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Is Autodesk Fusion 360 Ultimate Ready For The Big Time?

A couple of weeks ago I got to spend an hour with Kevin Schneider, Director Fusion 360 at Autodesk, about the September release of his cloud based CAD tool, as well as covering a few forward looking areas for the service. I was excited to get this opportunity, since I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to get stuck into Fusion 360 especially with some of the recent changes. This way Kevin could show me in real time where the product is and the kind of things it’s now capable of.

iphone_ipad_mbp_fusion360Kevin started by explaining where Fusion 360 is coming from as a product, why it was created. As any good product should, Fusion 360 was born from the need to address the changing landscape within the manufacturing industry globally. Increasingly, crowd sourcing is gaining popularity, but not just with well known implementations like the GrabCAD competitions or the interesting way in which Local Motors has built itself around using a community of designers and engineers to work on vehicle projects. Businesses and at this stage mostly corporations are taking the crowd sourcing ethos and applying it internally, they are using their biggest asset, their staff, to help guide and improve their products and services on a scale previously considered a logistical nightmare. We have social media to thank for the change in mindset there. Tools born from that movement and increasingly simplified user experiences mean that data can be collected and compiled in a coordinated way.

Which brings us to the next shift, the products and tools we use everyday are becoming increasingly connected, which means more and more electronics are being used. With electronics comes software, and yet more ways to not only produce, but consume the data. This data can then be used to improve the products UX in realtime, and / or filter back to the OEM so they can improve the next iteration of the software or the physical product itself. If you haven’t clicked yet, this is what the ‘Internet of Things’ is all about. Along with an increasing number of computer aided manufacturing techniques available, their decreasing cost and ease of use, manufacturing is at the beginning of a golden age of new ideas and change.

The next issue within the industry were the available tool sets attempting to solve these issues. When companies try to implement these independent and fragmented solutions, it ultimately leads to a disconnect within the tools themselves and consequently the processes revolving around them.

During extensive market research, Autodesk learnt two big things from industry:

  1. Teams were resonating a need to collaborate, and reiterated that there is no difference collaborating between cube walls & oceans. The value of collaboration is always the same. Clearly it was a pervasive problem to solve; Share with Anyone / Work anywhere!
  2. The connection between mechanical and industrial design had historically been lacking. Combining the two increases iteration and data sharing. Increasing fluidity and access to data across departments in the organization. Increase productivity and decrease cost.

Recent history

macbookpro_model_for_masFusion 360 launched as a paid service at the end of June last year. That makes the product only 15 months old… 15 months old!! I don’t know about you, but it feels like a product which is much older. Sure it was in beta and tech preview for 7 months prior to that, but that isn’t a long time either. So if you want to include that time, it’s still less than 2 years old. I was too young at the time, but I bet SOLIDWORKS and Inventor weren’t this feature rich and capable after 2 years?

It’s the platform the product is built on which has allowed this explosive development, along with the refreshingly open approach from the team, truly listening to users and a willingness to admit and correct mistakes. These ingredients have lead to 10 major releases in the last 12 months! Autodesk must be leading the industry with this rapid response and Ideastation driven development rate. The September release contained over 50 Customer Driven improvements alone.

Collaboration scale

Kevin went on to demonstrate some real world examples of just how wide Fusion’s collaboration net can be cast. Currently the largest project he is involved in, has 270 members, although it’s Open Source no details can be shared at this stage. I didn’t get to see it either, but I do wonder if it has something to do with Autodesk’s SPARK 3D printer or maybe a foundational project with Local Motors? I’m just speculating. He was able to show me an open source UAV project targeted for Africa. They are trying to make surveillance of wildlife reserves more expansive, their main target as this stage is Rhino surveillance, that project has 70 stakeholders, all part of the project. I asked him if he could show me some models, which he was immediately able to do via the new side bar, it was seamless. Prior to this update he would have had to switch tabs and dig about in different pages to find what he needed to show me. The new side bar has clearly reset the balance between the CAD tool and collaboration. However, if you do still need the old style view, you can opt to view the data or model in your browser. This launches the new Autodesk 360 site, My Hub, this means you can now be more productive with dual monitors. When you use Autodesk Vault with Inventor or AutoCAD, you will often have the CAD application on one screen, then your data management solution on the other. With this update, it’s expected you would have My Hub displayed in your browser on one screen and Fusion 360 on the other. Ideal!

