CAD Is About Design, but It Should Be About Manufacturing

Mickey Wakefield May 27, 2021 3 min read

Our global community manager Mickey Wakefield takes a walk down CAD memory lane and gives a look at how tools like the sheet metal workspace and generative design in Fusion 360 make the design process more manufacturing aware.


You know those moments that just stick with you, even years later? Early on in my career, I created a braking system for a roll of heavy braided cable. I was the kid from university who knew how to use CAD, so I quickly created a simple bracket that held a hydraulic brake system paired with a disk—similar to what might be in a car. In addition to designing solutions like this, I often had to install the things I made. For this particular project, I still remember the feeling of embarrassment when one of my older colleagues called me to tell me that he would need help loading the bracket I designed into his truck because he couldn’t lift it alone.

In my naive attachment to my computer, I had become removed from the reality of what I was drawing. I had specified a bracket of steel. I was 21 and had never picked up a steel block, so it didn’t occur to me that my bracket weighed more than 400 lbs. My skills and tools weren’t poor or anything—I could have easily calculated the weight of my part thanks to my software (AutoCAD, yay!). But I didn’t think to look.

The ease of CAD (in the 90s, no less) made for inferior results in the real world. If I had been forced to physically lift the workpiece from storage, I would have never made that part in the first place. Autodesk recognizes this problem and has long delivered tools that help designers experience parts before they’re real. We’ve also developed software that understands the relationship between a part’s function and cost when it’s designed in the system. We allow users to simulate the function of mechanical assemblies before the manufacturing process begins.

We’ve also created the ability to simulate plastic fill-in molds, allowing the engineer to see if their manufacturing process will succeed. Indeed, the best place to see process-aware CAD is in the sheet metal environment of Fusion 360. This environment essentially understands how a sheet metal part is made, so it’s a unique design for manufacturing enabled workspace.

What if future design tools could apply principles of sheet metal CAD creation to other manufacturing processes? Wouldn’t it be grand if young engineers were unable to create sharp corners on an internal pocket? (If you don’t know what this means, your machinist is laughing at you). What about software that automatically calculates parting lines and ensured part release from a mold with no extra input needed? How about a software that could change rounds to chamfers or not allow you to use expensive artifacts of digital design that are easy to model but hard to make?

The astute will undoubtedly have recognized the design intent included with Autodesk generative design in Fusion 360 and the potential it brings. Generative design offers fully automated manufacturing conditions applied to computer-generated models. The possibilities of intelligent design algorithms with broader applications of this technology are obvious.

Though I am a big believer in the future of algorithmic design, it’s also clear that designing purely by coding is not the only way forward. For example, the design process often influences the shape of a design. In other words, you only know what you want to make once you start trying to make it. For this reason, the design for manufacturing intelligence shown by workspaces like the sheet metal workspace in Fusion 360 offers a glimpse of how we might be able to make the design process more manufacturing aware, resulting in better outcomes for product and machine designers.

Ready to explore the powers of an integrated, cloud-based CAD/CAM software? Download Fusion 360 to experience the sheet metal workspace, generative design and more.


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