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Fusion 360

Currently, I use Fusion 360 for all of my 3D and ECAD work. I'm trying to collect together things I've learned, and recommendations here.

Rules for Success

There are two critical rules that the community has developed over the years, and I highly recommend following them:

  1. Everything goes into a component.
  2. Everything has a name.

Let's take the two separately.

Rule #1: Components

Components are a container for sketches, geometry, joint origins, bodies, etc. This helps organize things. This makes it much easier to think about and abstract your project. Think of a component as a part. There are a few other advantages to using components extensively:

  • The joints in the Assembly menu only work with components.
  • Drawings can only be created from components. On activation, the timeline is filtered. This means it will only show items in the timeline that pertain to that component. The timeline on a big project can become unwieldy, and this will make the quickly growing timeline much easier to work with.
  • When you export a component with "save as" Fusion 360 will also export the complete parametric design history.
  • Only components show on the BOM.
  • Only components can be added to selection sets. Selection sets are a way to "name" a specific group of items that you can refer to again and again consistently.
  • Only components can be isolated. This allows you to make everything but one component "disappear" from the design, and ensure you don't accidentally affect them.
  • You can make copies of a component, but keep linked changes (or not if you want). This can be super helpful in larger assemblies.

There's also a write up on the difference between components and bodies. This is super important to understand. Also, some strategies for using components.

Note that this is a soft rule, not a hard rule. Following it blindly, like so many rules, can result in failure.

Rule #2: Names

Name your things. Most everything can be named in Fusion 360, but you definitely want to name these things:

  • Sketches
  • Bodies
  • Construction planes
  • Section analysis
  • Views
  • Components

You can also name extrusions, chamfers, and a lot of other things. Whether you name this or not is up to you, but if you do name them, then in the design history timeline, you'll see more information, which may make it easier to navigate larger timelines.

Finally, name them clearly, and I tend to use somewhat long-winded names, often going from coarse to fine granularity. If this is something "structured", I might even include part numbers.

Tips and Tricks

  • Learn to use the S-key functionality. This is a quick way to search for commands and execute them, or activate a tool. You can also pin commonly used commands to the menu. One thing to be aware of is that, for some reason, Fusion 360 will show you 3D commands when you're in 2D sketches, and so you need to be cognizant of the difference and the different icon.
  • Component color cycling is an amazing way to view your models when you have a bunch of components. Rather than just using the appearance, it ensures that every component is distinct from all the ones around it.
  • All of the analysis capabilities are insanely useful, and you should familiarize yourself with them, but I would definitely start with section analysis, which allows you to cut through the component and see what is going on inside. This will also show how multiple components interact clearly.

Add-Ons and Extensibility

One thing I really like about Fusion360 is that there's an extensive ecosystem of apps or add-ons that allow you to extend the tool in fun and pretty amazing ways. Similar to AutoCAD, nearly everything inside Fusion360 is exposed programmatically. You can write extensions in either Python or C++ (although the electronics design still uses the EAGLE user language programming).

I use a few plugins regularly:

  • 3D Print Plus. This provides a much more advanced way to send STL to a slicer if you don't want to use the FFF slicing capabilities inside Fusion360 itself. The only "problem" is that it can only send a single body at a time, which, if you want to print a bunch of bodies, can be painful. There is a pro version, but I haven't needed the features (although I may buy just to support the author).
  • AnyShortcut. This allows you to create a keyboard shortcut for things in Fusion 360 that don't have one. This is especially useful in integrating with an El Gato Stream Deck.
  • Additive Assistant. Provides a bunch of additional analysis tools for FFF manufacturing around things like overhang, warp, poor bed adhesion, etc. This runs in the Design workspace.
  • DirectName. Rule #1: thou shalt always use components. Rule #2: name your stuff. This prompts you to name everything (bodies, features, sketches, etc) immediately, rather than creating them and then requiring you to go back and rename them. While it is, initially, annoying, it sure does help keep things clean and understandable in the timeline.
  • Duplicate Components. Automates the steps for creating instances or creating duplicate components in a design. This is great when you want to include things like screws in your designs.
  • GFGearGenerator. Lets you design gears in 3D very simply. Won't go into anything super-exotic, but it solves problems quickly.
  • Install from Github. Not everything is on the Autodesk "store". There's a bunch of things you can find on Github. This takes the project URL and installs it all for you automatically. It doesn't, unfortunately, automatically update the plugin, but instead just installs a zip of the current state.
  • No Component Warn. Nanny plugin to make sure you always put things in a component (rude #1). It also catches mistakes where you're using the wrong component and adding something to it.
  • Parameters I/O. Allows you to import/export user parameters as a CSV. This is great way to get a bunch of "default" parameters. See below for mine.
  • ParametricText. Provides parameters for text. Weirdly, this is something you can't do with the regular parameters. It also has access to variables that you can use which are covered in the excellent documentation. Use it. Use it all the time.
  • SnapEDA. Provides access (Windows only) to SnapEDA's extensive library of components.
  • Voronoi. Helps you generate Voronoi diagrams. The plugin isn't particularly great, and it has a tendency to put the generated diagrams in entirely the wrong plane, but it's free and generates decent quality results that you can move where you need them.

Personal License v Subscription

Autodesk has a "free" (as in beer) license available for "personal use". While they have a rudimentary comparison, there are a few things that absolutely drove me to spend the larger sum for a normal subscription:

  • Max of 10 documents in read-write and everything else read-only. And you have to manually manage it.
  • Super-limited electronics. 2 schematics and 2 layers. Nothing more.
  • Drawings can only have a single sheet.
  • No simulation capabilities.
  • No access to cloud services (which aren't cheap, but are super powerful).

For getting started, though, it's 100% worth starting with the personal license and figuring out if this is something you're serious enough about to drop the $495.00 that it will cost.

Random Bits of Information

  • For text, you have to use a TrueType font (ttf), not an OpenType (otf) font, at least in Windows. If you use OTF, you will get errors like "could not retrieve the profiles of the selected text".
  • How to use global parameters across many different files, although it's a pain in the ass.

Learning Resources

Autodesk has a pretty great collection of courses up on Coursera for free. The ones I've looked at are:

They have a huge number of choices for courses in a lot of topics, depending on your interest area.

3rd Party Resources

Comments or Questions?

If you have any comments, questions, or topics you'd like to see covered, please feel free to either reach out to me on Mastodon (link below) or open an issue on Github.