Who’s using it?

Modbot

Modbot Robotic Arm assembly AnimationCredit: Modbot inc

Modbot was formed by two Aussie blokes, Adam and Daniel, with the aim to challenge the light industrial medical robots industry. Each robot is made out of 3 basic components you can buy in different sizes. As a result they can focus production on a larger quantity or fewer components and produce ‘very’ cheap robotic solutions. All of this had been designed in Fusion 360! The simplicity is pure art.

Lumitoro

Lumitoro fusion 360 screen shotCredit: Lumitoro

This company has received lots of press in Sweden for their products and the way they are creating high end jewellery. Their products are all laser sintered and then plated with semi precious materials. It’s stunning work and a great example of how old school tactile approaches can be combined with modern CAD / CAM work flows, in this case enabled with Autodesk tools. I bet these guys are hoping the SPARK platform will become integrated in Fusion 360.

Macotuba

Macotuba design Tuberculosis testerCredit: Macotuba

This innovative team have used Fusion 360 to design a low cost Tuberculosis tester. Using the Android operating system, to run an app it leverages the ‘Cloud’ to perform calculations on the data supplied from this hand held device. The hope is the low costs and distribution simplicity will go a long way towards increasing the diagnosis rates for on of the great silent killers. These guys are looking for funding, they seem like ideal Microsoft foundation candidates!

Effortless Visualization

The next element Kevin demonstrated took me by surprise. Within the modelling environment, you are able to create saved views, this capture both view positions and visual changes, such as colour and texture options. Inventor has a similar feature called View Representations, so I didn’t see this as a big deal. But. Then he switched over to My Hub, and told me to imagine I’d been sent a share link to this model. On the model page, you have access to one thumbnail per saved view. Again, not all that impressive, but when he clicked on these thumbnails, a larger viewing window appears next to them containing a medium resolution rendering! That surprised me, they were very good quality and definitely good enough to convey design intent or to make decisions regarding style changes. These renderings happen on the fly and are included as part of your monthly or annual subscription. So what if you want high resolution renders? or you want your client to pick which view they want rendered at high res? Well they can, right within that large preview window. Users can even change or select settings to control the resulting render! Now that is a great example of how the power of the cloud can be leveraged. However, these high resolution renders do consume cloud credits, which is to be expected.

September Updates

  • Adds control over hard & soft edge control in a single T-Splines form.
  • Improved surfacing tools – Control curves and splines, perfect G2 control, improved spline control and lofting take offs.
  • Zebra surface analysis tool improvements – the view style is now adjustable, which means you could use it during modelling if you wanted to.
  • The Javascript API has been released!!
    • You can build dialogs, and there are some samples to get you started.
    • They’ve included a development environment to use out of the box.
    • A Python API should be available by the end of October with a C++ version appearing by the December / January time frame.
  • Create public link is now available, these launch the Autodesk 360 viewer within a browser window.
    • The viewer provides the ability to download the file in any of the available formats!!! A HUGE WIN for collaboration across multiple platforms and disciplines.
    • Embedding is currently available within the Fusion 360 Gallery, once it’s ready it will be available from the A360 viewer as well.
  • Here’s the potential game changer for the future of the CAD reseller channels around the world. Fusion 360 is now available on the Apple Mac App Store!
    • Fusion 360 is now exposed to tens of thousands of people from all walks of life.
    • In line with Apple’s commitment to the enterprise.
    • Here is a nice Mac App Store FAQ prepared by the F360 team.

Fusion 360 on the Mac App StoreWhy will three API languages be supported?

