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Fusion 360: Compressor Mock-up Easy or not?

I have reached the point in my overall turbofan design where I can do some preliminary Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling. For this I need a good CAD model that I can beat up a little. I had always wanted to see if Fusion 360 would be able to handle a compressor model, and so I decided to give it a whirl. This way I could get the fluid body I needed, test Fusion 360, and evaluate the design direction prior to settling in on a specific CAD modeler. In this article I will not focus on the CFD, but on the experience I had using Fusion 360.

Is the Fusion 360 modeler a platform worthy of marketing to engineers?

Is the modeling space robust enough for serious design?

Sketching – does it suck? (Some of you are laughing at the directness of this question, I am. However, that is what you really want to know, right?)

Parametrics – Are they user friendly?

and so on…

Fusion 360 Modeling


Sketching in Fusion 360

Sketching was surprisingly good

I found sketching to be rather straight forward. The usual array of curves, lines, arcs, and so forth were available from the sketching panel. What is surprising is the smoothness that the system handles projections. I know we’re not talking rocket science here, but it was quite nice. The ability to turn on and off bodies, sketches, and constructions at their header while remaining in sketch mode is also much appreciated. Make your projections, turn off the features, and continue with a clean slate. Scott points out that Fusion 360 will handle most constrained projections automatically.

Recovering from lost references was smooth

Then next item was recovering from lost references. I should preface this by saying that I never once lost a projection in Fusion 360 by re-ordering the features. I am speaking about redefining sketch planes, and losing references during that process; a procedure that most CAD users will not move to lightly. Fusion 360 lost sight of the references, but maintained the remaining constraints. It permitted cleanup easily. In my case I use 3 constraints per stage to tie the sketch in place. After the sketch plane re-definition, I simply turned on my limiting construction planes, added the 2 projections, and then 3 constraints. The model snapped into place without any other adjustments or coaxing.

Copying sketch profiles – Why didn’t I think of it sooner?

I must say that after manually redrawing the same features in 16 sketches, you’d think I would have figured it out. You can copy sketch profiles from sketch to sketch, and all the constraints transpose in-tact! In the image below I simply copied constrained profiles from one sketch, and pasted into another. Then 3 constraints added to tie it to the relevant projections, and the sketch was in place; all the parameters were preset. It took days to model first 8 stages; it took half an hour to model the last 3.

So what about the parameters and dimension adjustments?

Parameter Organization

Parameters in Fusion 360 are awesome, and I mean it. Each parameter is organized by name: name of body, name of sketch, name of construction plane, etc. All of my control parameters are added as User Parameters. When I copy a sketch, Fusion 360 automatically groups the dimensional constraints together in the parameters under the new sketch name.

Parameter Organization in Fusion 360

Adjusting these parameters was simple: go to the new sketch section and select the User Parameters as needed. They are so easy to discern under this type of organization.

Parameter Auto-complete, I love you!

One of my favorite Parameter features is the auto-complete type lookup. When you pick over an existing parameter, or begin typing one, the system opens a pull-down with all possible relevant parameters. I was able to find a parameter that needed to be indexed, pick it, pull down to the new parameter, and go on the the next change; Soooooooooo nice.


Parameter Lookup in Fusion 360

Sketching was irritating

Huh, what happened to surprisingly good? Well, there were some issues. The only ones that are really worth mentioning in this edition were: inferred constraints and order of constraints.

Inferred Constraints

Sketching had all the constraints you’d hope to have. Horizontal and vertical were unfortunately in the same function, but not a deal killer. That said, the first issue that came up repeatedly was Fusion 360’s inferred constraints. Inferred constraints are important, and a powerful tool, but I tend to think of these like automatic osnaps in AutoCAD: always in the way. In Autodesk Inventor, these don’t really seem to be too much problem. However Fusion 360 is hell bent on snapping a constraint to any damn thing you pass or seem to pass. Obviously you can work around it with care, but it shanked me quite  a few times. I need to learn how to shut these off.

…Scott has informed me that the control key will toggle these. I meant I want them off-off.

