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Fusion 360 faculty showcase

Highlighting educators who are helping industrial and mechanical engineering students design in new ways.

Educator of the month: Mitzi R. Vernon

Students go with the flow

Mitzi Vernon, an industrial design professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, introduced students to  Fusion 360 software in the spring of 2014 during her class “rotoform” project. It was the last of 7 exercises in the Form Studio, focusing specifically on rotational form. Professor Vernon realized that Fusion 360 software would be a much more useful tool for this exercise than SolidWorks, since Fusion enables quick and fluid iterations, making it easy for students to prepare physical, low-fidelity prototypes in foam — which was perfect for this assignment.

The project was fairly simple: Students had to craft to perfection a 4 x 4 x 18–inch blank of laminated hardwood before turning it on the lathe. They were required to draw and prototype the form and construct paper templates before turning. To get started, the students were given an afternoon tutorial on Fusion 360. “Fusion seems to be a nimble iterative tool for determining the best options for shaping the blank and for cutting the rotational form into two sections, which was the next requirement in the project,” says Vernon. The students had to make one cut across the form after it was turned, then reassemble the parts in a new way with careful thought about the new intersection. Vernon adds, “This is where Fusion is so agile, unlike more elaborate CAD software that requires a longer learning curve.”

After the project was complete, Vernon asked her students what they found most valuable about using Fusion 360. They shared that they liked the flexibility of changing models and having space for imaginative exploration, as well as the ability to create rapid iterations. They also liked being able to create their initial concept in organic forms rather than spending a lot of time planning before working on it. “They like the improvisational aspect of it,” Vernon adds, “more like molding clay and less about numeric input.”

When asked how using Fusion 360 in her assignments helps her students prepare for their careers, Vernon explained, “I frequently suggest to the students in my portfolio course that they should always have a ‘bag of tricks’ as part of their portfolio. What that means essentially is that they need to be able to explain their work in multiple and diverse ways, depending on the situation. I suggest that the more diverse their skill set, the more diverse their overall portfolio. I think it is best for the students to understand the root capability of CAD so that they can move among various software platforms with ease. I also think it is imperative that students are iterative, and have multiple ways of being so in any conceptual process.”

RotoSample student project 1

RotoSample student project 2

Faculty profile

Name: Mitzi R. Vernon

Title: Professor

School: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Country: USA

Course name: Industrial Design LAB II (a.k.a. the Form Studio)

Course level: Sophomore


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We salute faculty who are helping industrial and mechanical design students take the next step in design innovation. We applaud educators who provide opportunities for students to work in teams to deliver better class assignments that are more aligned with the industry’s expectations. And to show our gratitude for the great work being done out there, each month we will feature an innovative leader who uses Fusion 360 software in coursework, giving students the power to design faster, work anywhere, and share with anyone.

Fusion 360 combines industrial and mechanical design in a single, intuitive cloud-based software solution. Fusion 360 helps users to define organic shapes, making product design and ideation easier and faster for students by streamlining the design, collaboration, and data management process.

We would like to extend an opportunity for faculty to publicly showcase how they have successfully integrated digital design using Fusion 360 into their curriculum. Stories will be selected for groundbreaking innovation in academia and will be featured here.

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