Last week I posted about the yarn winder I’m intending to make from an old drill. I’m expecting to have to 3D print some plastic parts for my winder, and in preparation for that I’ve been learning a 3D CAD (computer aided design) program called Fusion 360. In the past I’ve used SketchUp when I wanted to model things on a computer before building them, and I think SketchUp will still be useful for building/architecture-type things – what would it look like if we extended the kitchen, for example. But since I got into 3D printing I have begun to recognise its limitations. I had a brief dabble in Tinkercad, a simple CAD system aimed at novices, and soon rejected that as even more limited. Then someone whose 3D printing skills I admire recommended Fusion 360, which is produced by the same company (Autodesk) as Tinkercad but is a far more sophisticated product.
I’d looked at Fusion 360 before and rejected it because it’s expensive to buy. What I hadn’t realised was that it’s free (for now, at least) to students, teachers, hobbyists and even small businesses. And, by default, the models you create are stored in the cloud instead of cluttering up your hard drive, which is important because 3D design files can be large. So I downloaded the software a few weeks ago and have been working my way through various online tutorials and experimenting with it ever since. Actually, downloading is not even required nowadays, there’s a browser version of it too.
So, what do I think of Fusion 360, after using it for a while? Well, simple it ain’t. I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is completely new to 3D design software, they’d be completely overwhelmed by the myriad possibilities, the complexity, the unfamiliar terms (T-splines, primitives, meshes, etc) and the menus-within-menus. I’ve been struggling to get things to work as expected, but part of the problem is (I suspect) that my 3-year-old laptop isn’t completely up to the job, added to which the various tutorials – even those produced by Autodesk – are not kept up to date. Often a tool isn’t accessed in the way that the tutorial says it is, and when I track it down I find that it has changed subtly and it isn’t always clear how to use it. The program hangs every now and again, possibly because there isn’t really enough memory available to run it, or possibly just because it’s glitchy. When something refuses to behave I find that saving the file, or closing it and then reopening it, or just stopping to make a cup of tea, will usually improve matters. I’m guessing that the browser version would be even worse.
Three weeks in, I no longer feel as frustrated by all of the issues I’ve been experiencing because I’ve learned how to work around most of them. And I am very impressed by the power of this software, especially given that those nice people at Autodesk are prepared to let us crafters and hobbyists use it for free. One of the first exercises I did was to model a table lamp (this is from the free Instructables 3D Design class, if you’re interested – Instructables is also owned by Autodesk). The quality of the photo realistic, cloud-rendered images is pretty amazing.
If you’re interested in learning about 3-D design/manufacture, I’d say give Fusion 360 a try. But you will have to put the effort in to become sufficiently familiar with it for it to be useful.