  • They will all have the same level of support.
  • All built on the same API layer.
  • Javascript has built in security limits with respect to local file access, since it is a web based language after all.
  • Python is kind of the opposite, it works well locally, but it can be harder to get it to talk to the web based server stack.
  • C++ is probably the most powerful of the three, but with that comes complexity.

If you want to know more, in a fun way, check out this video:

Inventor vs. Fusion 360

This one has been itching away at me for some time. I’d touched on it briefly with Kevin in the past, but we ran out of time to chat properly about it. So I took the opportunity to raise the issue again. I know I’m not the only one to wonder this, so I wanted to share it with the readers of Design & Motion. So here it is. Kevin suggested the best place to see the differences between the end users and therefore markets for the two products, is within their respective Ideastations.

“You only have to compare the types of requests and conversations taking place to see the differences between use cases.”

Kevin says

“The only ones who are confused are students, because they have to pick which free product to use”.

He went on to break the two products into two distinctive categories:

  1.  For BIG engineering – Inventor is clearly the best.
  2. Fusion 360 is better suited to ‘Startups’ – Especially since consumer products is a highly competitive industry.

Kevin continued by saying:

“Customer don’t see the confusion between the two. When they approach the product it’s clear to them which one is best. Autodesk’s competitors often have more than 1 modeller, sometimes 2-5 so it’s pretty normal”

Is it working?

How is Fusion 360 coming along with respect to the requirements laid out at the beginning of this article?

Autodesk is trying to lead the field as the manufacturing and design landscape changes, their Open Source approach with the SPARK 3D printing platform and their various Autodesk 360 services I think it’s tough to argue they aren’t already leading them. What’s really telling though, is from the outside Autodesk 360 presents itself as a series of services, which it is… but it’s real future is as a platform. Fusion 360 is the first Autodesk product which makes this abundantly clear, especially with today’s announcement of the release of Fusion 360 Ultimate, it’s utilizing virtually all of them now. With that, Fusion 360 IS the real deal, it’s quickly becoming a full solution. As Autodesk continues to release API’s for their 360 Platform, and CAD software sales are being moved to online only, developers and resellers will be able to spin off their own services to diversify their businesses into the future.

Thank you Kevin for your time, patience and openness in answering my questions.

A Window into Autodesk Fusion 360′s Near? Future

A Window into Autodesk Fusion 360's Near Future

Just a quick one today. I recently came across these videos showing off potential implementations of simulation and design accelerators in Autodesk Fusion 360. There’s some pretty cool stuff in them, so I thought I would share them with our readers and offer some comments on each one. I’ll get the ball rolling with simulation.

Optimization

Now that is a pretty sweet pre-design, proof of concept tool! However, the downside is the potential precedent they could set for unconscious incompetence. These kinds of early stage “monkey see, monkey do” analysis tools are pretty compelling, especially if they are used during the bidding stages to win jobs or at least allowing you to write off poor design ideas and zero in on the better of the bunch. But they certainly are not suitable replacements for grown up simulation and real world product testing. Is this something you would use?

Too Hot To Drop

I’m no simulation expert, but drop tests from what I understand are safe enough to make ‘fool-proof’ in this way. For the most part there is no need to over-complicate the issue with high-end simulation tools. In this case here though, I would imagine the limitations would come in when your model becomes too complex for it. But again, this should probably only be used during the early stages of the design process.

Gearing Up

Seeing these types of tools appearing in Fusion 360 is giving me the willies. As a faithful Inventor user that is. It’s nice they are being put into the product, but it does increasingly make me wonder when the cross over between the two products becomes great, what will happen? Fusion 360 is just such great value for money. The Gear Feature shown at the end is badass! It means you can focus on your design in a simplified cylindrical and/or conical way, then scoot around adding Gear Feature’s when you’re hot to trot. Lovely! It’s that kind of stuff that makes Fusion 360 scary for Inventor… but then again. Just look at T-Splines. The Inventor development team now have some excellent internal competition to keep them on their toes, but also a great reference to step back, admire, pole around in and learn from.

