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 РInventor 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.