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Fusion for Newbies

What Is Fusion 360? – Simply Explained

Picture of Darko Izgarevic
by Darko Izgarevic
Nov 13, 2019
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Fusion 360 is one of the most popular CAD tools available for hobbyists due to its capabilities. Explore this guide explaining what Fusion 360 is in this guide.

What Is Fusion 360?

Just Another CAD Tool?

Functions of Fusion 360
Fusion 360 offers many tools and functions (Source: Autodesk)

Fusion 360 is a CAD tool by industry giant Autodesk, a company that needs no introduction. From the creators of industry-standard tools like AutoCAD and Inventor comes a new class of modeling software aimed at hobbyists: Fusion 360.

This is a tool that’s become massively popular in the hobbyist 3D printing community, so you’ve probably heard of it at least in passing. But what exactly is Fusion 360? With this article, we seek to answer that question. After briefly touching on application areas and pricing, we’ll launch into what Fusion 360 is capable of, covering all of its primary workspaces.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Broad Applications

The automotive industry is just one industry where Fusion 360 can be used
The automotive industry is just one industry where Fusion 360 can be used (Source: solidsmack.com)

Fusion 360 is an excellent tool for the precise modeling of 2D and 3D objects, but you can do much more with it, such as animate your designs, render objects, simulate loads, and even prepare models for CNC machining. Many small and large businesses use the platform for designing and prototyping their products, as Fusion 360 offers CAD, CAM, and CAE possibilities.

Once you get used to the interface and commands (which takes some time), your work process will be limited only by your imagination.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Pricing

The Fusion 360 interface is similar to advanced modeling tools
The Fusion 360 interface is similar to advanced modeling tools (Source: solidsmack.com)

If you’re new to CAD software, Fusion 360 might be the best place to start your modeling adventure. As a hobbyist, student, or even an entrepreneur, you could qualify for a free license. You can use Fusion 360 for free if you’re

  • a student or educator, in which case you can obtain a three-year subscription;
  • engaged in a hobby business and your revenue doesn’t surpass more than 100,000 USD annually; or
  • using it for your personal projects outside of your primary business.

If you don’t fit any of the cases above, you can still acquire it with an annual subscription of $495/year (or $60/month).

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What Is Fusion 360?

Design

A Raspberry Pi case made in Fusion 360
A Raspberry Pi case made in Fusion 360 (Source: Autodesk)

In Fusion 360, there are several working environments, each providing the user with distinctive features and options. When you open Fusion 360, the first thing you see is a blank modeling plane and a design toolbar, since the Design environment is used by default. (You can switch environments in the top left corner of the screen.)

3D geometry in this tool is created using sketches, and you can make one using the “Create Sketch” button in the top left. You must first choose a plane for the sketch, then draw the 2D sketch using lines, splines, curves, and other simple 2D elements.

If you want to strengthen your skills, check out some exercises you can try.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Manufacture

Machining an object in Fusion 360
Machining an object in Fusion 360 (Source: solidsmack.com)

If you want your object to be produced on a CNC machine, Fusion 360 has an excellent feature for it. Computer-aided machining (CAM) is a feature supported natively in Fusion 360.

If you want to make cuts, you can choose tools provided by the software or add your own with attributes of a tool you already own. After you generate the toolpath, you can simulate and watch how will your model be created and, in turn, avoid any problems that might occur during actual machining.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Render

You can produce some realistic visualizations of your product in Fusion 360
You can produce some realistic visualizations of your product in Fusion 360 (Source: Autodesk)

When you create your object, you’ll probably want to see how your object will look in real life. The Render environment provides tools that make your model seem more realistic.

You can give specific material attributes to your model. For example, you can set your solid bodies to be “made of” marble, wood, various metals, glass, and more. The rendering can be improved with various plug-ins (like KeyShot) for an even more photo-realistic result.

Learn more about achieving realistic renders with Autodesk’s resources.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Animation

When you leave your engine running in Fusion 360
When you leave your engine running in Fusion 360 (Source: inven.co.kr)

This one should be self-explanatory: Fusion 360 supports key frame animation, so you can make all kinds of animations for your assemblies, like engines, gearboxes, and more.

Using the Transform tool, you can move your components in order to animate them in a timeline. Just keep in mind that the organization of your bodies matters here, and complex animations should probably be done in another tool specifically for animation. In general, Fusion 360’s animation feature is best-suited for simple visualization.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Simulation

Load simulation in Fusion 360
Load simulation in Fusion 360 (Source: Autodesk)

When you know your prototype’s weight isn’t distributed equally and you worry that loads can have a negative impact on the final product, that’s when you should create a simulation and check for critical spots. Here, you can make a study of different load types or stresses and understand how your product performs in real life. Multiple variables can be manipulated, including static stress, modal frequencies, temperatures, thermal stress, structural buckling, and nonlinear static stress.

If your prototype should withstand a lot of pressure, this is definitely a useful environment, and it’s usually used by experienced engineers. Learn more using Autodesk’s resources.

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What Is Fusion 360?

Clouds Ahead

A complex STL part in Fusion 360
A complex STL part in Fusion 360 (Source: Autodesk)

Fusion 360 is a cloud modeling tool, so when you save your models, they’re actually being stored in a server and not on your computer. If you want them on your hard drive, you’ll need to export them after saving. This is also a way to get your models converted to STL or OBJ files.

Another useful feature of Fusion 360 as an online platform is that you can view your models on any device connected to the web. There are mobile apps available for iOS and Android that enable users to review models remotely, which in return eases team collaboration.

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What Is Fusion 360?

In Closing

Fusion 360 can produce some organic geometry, too
Fusion 360 can produce some organic geometry, too (Source: autodesk.blogs.com)

Naturally, Fusion 360 is just one of many 3D modeling programs out there. If you want a better grasp on how it performs relative to some of the other big players, check out our comparison articles:

Practice makes perfect, so if you haven’t already, download Fusion 360, give it a try and design something while your ideas are hot!

(Lead image source: Autodesk)

License: The text of "What Is Fusion 360? – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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