Driving Me Nuts

I’ve recently been mucking about a bit with SolidWorks as a result of supporting HSMWorks during my day job. One of the things those two products together do very, very well, is holes. The SolidWorks Hole Wizard combined with the HSMWorks Drill Wizard is a sight to behold. It demos bloody well, but frankly it impresses because it’s a huge productivity tool and it WORKS! Well from the testing I have done it works, I have no doubt people can break it. This bolted connection tool in Fusion 360, looks to deal with some of the shortcomings found in Inventor’s hole tool, the most obvious of them is the ability for this tool to place a hole on a curved surface. I hope to see this turn into a really powerful hole & bolted connection tool, if it does, as I stated previously it should drive long overdue improvement of the Inventor Design Accelerator tools as well. Incidentally, if a SolidWorkesque Hole Wizard is something you would like to see in Inventor, I’ve created an Inventor Hole Wizard idea on the Ideastation you can vote for.

A 360 Spin Around Fusion Animations

Want to get me fired up about Autodesk Software? I’ve got complaints about all software, but the one Autodesk software that gets me heated is Inventor Publisher. Actually I’ve gone past anger, into a kind-of serene disappointed phase.

Inventor Publisher Fusion Animations

4 to 5-years ago Autodesk started showing off a technical illustration product during their roadshows, really a teaser of what was upcoming. This product became Inventor Publisher and I will admit we bought into it hook, line, and sinker [ed. "Yeah, me too"]. The product was what we needed for our manual department – take the process of generating views (including exploded views) from the engineering department and give it directly to the people generating the manuals. These people knew what they needed and now they had the ability to get what they wanted. With Inventor Publisher it was very easy to create the views and then drop in (associative) views in Microsoft Word and complete the manual. Publisher also had the ability to create mobile ready documents that we could place on tablets, not only for our customers, but also for the shop floor who was responsible for assembling the equipment.

Inventor Publisher Fusion Animations Press Release
We realized that it was an “R1″ product and had a lot of shortcomings, but the base functionality was solid.  It also had the full support of Autodesk, so what could go wrong? Well, the worst thing possible happened, it was essentially killed off. Starting with the 2014 release cycle, Publisher was updated as Publisher 2013 R1. The only addition was support for the 2014 Inventor format. The product became stagnant, no new features, and no improvements to the existing features. We had major problems with Publisher, like poor performance even with medium sized assemblies, and many minor issues such as how you can’t center text in a balloon. Add everything together and you get shelfware, as in we don’t use it anymore.

Around Autodesk University, Autodesk started to talk about a new technical illustration solution and showed a new 360 offering based on Fusion 360. The plan is for Fusion 360 to become the center of the hub, with various spokes (extensions) that can be added. For example the recently released CAM 360. The new technical illustration offering is called Fusion 360 Animations.

It would be easy to compare Fusion 360 Animations with Inventor Publisher but you can’t really. Although the results (outputs) are similar, the workflows differ, and really they should not be compared.

Fusion Publisher Animations Auto ExplodingAlso we have to remember that Fusion 360 Animations is in Beta, an early beta, which means that it is in the Autodesk testing phase. Autodesk is collecting our feedback and making changes before making it publicly available. Autodesk will admit that there is a lot for them to do yet..

The Premise of Fusion Publisher

From the Fusion Dashboard you create a new Publication which launches the Animations environment. In the new Animations document you insert the assembly, which is located via a search of your projects. A storyboard is created, with an initial snapshot. The storyboard is your collection of snap shots, the snap shots are like small individual animations. Within each snapshot you can adjust the view (pan, zoom, orbit), component visibility, and position. With each component you can adjust its position with a manual move (using the Fusion manipulator) or by using the built in explode option. Pins can be added to add notes to various locations and snapshots within the document. When satisfied with production you can publish it to the mobile site (A360)

The Good

The process is clean, simple, and very intuitive. I was able to take the Padlock sample from Inventor, import it into Fusion 360 and quickly build a multiple step-by-step assembly instruction in no time. In fact I didn’t even read or watch the intro documentation to see if it was as easy as advertised.  With individual snapshots its easy to keep track of what’s been tweaked and make adjustments. To be fair I have some Fusion experience, so manipulating component position is very similar to moving components in Fusion 360.

