Giddy are those with the authority to deem a person’s entire afternoon of work a steamy pile of wasted effort, and display it in a merciless, rage-induced markup session of passive aggressive delight. Therapy session anyone? *hands go up* Given my disposition on redlines, why then would I even bring it up? Well, it’s not so much that redline and markup tools are available in Fusion 360–that’s hardly ground-breaking–But rather, it’s how they applied it to make it more useful.
Each time a redline is added to a design, a comment is added to the comment stream associated to the project. The view orientation is saved along with it, each of the comments are version-specific and always saved, never lost in a series of email-based decisions with attachments never seen by the rest of the team.
Where Used & Related Data
This is a big one for me. With data being at the center of Fusion 360, Autodesk has done some interesting things to illustrate data that is entirely impossible in Windows Explorer. In Fusion 360 (and tell me if I explain this wrong), several external relationships are created when creating a design. It automatically understands and displays these parent-child relationships in the browser, and maintains them no matter what. I don’t fully understand it, but that’s the beauty of database modeling systems. I rename a file (even while open), it updates, and relationships stay intact. In a desktop, file-based system, you would get all sorts of warnings.
So, when I have a model open, I can create renderings, pumped out a simulation, or create a CAM toolpath. I can share all or any of these with co-workers just by sharing the one model. And if I have a ton of extra image files, sim results, etc., Fusion 360 stores all of those with the design and keeps them organized with the correct version. All of it can be accessed when the model is open and seen clearly on A360 in the browser. And yes, I can upload other documents (images, docs, specs, etc.) within the same project, and while I can’t view these in Fusion 360 yet (a recommendation I’ll make to them), I can organize them appropriately and view them in A360.
Branching and Merging
I’ve mentioned this before, but the Fusion 360 roadmap is public, out there for everyone to see what they are working on. This is where they publish what’s coming to the product next and such a great way to keep users connected to the development team. I don’t think I’ve seen anything laid out so transparent by another modeling software developer.
One nugget I pulled out of this list was Branching & Merging (pan down to the Data Management section). A hot item apparently. They showed how this will work back in April. Team members can create branches to design in parallel. A branch is like a copy, a version. You can work on your branch/version independent of others in the design team. When a project milestone hits, the branch/version can be merged and Fusion 360 will provide the option for updated parts from any branch/version to be brought into the main design.
So, this is where I come back and look at Autodesk’ claim that Fusion 360 is more than just CAD in the Cloud. Yeah, I’m “new to Fusion 360.” I “haven’t used it” in “ages.” I “don’t let my scabs heal.” But the more I become familiar with it, the more it stands out as a tool I want to have on my product development arsenal. Maybe they would consider changing the fancy “Product Innovation Platform” label for Fusion 360 to “Product Innovation Arsenal”. Has a nice ring to it, imo. What I find interesting about Fusion 360 is how they’ve approached a lot of the traditional problems we face inside (and outside) of CAD software, turned them on their head and are taking the opportunity to approach it all a little differently.
Are these all the features that improve collaboration? There are so many things on their roadmap, I’m sure there’s more to come. You can try Fusion 360 here.