Or ‘Autodesk Fusion 360 Review: An Outsiders Opinion’

Before I get into this Autodesk Fusion 360 Review, I should let you know that I’ve been using various CAD systems for over 20 years now, but until recently, have never touched an Autodesk product.  This is not because of any prejudice that I had against them, but just because of the companies and the industry that I have been in either required or desired something different.

Whenever I told anyone that I worked with a CAD system, they would automatically say “oh, like AutoCAD?” And I would say “sure, sort of.”  The point is that most everyone has heard of AutoCAD, even if they don’t know what it is.

Autodesk’s AutoCAD has a market share of something like 85%, so I guess I have been on the outside looking in for all of these years.

Searching for the Right CAD System

Throughout these 20 plus years, I have always been on the lookout for an inexpensive 3D CAD system that I could use at home to design woodworking projects.  I was almost always disappointed with what I found.

This is usually because the high-end systems that I use at work have spoiled me.  I suppose it really wasn’t fair of me to compare CAD systems that cost less that $500 to ones that I use at work that cost more than $10,000.

Early last fall I stumbled upon Autodesk’s Fusion 360.  It looks like it has been around since 2012, but I didn’t come across it until last year.  Shame on me.  I wish I had known about it earlier.

What does Fusion 360 offer

Prior to finding Fusion 360, I had been using Sketchup from Trimble to design my projects.  Sketchup has a lot of good qualities, especially the price (Free), but it also lacked some of the high-end features that I was looking for in a 3D CAD system.  Remember, I’m spoiled.

By default, Sketchup is not parametric, and there is not a CAM (Computer Aided Machining) module to it.  You can add these features through 3rd party plugins or extensions, but they are not a part of the base software.

Last fall, I had purchased a 3D CNC Router and I was looking for CAM  software to program it with.  That’s when I came across Fusion 360 from Autodesk.

Parametric Design

Fusion 360 is sort of a ‘one package that does it all’ kind of CAD system.  It offers a lot of high-end CAD features at a low-end price. It offers everything from 3D freeform modeling & sculpting to sketch based solid modeling to 3 axis machining and drafting.  Parametric design

It is completely parametric.  This was actually the feature that I was searching for when I came across it.  Something that I have long been able to do in the high-end CAD systems at my day job is to be able to create a sketch, dimension the sketch, and then assign either values, equations, or parameters to the dimensions.

I then can use this sketch to create solid geometry.  Once this is done, if I need to, I can change my solid geometry simply by changing a sketch dimension or changing the value of a parameter.  The solid geometry will update automatically reflecting my change.  My geometry is parameter driven, hence the term ‘parametric’.

CAM (Computer Aided Machining)

Fusion 360 CNCLike I said earlier, I was looking for a software to program my new CNC router, and that search led me to Fusion 360.  It is capable of 2, 2.5, & 3 Axis machining.  Its CAM module is pretty robust, at least for the price (which I’ll get to in a bit).

The CAM module is parametric as well.  If you change your model in some way, the toolpath’s created in the CAM module will update to reflect the change.  This is exactly what I wanted.

Autodesk Fusion 360 Features

The main requirements that I was looking for in a CAD/CAM system were:  3D parametric design, a robust sketcher, and a CAM module.  Autodesk Fusion 360 offers these and a whole lot more.

Here is a complete list of Autodesk Fusion 360 features:

  • Freeform modeling & sculpting
  • Solid modeling
  • Parametric modeling
  • Mesh modeling
  • Simulation & testing
  • Data translation
  • Assembly modeling
  • Joints & motion studies
  • Rendering
  • Animations
  • 2, 2.5, & 3 Axis machining
  • 3D printing utility
  • Drawing
  • Distributed design
  • Synchronous design reviews
  • Track, comment, and share
  • Version management
  • Mobile viewing & management
  • Share or publish data & designs
  • API extensibility
  • Design branching & merging

There are a lot of CAD systems out there with similar features, but one thing that sets Fusion 360 apart is the fact that it is cloud-based.  What this means is that all of your files are stored and retrieved from the cloud, which means that you don’t have to worry about large files taking up valuable space on your hard drive.

There is also a free mobile app for viewing your files on your smartphone or tablet,

System Requirements

The basic system requirements are not overly demanding.  Their biggest requirement is that you run it on a 64-bit computer.  Speaking from experience, however, the more horsepower the better.  I have been running it on an older Sony Vaio Laptop, which is a 64-bit system.  You can see my specs below.Vaio Specs

I do need some more horsepower to run Fusion 360.  It can take a full 5 minutes for it to start up on my machine.  Also, if my models get too complex it really bogs it down.

By comparison, I ran it on my son’s gaming computer with the following specs:

CyberPowerPC Specs

I had no problems running it whatsoever.  I sometimes get up early just so I can use his computer to design and program things.

I might just have to confiscate it from him.  I’m not sure why he gets a better computer than me anyway.  I mean, so what if he bought it himself….   😕   Just kidding…  maybe..

My Favorite Fusion 360 Feature

My favorite Fusion 360 feature is the pricing strategy that Autodesk has adopted.  Fusion 360 is FREE for not only students, but enthusiasts, hobbyists, and startups.  This is awesome!!

According to their website:

A free 1-year startup license is also available for hobbyists, enthusiasts, makers, and emerging businesses that make less than US$100,000 in revenue per year. At the end of 1 year, you can reselect the startup entitlement or transition to a commercial entitlement.”

So as long as you make less that $100,000 (US dollars) in revenue, the software is FREE.  If you do make more than that, well, it’s only $300 a year for a subscription.

From what I can tell, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

Have you used Fusion 360?  What are your thoughts on it?  Let me know your experience below.

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