Editing Snapshot in Fusion Publisher Animations

What’s Missing?

It would be easy to jump all over this product as it is missing a lot. However, if I was to pick 5-things that I would need before implementing into production they would be…

  1. Trails! I need trails to show where the components are coming from. I would also need to ability to control the overshoots and undershoots and the trails origin positions
  2. Drawing Views and / or Image Creation. I need some ability to generate drawings or imagery that I can insert into our manuals, which are Microsoft Word based. With a collection of real-life pictures, text, tables, and computer generated images it is a must that there is some type of export from the technical illustration software
  3. Balloons: Some way of labeling the components 1, 2, 3, or a, b,c otherwise I’m stuck doing it in Word (yuck)
  4. Leaders / Notes: An annotation system of some kind to identify caution areas, special notes, or attach an image like a safety notice
  5. Proof of medium sized assembly performance: I haven’t loaded anything big into Fusion yet nor into Publisher. It wouldn’t be all the time but I need proof that I can load in a 5000 part assembly and create exploded views

In Conclusion

With the Fusion Docs beta and the Fusion 360 Animations beta it’s hard not to get the excitement up, but its also not difficult to see that these products have a ways to go. I’m putting a tentative hold on these… not buying, not selling, but hanging out to see where they go. There was notice last week to expect new beta’s soon, one advantage of a semi-cloud based application is that it is easy to push out updates.

Note: Autodesk kindly gave Design and Motion permission to discuss Fusion Publisher publicly, even though it is currently in Beta.

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Design using Autodesk Fusion 360 – Part 2

Last week I talked about how to start modelling using Fusion 360 and achieve a basic shape using T-Splines (see “Design using Autodesk Fusion 360 – Part 1”). In the second post of the series, I will guide you through the next step in the workflow of achieving a finished model of a concept using Autodesk Fusion 360.

Convert

This is the point where things become really serious. No more free-forms, no more bending and stretching. It’s all about precision from now on.
The first step is to turn your T-Spline surface shape into a Solid. To do that, right click on your T-Spline model, go Modify and hit Convert. Select the object, choose the operation mode (New Component in this case) and click “OK”. There, now you have a Solid component with the same name as the source surface, just like that.

TsplineToSolid

Tip: make sure you keep your T-Spline bodies somewhere safe, i.e. in a separate group. To do so, create a component named “T-Splines” (which will act as a folder) and drop your T-Spline bodies there, in case you might need to start over. You cannot convert a Solid back to a T-Spline!

Now that we have a Solid that we can work with, we can start preparing it; it will have to accommodate a few other components.

Solid Modelling

Switch from Sculpt to the Model environment

switch

I started by making some space for the screen of the phone. A screen is a major component of this phone, all the other bits should be placed around it.

This can easily be done in few steps: Create a Sketch, Project the outline onto a plane, and make a couple of Offsets from the body then close the shape. Extrude the closed shape. And this is what I ended up with:

Extrude

This process will be particularly easy and familiar for people who have some Autodesk Inventor experience. So after some more extruding, sweeping, pressing and pulling, the phone finally starts to take shape:

body

This particular model does not require any technical specifications, or sense for that matter, because it’s only a visual concept. Therefore I did not bother making any space for all the internal components.

Now, all we have left to do, is model all the other parts, such as the bracelet, the screen, the buttons, the camera, etc. etc. This basically means repeating the steps mentioned before: Idea, Sketch, Sculpt, Convert to Solid and Tweak. Sometimes, it makes more sense to skip the Sculpting part and start with a Solid from the very beginning.

After several hours of crafting, the model is complete:

Finished Wrist Phone Model

Housekeeping

Remember to keep your Browser tidy. It might take some time arranging the items, but it will be beneficial in the long run. And make sure you name your components as-you-go!

To do so, create a new component in the parent directory (in this case it’s Phone v6), rename it, and drag-and-drop all the components that belong in that section.

