Industrial-strength parts modeling with a hobbyist-friendly price tag
December 13, 2019

Industrial-strength parts modeling with a hobbyist-friendly price tag

Jeff Eaton | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 10 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User

Overall Satisfaction with Fusion 360

I design 3D printable models for tabletop gaming, and produce one-off 3D printed parts for hobbyists who are prototyping new products. I often collaborate with other members of the local makerspace where a lot of the printing takes place, and Fusion 360 is one of the key tools for the work we do. It has a powerful set of CAD tools for designing precision models, and its hobbyist-friendly licensing terms make it a good choice for designers who want a powerful tool but can't (yet) justify a high-end price tag.
  • Industry standard precision modeling tools
  • Parametric design features for producing multiple variants of similar designs
  • Steep learning curve for users without CAD experience
  • Weak support for organic sculpting
  • Parameterized design makes iterating prototypes much less time consuming
  • Fast turn-around time for individual parts that need to be produced quickly
There are quite a few 3D modeling tools out there, but few of them hit Fusion 360's sweet spot. Blender is powerful (and conveniently open source), but comes with a lifetime's worth of overkill if you're designing parts for printing rather than on-screen animation and graphics. OpenSCAD, a free programmatic modeling tool, is fantastic for simple models but can be a pain once production parts are needed — maintaining precise geometric relationships between components of a model, smoothing and filleting rough edges, etc quickly become an exercise in debugging complex math. AutoCAD is obviously the 800lb gorilla, but its price tag and complexity make it a tough leap when small shops or hobbyists are getting started.

Fusion 360 really does hit the sweet spot; it has powerful parts-modeling tools, plenty of room to grow with high-end mechanical engineering features, and its liberal licensing makes kicking the tires easy to justify.
Support is conducted via internet Q&A boards; newcomers to 3D modeling may find that articulating their questions in the language of CAD software is the tricky part — once they find the right technical term for what they're trying to accomplish, answers come quickly. Autodesk also provides a large library of educational tutorial videos that make the initial process of learning Fusion 360's interface much easier.

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Most of my work with Fusion 360 has focused on its 3D modeling capabilities, and its liberal licensing policies for hobbyists has made it popular in that space. It focuses on a "mechanical engineering" approach to modeling rather than artistic, organic sculpting. While it's less rigid than its big brother AutoCAD, making the most of it will require thinking about the structure of your model rather than simply its appearance.

That emphasis means it's fantastic for producing mechanical parts, and it can simulate how multiple separate parts will interlock and work with each other in 3D printed devices. This makes using it to design hinges and other moving mechanisms orders of magnitudes simpler; it also preserves an ongoing, editable history of the part being modeled. Realizing you need to tweak the tolerances on a part halfway through the design is fairly easy; you can go back any number of steps in the model's creation and modify the parameters used on a specific part, changing a hole's width or a groove's depth without altering any other parts of the model.

The downside of this CAD-like power is that it's much less capable of "sculpting" organic models. Tools like ZBrush, Rhino, and even Blender are a better choice there.