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You have to hand it to Autodesk, they wiggle their marketing nose and out pops some brand spankin’ new content. I caught their latest What is Fusion 360? video, where they show Fusion 360 doing collaboration, freeform modeling, animation, rendering, simulation, CAD and CAM, claiming, “it’s not any one of those things – It’s ALL of those things”, and so different from what I remember about Fusion 360. They say it’s the “next generation product innovation platform” for Mac, PC, and mobile devices. Catchy name, everything in one place, and the video has a funky beat I can bug out to, so I think it’s time we take a closer look at Fusion 360.

We’re doing a Fusion 360 series. We’ll dig to see if there’s enough depth to warrant the distinction of a fancy new product category. Three years ago, Carl Bass hinted at what Fusion 360 is today in our interview with him. That 1990’s CAD on the cloud isn’t enough. That we need a total solution, including 2D & 3D CAD, CAE, CAM and Data Management (phew!), all in one application. With all that, my assumption was features that are spread thin, basic at best. That’s where I was surprised. Each tool has deeper functionality than modeling apps I’ve used in the past, and there’s one thing in particular that completely blew me away. So, let’s break it down.

Part Modeling

This right here. This is what completely amazes me. It’s what I’ve wanted in 3D modeling. Now the key point here is this: if you use Fusion 360 the same way you used SolidWorks, Inventor, Creo, etc., you’re missing out on the advantages of having parametric, direct, surface, and freeform all in the same tool.

Oh, you didn’t know Fusion had all those types of modeling? Well, I did, and I’m still surprised. The freeform modeling is incredible, but let’s look even deeper. Let’s pick one feature within Fusion’s Sculpt workspace and explore for a moment. Obviously the Edit Form command is how you push / pull your way to form, but what about when you need to transition from one shape to another? The Bridge command creates segments to connect two opposing faces within a body or within two bodies. Once the bridge is created, hit Edit Form and continue defining your shape. When you’re ready to switch back over to parametric features like holes, bosses, or ribs, you simply switch workspaces. Now, here’s where I hit a wall – explaining to you how to do that in SolidWorks. I could do it, but it’s just going to take me much, much longer to do. This ability is an absolute time-saver in Fusion 360.


Assembly Modeling

Top down or multi-body modeling isn’t a new concept, but it’s hardly been adopted as a best practice. Many of us model a part, slam it in an assembly and start vomiting shapes around it. While I enjoy a good purging, you can calm the model vomit and take full advantage of some new features in Fusion 360.

Fusion 360 has a feature called ‘As-Built Joints’ that (WARNING) may lead you to more top down modeling in the future. Don’t fear, that’s how it should be done 🙂 When you design in context of an assembly (top down), the parts are already positioned in the assembly. As a result, you don’t need to “move them” into place. As-Built Joints simply enable the relative motion between the two components. This is a huge difference between constraints (or mates) and joints. With constraints you are removing degrees of freedom, with joints, you are enabling motion. Got it? So, with As-Built Joints you don’t have to take apart your assemblies in order to mate them back together, or strip out all the sketch relations. That’s a huge waste of time and so common in CAD today, be it desktop or cloud.

Oh, and you can use it on imported geometry too. Instead of adding mates to an imported models, fixed groups and As-Built Joints cut the time out of applying all those mates.



This one’s slightly outside my comfort level, but I know my first design is rarely the best design. Simulation. While not everyone needs it, it’s handy for sanity checks, but most software makes set-up and getting results a barrier to broader use. There are two really annoying things here; interferences between components and finding the right balance between mesh density, solve times, and simulation accuracy.

In the Simulation Workspace, there are built in mesh adaptation tools for parts and assemblies, which will completely ignore interference. You can set up contact points with a mix of opacity controls and degree-of-freedom view. Mesh refinement to check for convergence is reduced big-time, and as far as I can tell, zooming, rotating and zooming to find that interference is eliminated.

Now, if you do find something that needs to be adjusted in the part, you can switch over to the Model Workspace and use those direct edit tools we talked about earlier.



Some are fortunate enough to work closely with manufacturing, but this is where one design mistake can cost a lot of time and money. So, in Fusion 360 switch to the CAM Workspace. Under the 3D options there’s an Adaptive Clearing feature. Wow to the wow. Adaptive Clearing is a roughing strategy for clearing large quantities of material. Autodesk claims it reduces part roughing time by an average of 40%, reducing tool wear by half and virtually eliminating tool breaking. All I know is, I can set up different passes in exactly three clicks and run the scenarios past machining.

It takes a completely different approach to calculating roughing toolpaths. Instead of using a maximum stepover distance, Adaptive Clearing lets the you or the machinist specify the Optimal Load of the cutter. Then, Fusion 360 creates the roughing toolpaths that maintain a constant tool load when possible. That’s unique because it guarantees a maximum tool load at all stages of the machining cycle and ensure that wear is uniform across the length of the tool.



The fact that Fusion 360 is a cloud application is secondary to what it enables. First you have the tool capabilities, then you have the Mac and PC compatibility, and also the device/OS accessibility for design, view, markup, or comment. You never have to ask somebody which version of Fusion 360 they are on, which viewer they support, or which neutral file type they accept. You won’t have to mess with email, copies of models, or creating an account to just share a link to a file.

A lot have tried to liken design collaboration to social media, to Facebook or Twitter. You can share this post on either with a click of a button (and you should), but it’s not like that with 3D CAD apps. However, with ‘Share Public Link’ in Fusion 360, it is just as easy. Copy the link, click the option to allow download (f3d, Inventor, IGES, SAT, SMT, STEP, DWG, DXF, STL, or FBX). Copy link. That’s it.

Here’s an example


Product Innovation Platform

Now we come to that fancy name. Product Innovation Platform. What do you think? Is there any merit to Autodesk suggesting that Fusion 360 warrants a discussion that it is more than 3D CAD in the cloud? That it’s an entirely new product development category? Perhaps, but it’s pointless if the feature set within each area (Part and Assembly Modeling, Visualization and Animation, CAE, CAM, and Data Management / Collaboration) isn’t complete enough to produce a product.

So over the next several weeks we’ll dive into each of these areas in order to better understand the entire toolset. I promise, I’ll resist the urge to try and model like I have in other applications. That’s gonna stretch me I’m sure, but it’s the free-form modeling, the joints, the sim, the cam, the collab and all the rest-all of it together-that makes Fusion 360 so powerful. What Autodesk has revealed is that it’s much more than a just CAD app or just a CAM app. That misses the mark completely.

Next week we’ll tackle part modeling. Stay tuned.

You can try Fusion 360 here.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.