Browser

All-in-all, the complexity of the model depends on the amount of time the steps were repeated. Don’t hold back on making your model clean, simple and tidy. Make notes, rename and arrange your components, even rename the sketches. It will become very helpful once the model reaches a certain complexity. Take my word for it!

And that concludes the second part of the set. Make sure to visit D&M for part 3, where I will open the model in Autodesk VRED and show you the basics of making an attractive render!

For free 90 day fully featured trial of Fusion 360, shoot over to this site and hook yourself up to a design revolution.

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Design using Autodesk Fusion 360 – Part 1

Earlier this year I applied for the Fusion 360 beta and became one of the many beta testers for the multi-tool cloud-based CAD software. Since it’s now available for everyone, I thought I could share my thoughts and workflows concerning Fusion 360.

In this three-part post I will guide you through the process of creating a concept of a product – from a vague image in your head to finished renders, using Autodesk Fusion 360 and Autodesk VRED.

Part 1: Developing the shape.

It all starts with a rough idea. When you have an idea it is fairly easy to start. All you have to do is start developing the basic shape of the object and add details as you go.

Personally, I prefer to start with a couple of sketches. By using the sketch tool in Fusion 360, I laid a couple of guidelines in the top and side views. Simply use the arc, spline or line tool to draw the guidelines for further development. These lines will be very useful once the actual modelling starts.

Autodesk Fusion 360 Guides

After the lines are laid, we can then go ahead and start the modelling process. I usually start with a box in the “Sculpt” environment.

Note: if the model you’re creating is going to be symmetrical, you might want to have an additional edge segment at the centre of the box which divides it into two sides, as in the image below. It will become handy once you need to make both sides identical.

Autodesk Fusion 360  box placement

Modelling with Autodesk Fusion 360 is easy: click on Edit Shape command, select the Face selection filter and then use the manipulation axis + Alt button to extrude and distort the box. Repeat until you have a big blob that somewhat matches the guidelines.

Autodesk Fusion 360 blob

Now this is the part where you should start adding the definition to the model. This can be done by inserting additional edges or by using the Crease Edge command.

Autodesk Fusion 360 Definition

Toggle between smooth and low-poly modes to really understand what is going on with the shape; it’s a good way to understand how poly and TSpline modelling works, as well as to tweak and fine-tune your model.

Autodesk Fusion 360 Smooth rough

Keep adding creases and edges to reach the desired level of detail. Once the shape is in its final stages, we can then proceed to the next step by converting it into a solid object; for assembly and further detailing. More about this in my next post of the series. Stay tuned!

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Autodesk CAM | Interview with Carl White and Anthony Graves

If you are reading this, you are probably wondering what is up with Autodesk and their manufacturing program, especially after the recent purchase of HSMWorks. We got to see a preview of what the company was proposing at Autodesk University this past November, but it was little better than a teaser.

I am quite fond of a matured integrated Fusion 360 concept, with visualization, simulation, simplification, and CAM on board, riding a PLM / PDM strata. Notice I did say matured.

What is left unsaid is whether the product will be integrated into the company’s flagship engineering product, Inventor Professional. If so when, and how, and if not, what then?

I was introduced to Carl White in Las Vegas last year. Carl is the Director of Manufacturing Engineering Products at Autodesk. He was kind enough to speak with me on the record about their recent purchase and the new CAM features. He introduced me to Anthony Graves, Product Manager at HSMWorks, who joined in the conversation about the product specifics; well, sort of specific.

Why the sudden change of heart

John Evans: What has prompted Autodesk to move into the CAM industry? Can you address the comments previously made by the company, stating that the company did not want to move into a well-established area?

Carl White

Carl White

Carl White: We spend a great deal of time trying to provide our customers with a complete set of digital prototyping tools. One of the things that we don’t and have not provided is tools for manufacturing.

JE: Within the last two years there has been some turmoil surrounding speculations of why Autodesk wouldn’t make the move. The company has stated that they did not want to create a problem with their partner developers who already develop CAM solutions that work with (and within) Inventor. What are your thoughts now that these partners will suddenly be your competitors?

