5 steps to embrace Fusion 360
Fusion 360 removes the shackles of unnecessary constraints and dimensions in the early phases of conceptual design and gives you a big fluffy pillow that you can fluff to your heart’s content. This is a different way of designing (the right way if you ask me). If you’re a designer, this is a breath of fresh air, but if you’re an engineer who is coming from the world of traditional modeling where everything has to be defined from the start, it may feel rather…weird.
I was like that once; an engineer who learned SolidWorks in school and everything that I had ever designed needed to be properly GD&T’d to the exact dimensions. There really was no room for freeform creativity, only a “designed to spec” mentality. That’s probably why I never really enjoyed CAD during my engineering days; it was something I had to do, not something I wanted to do. Even with my reluctance, I understand that letting go of what you’ve been taught to do can be a difficult process, so by sharing these 5 steps with you, I hope I’ll be able to inspire you to think differently and experience Fusion 360 with new set of eyes.
1. Break old habits.
Free your mind. Because chances are, you’re a guru at some other high-end CAD package and you’re bringing your knowledge into Fusion 360…or maybe you’re not. If you are, leave that knowledge on your bookshelf like all of your engineering text books, you’ll only need to refer to it when you need specific information. The more traditional camp training you bring to the Fusion 360 ball game, the more you’re going to get frustrated. Come experience the tool with a fresh mind.
2. Explore new ways.
The point is, there’s most likely a better and easier way of getting to a design you want. If you find yourself always starting a design by sketching 2D geometry and then making it 3D with various solid modifying tools, try a different workflow next time, such as starting with a primitive sculpt body, sculpt it, convert it to a brep body, and go from there. The results may surprise you, as it did with me. There were times where the new workflow I went through not only yielded better results visually, but allowed me to be more proficient, more productive, and feel more down-right satisfied. Take this bottle design for example. One would argue that starting with sketches allows you to be as precise as possible from the very get-co. And yes, there is definitely value in that your design will be inherently designed to spec…but does it really need to be? Especially when you’re just trying to see whether you even like your idea in the first place?
3. Go ahead, be creative.
Picture courtesy of Kendrick Hunter
We are all creative, so tools shouldn’t get in the way of our creativity. I’ve heard from designers say that starting a design with dimensions and tolerances inhibits their creativity, their ingenuity, their ability to solve problems. In the time that it took someone to design a bottle fully spec’d out, someone using Fusion 360 would be able to design 3 different variations of their bottle, and really narrow down the aesthetics they want in their design and come to a decision quicker, with none other than than the copy/paste and edit form tool. And hey, If you’re starting from scratch, just go wild. Take a sculpt body and go crazy with the manipulators. It’ll really give you a sense of what each one is meant to do and what role each of them play. If you have a reference image or a sketch of what you want your design to be based off of, bring it into the canvas and model around that. See how close you can get your sculpt body to be next to you reference images. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
4. Precision and control is important, sometimes.
If you need to have specific dimensions in your design, you can still do that with Fusion 360. That’s how I was able to design my Spyderco knife; the entire model was designed using splines sketches, line sketches, and solid modeling tools, based on pre-existing reference images that I pulled off the interwebz and slapped on a design canvas, calibrated to the right scale. The only sculpt body was the back lock spring bar. Even sculpt bodies have dimensions too, and you can set them at your command. If you are going to sculpt (which you should), one of the most helpful tips I’ve ever gotten was from my colleague, Colin.
“When you want more control in your sculpt body, you can always add additional edges or surfaces, yet the more you have, the more you’ll have to deal with those as you evolve your design. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to always end up with the least possible amount of edges and surfaces in your design if you want your design to be nice and smooth.” ~ Colin, Fusion 360 Product Maanger
5. Practice makes excellence.
As the old saying goes, the more you do something, the better you become. The better you become, the more you’ll enjoy doing it. The more you enjoy doing it, well, you know the cycle. I found that the more I sculpted with edit form/modeled with solids, the more I was able to grasp its powers and limitations. I began to realize what designs were perfect for sculpt, and what were absolutely the worst. When parametrics roles around in the near future, I’d be very interested to see how I can expand my knowledge and discover workflows that are perfect for direct modeling as well as parametric modeling.
To me, using Fusion 360 is like driving a Miata: it’s forgiving, it gives you instant gratification, and instead making you a better driver, Fusion 360 makes us engineers better designers, and designers better engineers.
Fusion 360 Product Manager