Order of constraints needs some love

Order of constraints is one of those things that you look at the cost of the software and decide how bad the problem is. When I say order of constraints, I’m speaking about the order that you create geometric and dimensional constraints in the sketch. In Inventor, we try to get as many relevant geometric constraints down first, then add the dimensional scalars. If Fusion 360… probably not. There is a delicate balance that must be observed. If you apply too many geometric constraints first, when the dimensional changes are to be applied, often Fusion 360 will report that the sketch is over-constrained. If you go back and remove some constraints here and there to relax things, add the dimensions, Fusion 360 will often then allow the old geometric constraints.

Moreover, the more you constrain the sketch, the more edgy manual, drag type manipulations become. It’s almost like a resolution problem. Modelers with a better resolution don’t react so sharply when you drag a model with only one or two degrees of freedom (DOF). In Fusion 360 I’d want that single DOF to be quite linear, and well focused. I started to think in terms of constraints, and applying angular constraints carefully while the model was still very relaxed.

Modeling in Fusion 360

I didn’t go too deep into modeling. I lofted between profiles, performed revolutions, trimmed bodies, and so forth. In general, modeling was well mannered.

Filleting between bodies

You cannot fillet at intersections of separate bodies until they are joined. OK, I get that. However, the ease of filleting that used to be in Fusion R3 (if you have to ask, you probably don’t need to know) doesn’t seem to be there. A different model kernel is in use most likely, but still sucks a bit. You have to really watch the geometries when applying intricate fillets.

Moving features about in the history

I have to say that moving objects about in history was pretty smooth. In other modelers, when I move thing about, I cringe waiting for the rebuild, and hoping nothing will fall apart. The speed at which it remodeled and the ease of moving things was quite nice. Not being able to see the names during the move sucks, but I am still impressed.

Revolving  a surface – not suckin now that I know how to do it!!

I couldn’t determine how to model a parametrically controlled, updatable, revolved surface. You can perform a revolve of an open profile in the pushy-squishy modelling section, but none of that updates in history. Scott has informed me that it’s in the Patch area, and sure enough, it works. Just remember that the pushy-squishy (“Form”) version more obvious in the Model area will not update with your parameters.


This was but a small list of what Fusion 360 can do. As you can see from the images in this article, Fusion 360 can perform moderately complex geometry, and in most cases control it all parametrically. If you paid 10 large for it, you got robbed. If you paid the going rate for the subscription, I think you got a sweet deal.

Is the Fusion 360 modeler a platform worthy of marketing to engineers?

It all depends on what you are designing. I can’t say until I get further into the product, but for now I will say that it’s powerful for the price, and I’m hopeful of it’s continued maturity.

Is the modeling space robust enough for intricate design?

This kind of relates to the last question, but consider to this mock-up. I’m controlling the bend, aspect, twist, and taper angles of every blade set in every stage, independently. Not a task for a cheesy modeler.

Sketching – does it suck?

I answered that with specifics in the section above. That said, in general, it’s a pretty good sketching environment.

Parametrics – Are they user friendly?

Oh no doubt about it, they are nice.

Would I consider engineering with Fusion 360 full time as my modeler of choice?

If I had little money and was starting out – for the price I paid, hell yes. However I would be quite cautious of what I was designing. I will likely continue to model my preliminary engine structures in Fusion 360, as well as preparing my CFD models.  When it comes time to commit to a very expensive, very dangerous design, a more powerful platform will likely be in order.

I have seen Fusion 360 growing far beyond where I thought it would go. It’s tied into A360, easy to collaborate in, and packed with so many great features far beyond simple modeling. I think the rendering engine is nice, and with Simulation and CAM in the package, it’s already hard to resist; for the money, it’s unbeatable. I’m keenly interested how it will evolve in the next two years. I’ll follow up with more observation as I add more to this design.

HP Compressor in Autodesk Fusion 360


Solid Edge Variables Spreadsheet Link

After I recently and erroneously mentioned the Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link along with ST8’s new features, I decided this would be a good time to learn how to do this myself, and find out just how well it works.

Solid Edge Variables Spreadsheet Link Process

  1. Open a spreadsheet, select a cell, and use the Copy command to copy the cell to the Clipboard.
  2. Open the Solid Edge Variables table
  3. Pick the variable value cell that you want to link.
  4. Pick Paste Link from the context menu.

The link will be applied, and the values adjusted, immediately. Refer to the following images.

Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link Copy

Basic Station offset spreadsheet: Pick, right-click, and copy.


Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link Paste

Solid Edge Variables table: Pick the cell, right-click, Paste Link.


Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link Cell Update

Solid Edge Variables Table again: note the link automatically populates in the Formula column.


Solid Edge Variables Spreadsheet Link Update

Spreadsheet update: as soon as the cell updates in the spreadsheet, Solid Edge responds accordingly.



Ok, that was freakin cool. I doubt that Siemens PLM could have made that easier, or more straight-forward. I like the instant update, and not having to save the spreadsheet first.

Massive task for Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link

Now all I have to do is stitch all this into Solid Edge.

Check out more Solid Edge CAD topics at D&M and the Solid Edge Blog.

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Just before I went on vacation Jonathan Landeros (Inventor Tales) posted a great article about old technology vs. new technology – how new doesn’t always mean better. It should really be about picking the right tool for the job. On my vacation the family and I went away for 7-days to Prince Albert National Park (Waskesui) and I left my computer(s) at home. I still had my phone, so I wasn’t completely disconnected, but with no laptop at my disposal it left me lots of time to think and contemplate things.

What I ended up thinking the most about was my day job and the current technology at use. What I mean from this is that we are not adopting new technology and processes, we’re not even evaluating or considering most of them. Why is that? and is this ok? I also though about the current “rut” that I was starting to feel, from a technology standpoint. Which is odd as I never have considered myself bleeding edge, but I’ve always felt that I’ve had a good handle of what was going on….. but now? I’m starting to feel left behind.


So what “new” technologies am I thinking about? The Cloud [social, mobile, analytic, big data], Robotics / AI / Drones, Electric Power, 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing, New Materials, IoT (Internet of Things), Easier more integrated access to CAD / CAM / FEA / Visualization, and the the blurring of lines between BOM / PDM / PLM / ERP / MRP / CRM / add acronym here. There is also generative design and many other unbelievable things happening.

There is also the change in how business is being done… crowd sourcing, crowd design, open source new-shoring, …. and the blurring of what’s public and what’s private. What does Intellectual Property (IP) really even mean anymore?

Change happens, and hopefully when it happens its a good thing. At my day job what really changed things for us was the acquisition of an electrical vehicle manufacturer. This has made us look at how we do things differently, and how we can approve. The status quo is no longer the status quo, which is good as one never wants to become stagnant. The new mine being built in the province has mandated 80% electric use for machinery and equipment, with a clear goal to exceed this. What an opportunity for us!

As you can see I was thinking about a lot! But also note that not everything is new, some items have been around for years but are just now becoming mainstream.


I’m going to embark on a series of posts exploring each of these trends and the new technology. I am far from the expert which I think makes it great as there will be plenty of opportunity for feedback. What has worked? What are you looking at? How are you approaching it? I want to explore how to approach the new technology from an individual personal and professional aspect as well as why companies may or may not look at the new tech.

For this series we’ll use an example company “ACME Mining Equipment”, that I’ve made up, but I don’t think is that dissimilar to a lot of small to medium companies. Here’s their profile:

ACME Mining Equipment is a  company that primarily manufactures, repairs, and services underground mining equipment. The company started as a custom machine / fab shop over 35-years ago. They have one facility and around 150 employees. They have a very small, but very loyal customer base, many whom we’ve done business with for over 35-years. ACME (or AME) is classified as a small, engineered-to-order, manufacturer (at least as far as ERP companies classify things) as they customize just about everything that goes out the door to meet their customers requirements. The customization is what separates ACME from their bigger competition that just pushes “boxes” out the door.

  • ACME is an Autodesk shop – through-and-through – they use Inventor, AutoCAD Electrical, AutoCAD Mechanical, Vault Professional, Simulation Mechanical, and even have a few seats of PLM 360 floating about.
  • They make things from purchased items and steel (laser / plasma cut profiles & standard structural shapes). Welded or bolted together
  • Although they have some CNC capabilities, most of the programming is done by hand on their NC machines (for various reasons – I’ll explain more later)
  • Communication with the customer is done mainly via the phone and email. Outside of quotes, sales order confirmations, and manuals very little other types of documentation are exchanged.

Keep watching the site!

All imagery from GRATISOGRAPHY

Sheet Metal: Looking for Better Airframe Design

I have been perplexed by Sheet Metal solutions available in CAD software for, well, as long as I have been involved in the design side of things. I spent considerable amounts of time creating these structures in airframe applications and to be quite frank, I have seen little in the grand scheme of enabling sheet metal efficiency in airframe design. Why? Because airframe designers are all using Siemens NX and Dassault CATIA.

