Cloud-based CAD continues to progress with Autodesk’s latest upgrades to its Fusion 360 package

At the recent Autodesk University (AU16) users of the company’s best known CAD brands, Inventor and AutoCAD, were assured that development of these products would continue. There are plenty of users of these packages that have no intention of changing unless they felt they were being left behind, and will therefore be reassured that progress will continue.

However, there was no doubt that the company’s focus is on Fusion 360. It was launched only three years ago and covers the entire product development process in a single cloud-based platform. In performing functions such as CAD, CAM and CAE the company claim that engineers – from design through to manufacture and beyond - generally don’t need to look outside the Fusion software suite to cover the full product lifecycle. And, for those to whom it is important, it works equally well natively on Mac and PC.

AU16 talk was as much about what was going to happen in coming months, as it was about the product updates that had occurred just the week before at the beginning of November.

Principal features of this update concerned CAM capabilities and simulation. Prabakar Murugappan, senior director, Fusion 360 Producst at Autodesk, commented: “With this update we have really pushed the boundaries. One is using the cloud to move more simulation capabilities into the Fusion ecosystem. We have bought in Nastran, whereas previously we were only supporting linear physics types and it is more important for us to know when something will break and bend.”

Nastran In-CAD software is a general-purpose finite element analysis (FEA) tool for engineers. It gives users access to advanced simulation, such as multiple load cases, structural buckling, and shape optimisation.

Steve Hooper, director of Manufacturing Strategy at Autodesk, believes that it is important to bring simulation into the workflow. “We are incorporating simulation as part of the design process, not an afterthought of just validating something,” he said. “It’s really just integrating with it and validating along the way.”

It is Fusion’s home in the cloud that makes this feasible for many.Hooper explained: “The real power of being able to leverage the cloud for this is in terms of being able to queue up multiple different ‘what-if’ design scenarios, changing the way that people have accessibility to using this without having really expensive hardware solutions that they might not have at their disposal.”

The other main introduction involved the CAM features within Fusion. Existing capabilities included 2.5 axis, milling, three-axis milling, turning, water, laser and plasma, and these have now been extended by adding 3+2 milling, wrap, four-axis and a number of different five-axis strategies, contour and tilting capabilities.

The new CAM and simulation features are available in the Fusion 360 Ultimate subscription; pricing has yet to be confirmed in the UK for this new level, but a good guide is that in the US Ultimate costs $1500 a year compared to the standard package subscription of $300 (£276 or £36 a month in the UK).

Fusion in the future

Much more is being promised for the early months of 2017. First up will be the sheet metal capabilities. While allowing engineers to ‘flange, flatten and fold’, it is also integrated with CAM so choices and impacts of using laser cutting, water jetting or machining can be determined at point of design rather than further down the line.

It doesn’t quite extend to allowing the manufacturing processes to control what happens on the design side. Murugappan said: “We don’t have that yet, but it’s one of the things we are working on on the generative design side - picking your printer and material when you start your design.”

Generative design gives engineers the ability to input design criteria such as desired criteria (weight, size, cost) and allow computer algorithms to generate design geometries that fit those constraints and it is coming to Fusion 360 in stages. Shape optimisation was introduced in November’s release with full topology optimisation to follow. Murugappan continued: “The other thing is we are working on is bringing in latticing. So using shape optimisation you have a shape, you can then impose latticing and it will then re-optimise. That is the thing about Fusion, everything is done in tandem.”

Another feature that users can expect to see in the coming months will be the ability to integrate electronic designs (ECAD) seamlessly. Users will be able to select any type of PCB file and have it translated directly into their designs via the cloud. Changes update automatically and cloud libraries will be available to populate boards with common 3D components.

Collaboration is one of Fusion’s founding principles. Murugappan said: “We are trying to bring teams together. The next thing we are working on, branch and merge, allows teams to explore options in parallel and then bringing all ideas together and pick the best. What we have in Fusion today is an ability to see what people are working on comment and mark-up, but not take a variation. Branch and merge allows teams to simply choose the path they all want to take. It’s faster design exploration.”

A final feature worth looking out for is the forthcoming arrival of modeling in the browser. Autodesk day that through mobile and browser functionality, there are no limitations to where, when, and on which device a product developer can access their design data and work on their projects.

Connected AM

Also of interest at AU16 was news of enhancements to the Netfabb additive manufacturing solution. Although only released in September, it is already being beefed up with enhanced simulation capabilities, new hybrid manufacturing functionality and collaborative multi-head 3D printing.

Simulation for Netfabb helps users to predict and adjust for deformation, allowing part designers and manufacturing engineers to optimise designs and reduce the number of iterations required for reliable build results.

Additionally, Netfabb now includes solid modelling and near-net shape planning capabilities based on Autodesk PowerShape technology. This hybrid manufacturing functionality allows users to keep models in solid form and take advantage of solid modelling tools aligned to CAM workflows. It also allows manufacturers to keep sight of the original solid model and track the near-net shape as it is built to allow for the subtractive processes. With better visibility of the original model and the near-net shape, Netfabb opens a connected workflow between build preparation and post-processing operations.