Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Autodesk Fusion 360 3D CAD reinvented


I am an experienced 3D drafter. In my day to day work I use AutoCAD, Invertor and SOLIDWORKS. I can switch from one to other without major effort. These programs are all very good and well recognized but at the same time very expensive for personal use. All these programs require to have a computer (powerful) loaded and with the licenses. For big projects you need a server to work on collaboration mode and the price of the license per user is several thousands of dollars a year if you need to keep the software up today.

I have tested many open source 3D drafting programs and also  Google SketchUp; some of them pc residents and some cloud based. I did not feel confortable or productive with any of them.

This weekend I downloaded the demo version of Autodesk Fusion 360 and after a couple of hours I registered it and I I fell in love with it. I transferred some of my clocks models to Fusion 360 and started to play around. Then I decided to make a first full drawing of a part, in this case a RC Servo that I will use in a clock. Knowing Inventor the learning process was a piece of cake.

The other good news is that Autodesk Fusion 360 has a very interesting offer:  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.

After finishing the drawing it is necessary to use a program for generate the CAM to be able to mill or fabricate the parts. Mastercam is an excellent program but  too expensive for personal use. I don’t know any good machine shop that does not use Mastercam. This program is the standard.

I use BobCad-Cam V26 as CAM postprocessor  because I bought it during an offer they had last year at a reasonable price, but I need to convert my work to DWG or STEP in order to run BobCad.  The CAD part of BobCad V26 is not as good and flexible as other programs. I know they made a lot of changes in version 27 and probably is much better now but I am not willing to pay more for something I use for hobby and not for work.

Fusion 360 has CAM as part of the package and also has the postprocessor for MACH3 that is the software I use to drive my small CNC. Now the work will be straightforward: Model – CAM – Mill with the same platform.

The next step will be to create a model of a sprocket or wheel and run the cam to learn and test the results with my small CNC machine.


  1. Hi Carlos,

    THIS was really helpful! I'm looking for a reasonable CAD/CAM solution for months now. Tried Sketchup, Rhino to some extend, FreeCAD, looked into Inventor features,... but for a hobbyist these are either crap or too expensive.
    I will definitely give it a look. I found another article which supports your evaluation: https://www.21stcenturywoodworking.com/an-honest-review-of-fusion-360/

    Some questions for you as an experienced designer:
    1. How much is Fusion360 depending on an online connection? I'm very often offline and team development is not required.
    2. I assume all data files can be DLed and stored locally as well? Coming from SW development versioning is my second nature.
    3. I'm currently - besides starting to design wooden clocks - into 2.5D intarsia (something like that just to give you the idea: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/76449). The design process runs from identifying the edges of the pieces, to defining the grain direction, to modeling the organic shape of the surface by sanding, to gluing, and finishing. Normally all steps are done manually but I guess some CAD SW could help getting the pieces under a CNC router and at least get rid of the heavy sanding orgy ;-)
    Now my 3rd question: Would Fusion 360 support modeling a piece and its organic shapes which are limited by its given edges? And will the result really look organic or artificial?

    Thanks again for your valuable insights!

    Michael from Switzerland

    1. Michael,
      1- It has a button for work offline but have not tested it it really depends on a good internet connection. bur in my opinion in my opinion this is not a problem nowadays. You also need a more or less good pc with 64 bit OS and 4 gig RAM not necessary a separate video board.

      2-Yes but I have become a fan of clouds after several HD and backups crashes ;)

      3-Download the demo and follow the tutorial 1 by 1 if you are not an experienced drafter I can tell you that you will be amazed. Once you learn to work with sketches and modeling tools (this is the same for Solidworks, Inventor, Catia and SolidEdge) all your worries will be cleared. Rendering and real appearance is impressive in all these programs. Fusion is as good as any of those advanced programs for very small investment. nut you have to pay the price of a cloud based program and a good internet connection.

    2. I just finished my first test with CAM and Fusion 360. It is a very powerful CAM, easy to learn and to use.

      If you are not familiar with CAM they have good video tutorials, The only problem is that some of the tutorials are with the previous version of Fusion that is slightly different but still very useful.

      The detailed documentation and explanations is very good and covers each aspects the the CAM in the different modes.


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