Extruded Piano Hinge Airframe

The problem is that the rest of the industry just seemed to stop short. If you are designing steel electrical boxes, you are set. Just about every vendor out there has you covered. Automotive applications, which are generally steel, are well covered by some vendors, excepting a few situations. Airframe on the other hand is largely aluminum (rapidly being overtaken by composites), and the semi-monocoque application creates some real challenges:

  • Aluminum in airframe design is quite unforgiving – it cracks while being stretched and it cracks in flight due to cyclic loading and vibration
  • The sheets are thin and in many applications, require countersunk rivets
  • Sheets have to overlap each other in certain areas then suddenly not

Sheet Metal Bad Corner Treatment Cracked

We deal with these limitations with some manipulations that are not employed in mainstream sheet metal design. Dimples and joggles are two that come to mind. We treat corner radii differently. Another example is that parts on the aircraft are rarely built from sheets that are measured in gauges. Sheet aluminum for aircraft are shipped and spec’d in thousandths of an inch: 0.040”, 0.050” 0.063”, etc.

Thin Sheet Metal Dimpled Nutplate

General design software does not provide much in these areas. There are little in the way of rivets, rivet sizing, or fastener dimples. Moreover no standardized solid and blind rivet libraries exist with grip sizing. I have never seen gang channel in any vendor’s software, although I did put some together for Inventor.  Joggles for the sake of lapping sheets I have only seen in one vendor’s application.

CherryMax Blind Rivets Countersunk CherryMax Blind Rivet Grip Gauge

We develop workarounds to help us get the most accurate looking parts, within the limitation of important design constraints. These workarounds rarely update well after changes, and a large part of it involve specific workflows handled by flat pattern detailing and notes applied in drawing specifications and leaders.


Software Vendors

My intent here was not to point out specific vendor applications. Each vendor does certain things extremely well, and this is why we stick with this one or another, taking the good, and working around the bad.

Some examples of automation we need is:

  • Applying a Hole Feature, select Blind Rivet, whereafter identifying the sheets that will be joined, the application stores the appropriate grip for the selected rivet in the hole. When it is time to apply fasteners in the assembly, the intelligence to fill the pattern appropriately is already there.
  • Corner Treatments and setbacks that ACTUALLY WORK, even in the simplest situations.

I started investigating software updates this year, and to my surprise found nice sheet metal enhancements in almost every platform I reviewed. I have not found a solution to many of these simple problems, but I’d like to take some time in the next few weeks looking at some of the improvements that do benefit airframe design, and explain these here for everyone’s benefit.


I’d really like to get some comments here from people in the industry. Things you need, want, software that has really helped, and equally important, why. It would help us to dig in the right places, ask the right questions, and tell vendors exactly what is needed by people that use the software.

Sheet Metal

Work Outside the Box: 3 Simple Ways to Boost Design Creativity

Is the traditional business world at war with creativity?

Your software, hardware and skills in CAD determine a large part of your design success—whether internally at your firm or during client-facing work. But another factor plays a huge—and undervalued—role in engineering, architecture and design achievement: creativity.

In Adobe’s State of Create report, 80% of 5,000 respondents said creativity was key to driving economic growth. But only one in four say they live up to their creative potential. And 75% say their employers prize productivity over creativity.

We clearly need to be more creative. But how? By using these three simple tips to boost your design creativity.

  1. Use Resources to Generate Better Ideas

Creativity doesn’t simply just happen. It’s motivated by your environment, the content you consume, and dozens of other inputs. Fire up the following tools regularly to generate more creative ideas, more often:

  • Inspiration Grid — This website provides inspiration via stories and photos from creatives in every industry.
  • Behance — Showcase your creative work and discover the work of others using this engaged online community.
  • Design Snack — Design Snack takes online inspiration to a whole new, customizable level. This tool gives you the power to create your own inspirational portfolio. Simply curate your favorite images and most inspiring work—the perfect way to jumpstart creativity when it flags.
  • SketchFab — SketchFab allows you to view inspiring models, and upload, embed and share your own.

