Over the last few years I have come to the belief that the next generation of Engineering tools will be cloud based. Of course, I am not alone in this opinion as Dassault, Autodesk, and Onshape are moving strongly in this direction with their messaging and products. As a member of the Razorleaf Autodesk Services team, I’ve had the opportunity to come up to speed on the newest addition to the Autodesk MCAD arsenal, Fusion 360.
On day one, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. I was prepared for the challenge of learning a new interface, but there was none! The interface is extremely intuitive and if you have ever used CAD before it performs all of the basic functions without much research. The User Interface (UI) is neat and modern, and any questions that I had were easy enough to answer with the surprisingly complete online help. For anything more complex there are copious amounts of tutorial videos and forums available all over the Internet.
I was also surprised at the number of actual customer use cases that are documented. If you follow Autodesk’s YouTube Channel “What our users do“, there are over 75 videos of real customer stories. While you would expect that users are only dipping a proverbial toe into the Fusion 360 offerings, watching these videos will convince you that real companies are using Fusion 360 to make real products and real money.
One case study in particular really brought this production-ready feeling to the surface. SS CAD CAM recently rethought the way they were working with their older tools and has implemented the Fusion 360 platform throughout their operation. SS CAD CAM engineers and field salespeople review parts on a mobile device, work from laptops anywhere, and cut actual parts in the shop using the same data. And all this for a fraction of what they would spend on purchasing conventional software.
Design To Manufacture
There is no doubt that Autodesk has joined the ranks of the Computer-Aided Machining (CAM) giants with their acquisition of Delcam in 2014. Fusion 360 clearly demonstrates a heavy emphasis on their robust machine code capabilities. High Speed Machining (HSM) functionality from Autodesk’s acquisition of HSMworks acquisition shows prominently as the HSMWorks technology was developed from day one with cloud application in mind. Watch this site for a complete post just focusing on Fusion 360 Manufacturing because there is more content than we can fit here.
OK, come on now, what’s missing?
Data management and collaboration utilities are notably missing. This stems from the fact that all data lives online. Models and toolpaths and renderings don’t need to be copied, emailed or even vaulted for security. Your data is just there wherever you are when you want to work, at your customer’s site, in a sales meeting, in the machine shop, or even at the coffee shop. Log onto any new device and your content is there, waiting for you to pick up where you left off. Design branching and versioning are built into the standard flow of the product. Suddenly Fusion Lifecycle Management’s “PLM without PDM” from our previous post makes a lot more sense.
While it may seem like the future, Fusion 360 is closer to mainstream adoption than people may think. First, it’s free to students, emerging businesses, and hobbyists. No need to reread that, yes, it says FREE. And unlike traditional CAD, Fusion 360 will run on virtually any computer hardware. As Universities get rid of costly computer labs (who ever wanted to sit in one of those anyway?), students are switching to Apple MacBooks, Microsoft Surface tablets, and other lightweight, inexpensive systems that just don’t have the horsepower to run conventional CAD.
Subscription Keeps it Simple
But one of the most interesting concepts that Cloud based CAD has going for it is the subscription license model that requires no heavy upfront investment. While that is unpopular with some of the same users that pay for “annual maintenance”, subscription costs can fall into a recurring operating budget category rather than being classified as a dreaded “capital expenditure” that requires high level signoff, justification, and lengthy decision-making cycles. But despite the lack of capital investment, Fusion 360 is not designed only for small start-up companies. The new model for Autodesk sales to large businesses (Enterprise License Agreements) includes Fusion 360 at no additional fee.
After reading this brief review, we’re not trying to tell you to throw out your CAD and jump ship. But you have to admit that there are certainly enough intriguing concepts and features and functions to warrant your own look. Did we mention that Fusion 360 is free for home hobbyists and tinkerers? Yeah, I thought that we did. And yes, we know that you tinker.