CW: There is really only one company that has done any real integration in Inventor, and that is SolidCAM (the InventorCAM product). We still value them as a partner, and their solution can still do things that ours can’t.

One of the reasons we chose to go to the market at this time is that the technology and platforms are ready for a change; we see the cloud as an interesting aspect of how we can do some new and different things in the CAM space.

There are lots of partners that we have, such as Vero and Gibbs and others. Every one of those CAM platforms have some specialized functionality….I spent a lot of time researching this market, and what I found that HSMWorks was doing things differently and that their CAM integration was very tightly knit. The people at SolidCAM do that with Inventor, and we’re confident that we can provide tightly integrated CAM as well as they have. I like the way their [HSMWorks] technology works; they thought very differently about the approach, it’s part of the workflow, and we like that.

Strategy

Anthony Graves

Anthony Graves

JE: With CNC technology tied to a problematic automotive market in the USA, and the continuous expansion of additive manufacturing technologies, what strategy does Autodesk plan to use in order to gain a substantial market-share of the entrenched CAM industry?

Anthony Graves: We recognized that very few companies had been able to deliver a truly integrated CAM product (integrated CAM completely inside the design environment). When you do that, it opens up an entirely new market of users, like designers and engineers. It also introduces people that use traditional, standalone CAM products to design tools inside, for example Solidworks, or in the case of InventorCAM by SolidCAM, Inventor.

Between 20-30% conservatively of a CNC programmers work is prepping the part models for the machine manufacturing process. They are recognizing that no one handles design tasks better than folks like Inventor, Solidworks, etc., an arena in which the CAM companies just can’t compete. Every year the walls between CAD and CAM are coming down.

 

By integrating CAM into the CAD design environment, we are helping change the roles of designers and engineers into (machining process) prototypers. Furthermore we are opening up the market to a lot of individuals that want to design and start a small business, where there have always been a lot of barriers between them and interacting with traditional manufacturing industry like job shops. They are beginning to say “I don’t want to learn a CAM product, but I know my CAD tool, I just want a CAM product that works like my CAD tool so I can machine these parts.”

HSMWorks in Solidworks

HSMWorks in Solidworks

The reality is that the CAM industry is very mature, where the ‘Veteran CNC programmer’ will be retiring in the next 10-15 years.

For those individuals, you would have to create such a transformative technology in order to get them to drop what they are doing now, where they have made a significant investment in not only in dollars but in building a business process around that technology; that is not a realistic goal.

However a far more realistic goal is to offer an integrated CAM solution for those who are in their mid-forties [and younger] and are currently using products like Inventor or Solidworks, and other design tools.

The larger engineering software vendors have realized the value of integrated solutions, but just over the last 5 – 10 years we’ve started to see solutions for the mainstream users of products like Inventor and Solidworks users, mature to the point where now you have really robust tools. Many of these users are in their late 20’s to mid 40’s, they are open to looking at whether there are advantages to integrating CAM/CAM/CAE into PLM, etc., as well as new technologies. We have done a lot of work with people of ages ranging from middle school to university level, and made the technology accessible in such a way that the products are open to them.

So we are not necessarily competing with the traditional market, as much as we are trying to drive the next generation from integrated CAM to these Fusion type products that I think are going to set the stage for the next couple of decades of design tools.

Carl Bass introducing CAM toolpaths in Fusion 360

Carl Bass introducing CAM in Fusion 360

The Product

So next I asked about product features, and release schedules and was summarily chastened for my obviously ridiculous question, which really means my bribes are not getting into the right hands.

CW: What I will say is what we liked about the HSMWorks product is that it is foundational, that the kernel will function inside Inventor, the same way it works in Solidworks, and that whatever improvement we make to that kernel will be reflected in any technology we integrate it with.

Another thing that is really good about the HSMWorks product is their distributive CAM. They are the first in the market to do this. Today that takes the form of allowing the tool path generation engine to be distributed across multiple machines inside of you network. This allows me to farm out the creation of a tool path and free up my desktop. We are looking at some different ways of doing that, and if you look at what we’ve done with simulation you might be able to draw some parallels.