What’s your favorite site or source of inspiration? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Adopt Tools to Manage Design Projects

When a project is poorly planned or disorganized, it’s extremely difficult to be more creative. Juggling overdue tasks or tracking down missing work doesn’t inspire your best work. However, using tools to better brainstorm and manage projects makes creativity much more likely to flourish. Try the following on for size:

  • XMind — Mind mapping tools help you brainstorm, communicate and capture creative ideas. XMind is available in three different versions: a free version, a plus version and a pro version.
  • Lucidchart — This tool makes it dead easy to develop mind maps and organizational charts that keep your creative ideas flowing.
  • TT, WeTransfer and Dropbox — These cloud file-sharing tools make collaborating on 3D files quick and easy. They offer numerous storage plans for larger files, and will save you a ton of time.
  • GrabCAD — Similar to GE.TT, WeTransfer and Dropbox, GrabCAD allows 3D professionals to collaborate with coworkers through an easy-to-use CAD file manager. This tool enables you to sync local files and collaborate on projects, revision rounds and brainstorming sessions.
  1. Hack Yourself to Improve Creativity

You can actually hack your brain and body to enhance creativity. It’s safe and easy, too. Seriously, science rules. Here are a few ways to do it:

What are your favorite creativity tools, tips and hacks? Let us know in the comments!

More Free Hacks, Tools and Habits to Boost Creativity

Over at 3Dconnexion, we’ve created a free guide specifically for 3D professionals who wish to improve their creativity. With 25+ pages of expert creativity advice, The Creativity Handbook for 3D Professionals is help you improve your creativity and career!

Download The Creativity Handbook for 3D Professionals today!

Feature image credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

Education and Inspiring Design Innovation at AU2014

Innovation is a common theme at Autodesk University each year. This year the company brought together presentations and displays of some wonderful examples of the company’s involvement with outreach and enablement of young people.

Autodesk Software Free to all in Education

Chris Bradshaw, Autodesk’s Chief Marketing Officer discussed our near future population and how their needs will not be diminishing. “We need to support 10 billion people on this planet with 2 times the energy production that we have now” he remarked. Autodesk is trying to help the world solve some staggering statistical possibilities like this one and many more.

The company has taken the position that the best way to solve these problems is to enable the next generation of thinkers, and one part of that solution is to put design software in every educational institution in every part of the world for free. Their intention is to remove the barriers stopping young people from exploring new ideas and new ways of solving problems that we face every day.

Autodesk software is in use by 192 million students in 82 thousand institutions around the world.  Access to those design tools is giving these students the ability to explore new ideas that they didn’t think were possible before, including capturing and reusing energy in innovative ways.

That accessibility is being delivered to more than simply educational institutions. Chris noted that Autodesk has 218 million consumer product accounts, with 1500 new accounts being added every 10 minutes.

Chris Bradshaw Autodesk University

Project H Design

One presentation that was truly inspiring and absolutely enjoyable was Project H Design. Emily Pilloton, its founder wanted to help the world reconnect with the joy of building things. Project H Design provided an amazing way of bringing design to students, with realistic impacts and goals.

Emily Pillonton founder of Project H Design

Emily discussed various projects including a new library challenge, where students were challenging what a library should be, and capturing modular design possibilities. Autodesk CEO, Carl Bass invited the participants to Pier 9 and use some of their tools in order to complete the student’s concept design requirements.

Her presentation went beyond that to show how Project H was reaching communities, and having a much larger impact, which inspires students to continue to solve their problems locally. She went on to say that Project H was capturing the capability of students that have been underestimated.

“Project H is more amazing than I can capture here; really exciting possibilities that are being developed” she said. Emily went on to say something that I thought was absolutely paramount:

“We are responsible to provide a pathway, not just an opportunity for these students.”

She closed out the discussion by highlighting a team of young ladies performing numerous tasks including welding. I remember how amazing it was to complete my first structural airframe class, and gain that understanding of manufacturing and fabrication processes. For every bit of education you give a person, you suddenly get substantially better solutions and results. That person sees the issues in a whole new light, and are no longer afraid to tackle them.

As Emily closed her presentation, she displayed a sign that contained an inspiring statement, a motto if you will:

“I am a 10 year old girl and I can weld. What can’t I do?”

You print that on a shirt and I’ll wear it. Men’s Large.

Project H Design Students

Image courtesy of Project H Design and Emily Pillonton

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