Behind every 3D print is a 3D modeler. Whether it’s the maker with the 3D printer, the designer of a lampshade on Shapeways, or the user that created a Customizer template on Thingiverse, they all use some CAD program to model their 3D objects. Some are powerful but expensive and fairly hard to learn, such as SolidWorks and 3ds Max, and others are free, less powerful, and more intuitive, such as Blender and Tinkercad. Two of those (3ds Max and Tinkercad) are owned by Autodesk, and now they’ve added another to the portfolio. Fusion 360 fits somewhere in the middle as far as price and power, but what makes it special is that it’s cloud-based.
“We’re in the midst of a new industrial revolution that places a premium on the ability to design and engineer products that are both beautiful and functional,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president at Autodesk. Fusion seeks to take advantage of the Third Industrial Revolution, one where consumers play a major role in the design of their products, and one where 3D printing produces those products. It’s a quick download and install before being presented with a GUI that’s quite similar to everyone’s favorite social networking site. Making a model starts with “creating” a post. Fusion is obviously very social. Because it’s cloud-based, it’s cross platform, including tablets. This allows models to be created anywhere and shared with anyone, and collaboration can occur in real time. Fusion also accepts various file types from several CAD programs through an import feature.
The cloud-based nature doesn’t do everything, as my quadcore desktop provided smoother and faster responses than my dualcore laptop. As far as the functionality of Fusion 360, it’s decently intuitive and powerful, though perhaps not as intuitive as it’s touted to be. The introduction tutorial is not incredibly helpful, but playing with the combination of the Sculpt and Model functions reveals somewhat natural operations. I’m no 3D modeler though. Try it yourself; it’s free for 90 days! After that it’s a competitive $25 per month, with special pricing for students and entrepreneurs.