AG: The reason why we came out with distributive CAM was two-fold. First we recognized that the HSMWorks kernel is a native 64 bit kernel from day one, and it was the first multi-core 64-bit CAM product on the market.

distributive CAM in HSMWorks

Distributive CAM in HSMWorks

With CAM, it’s a little bit of a unique technology, because in CAD, if you make a change to the Model, it may only take 15 seconds for the change to permeate through the entire assembly, but you might have 20 or 30 machining operations that are affected by that design change. Each of those operations requires a tool path calculation to occur.

So by having the ability to distribute the tool path calculations not only across multiple cores on a single computer, but utilise all the available cores on a network, you are able to compress the tool path calculation time down so dramatically that it can literally transform a business, mold and die, aerospace, consumer products; etc. Distributive CAM gives you a glimpse into the future, and Autodesk is going to take that to the next level.

JE: I’d like to discuss post-processing, and how Autodesk intends to make that easier to deal with for the end user.

CW: Post processing is an important part of the programming process and we have a super-strong foundation and a lot of experience when it comes to post-processors and posted code. We are certainly evaluating many different ways of how we can make that process easier for everyone involved in the CNC programming process.

JE: Regarding the Fusion 360 port of the product, will this be the first product released with that technology?

AG: HSMWorks is already out and has been out for 5 years, and we are releasing the 2013 version for Solidworks in Florida right now. As for the new products, the HSMWorks kernel was producing tool paths in the 123D share we did, before the new year.

CW: We are taking the core platform technology and looking at what it takes to put it on top of Inventor and Fusion. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions based on what you already know about the products today.

Later Carl added: We do a lot of testing with the customers. Their feedback shapes the way the product is ultimately shaped. Once we get to a point when we can receive that feedback, then we’ll know more.

JE: Any discussion open to the cost of the product?

CW: Nope.

JE: What about it’s release date?

CW: Nope.

JE: …a season [almost begging at this point]?

CW: [laughter] We want to get this out as fast as we can.

HSMWorks machine simulation in Solidworks

HSMWorks machine simulation in Solidworks

PLM Integration

JE: I am very interested in the Fusion 360 PLM integration, and would like to know more about how the CAM technology will use it.

AG: This hasn’t really been asked up till now in normal circles. The integrated CAM technology is relatively new. Customers who have PLM often don’t consider whether the tool paths are being stored inside the model / design files or as a separate file(s). When looking at implementing PDM inside a manufacturing company, that can be the difference between a thousand files and six thousand files, depending of course on the particular integrated solution. I point this out because within the HSMWorks technology, all the tool paths are stored inside the modeling file. We will continue to use this approach with all of the development we [Autodesk CAM Development] do, because it is an important consideration. When you update the model, ensuring that all the other files are synchronized is a really difficult task if that data is not stored inside the model file.

Closing Thoughts

It is clear that Autodesk has targeted small businesses and designers with the Fusion 360 integrated platform, a transformative product, with those who desire the capabilities and solutions that have for one reason or another been out of reach. While Carl did say that they are “Trying to cover all the bases” and looking into integrating HSMWorks with Inventor, it is clear that the Inventor solution is not on its way to its users at this time (nor will it be the first out of the gate).

Will the Fusion 360 platform mature fast enough to be a viable design tool by the time that the CAM integration is offered to the public? Fusion 360 has a lot of hurdles to cross, so that remains to be seen. However Carl made it abundantly clear that the company expects the next decade to be dominated by Fusion 360 type solutions.

I asked the duo if they had anything to add for the customer base that is waiting pensively, if not hopeful for the new technology to reach them.

CW: This is an exciting time for the company, and we are getting a lot of support for opening up a new market for Autodesk. This is good for our customers and extends the Digital Prototyping vision we have into a whole new realm. We are looking to go fast so stay tuned.

Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank Scott Moyse for his opinions and helping tidy this article up.

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