So, you’ve decided that you want to do some 3D printing, and you may be wondering if Autodesk Fusion 360 is any good for this kind of thing.
Well, the answer is YES.
Fusion 360 has a complete workflow for 3D printing, including modeling and slicing. And because Fusion 360 is very much a software focused on usability, you can start designing and printing with the software in virtually no time at all.
Among all the alternatives on the market, Fusion 360 is my favorite when it comes to 3D modeling software for my designs.
In this article, we will give you a few pointers on how to use Fusion 360 for 3D printing, so you can begin with minimal headaches.
Features Overview of Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is a feature-rich CAD solution suitable for engineers, product designers, and makers alike. It covers all stages of the product development workflow from sketching and modeling, all the way through to manufacturing, be it CNC, sheet metal, or 3D printing.
Let’s take a look at a few features that you will likely be using for 3D printing in Fusion 360.
In CAD, parametric modelling is a method of creating 3D models using parameters, or variables, that can be adjusted to change geometric aspects of the model. These parameters can be entered numerically or controlled through relationships and constraints that define how one parameter affects another.
Parametric modelling allows for the creation of flexible designs that can be easily modified and updated.
For example, if you create a parametric model of a part with a variable hole size, you can easily change the hole size by adjusting the corresponding parameter in the model, and the rest of the model will automatically update to reflect the change.
In parametric mode, the design changes are logged in the design history.
Direct modelling is basically the opposite of parametric modelling, in the sense that it is free of constraints and parameters. It is more akin to sculpting.
It is useful for making quick, intuitive changes to a model, or for working with imported geometry that does not have any associated parameters, constraints or design history.
In direct modelling mode, the changes are not logged in the design history.
You can learn how to switch between parametric and direct modelling modes in more detail at this link on the Autodesk site.
Simulation and Analysis
Fusion 360 may not be as hardcore on the simulation side as dedicated CAE solutions such as Ansys or Altair (or even Solidworks), but it’s still good for giving you an idea of how much force a model can take before deforming.
Simulation tools in Fusion 360 allow you to analyze the behavior of your designs under various conditions, such as stress, strain, thermal, and motion.
It should be noted that the analysis and simulation tools in Fusion 360 are mostly designed for solid, isotropic materials, such as molded plastics or forged metals.
3D printed parts, especially those from FDM-type systems, are anisotropic, so there will be some error in the results. Printed parts behave more like laminated composites, and to get a truly accurate simulation, more advanced (or even custom) solvers should be used.
In other words, don’t bet your life on simulation results from Fusion 360, especially where 3D printed parts are concerned.
3D Printing Support
From Fusion 360, you can export your models in 3D printer friendly formats such as STL or 3MF for slicing in your favorite slicer software. Alternatively, you can use the native slicer in Fusion 360. More on that later.
Fusion 360 generates supports for your model automatically after you select the areas.
There are two basic support options:
- Solid Volume Support which is dedicated to parts with larger overwhelming areas.
- Solid Bar Support which is ideal to support small overwhelming areas.
Both support-types are adjustable, but the Solid Bar Support includes more adjustments and optimization options.
The manual support-adding function is not available, but still, you can define specific areas of the body to add them there. And I believe it is something that the development team will be working on soon.
Collaboration and Sharing
Fusion 360 is fairly well known for its cloud-based aspects, so it’s no surprise that collaboration is easy in Fusion 360. Your co-workers or friends can be given access to the folders on the cloud, and they can be admitted via logging in with their Fusion 360 login details.
Setting Up a 3D Printing Project with Fusion 360
Now let’s see how to set up a 3D printing project in Fusion 360.
Create the Geometry
You’re going to need something to print, so either get busy modelling with the parametric/direct modelling tools, otherwise, import a model from elsewhere.
Convert to STL
Nobody really models in STL. And really, not too many people print with 3MF.
So let’s assume that you are following a typical CAD to STL workflow for 3D printing.
So also assuming that you have a CAD file (such as STEP or .F3D) ready for conversion, you must convert that to .STL.
The easiest way to do this is as follows:
First, right-click on the component, component group, or body that you want to export in the model browser tree located in the left panel. From the menu that appears, select “Save As Mesh”. Next, choose the format you want to save the file in.
Finally, click “OK” to confirm the export. That’s it! The STL file should now be exported and ready for you to use.
Now you have two options. You can simply use the converted .STL file in your own favorite slicer software, or you can use the inbuilt slicer native to Fusion 360.
To access the slicer and generate your G-code for printing, simply switch to manufacture mode with the big square Workspaces button on the tab. Then find the Additive tab within the Manufacture workspace, and click it.
As you see in the image above, you’ll have the option to choose your printer. The Fusions 360 library contains hundreds of manufacturers and printer models.
Once you’ve found the printer, you can adjust basic settings under “Edit Machine” and let’s continue to the material under printing settings.
To be able to adjust settings like layer height, infill or printing speed, you need to copy material settings to your local settings – check following picture to find them.
Confirm your setting, and when the “Arrangement” function is active, your model is now placed in the center of the printer profile.
You can now move the model or use the functions in the “Position” tab, like automatic orientation, which generates optimized orientation based on defined parameters.
There are many common slicers functions like collision detection, drilling, and of course, supports.
With the “Simulation” function, you can analyze the layers of the object with the color legend that describes each model part.
Now, the slicing process is not as traditional as other functions.
With the right-click on the “Toolpath” in the browser window, select “Generate”.
This will start the slicing operation and perform standard calculations like printing time, filament usage, and so on. You can view them all under “Print Statistics”.
To generate the G-Code, right-click once again on the “Toolpath” and choose “Post Processing”.
When you’ve done the Printer settings at the beginning, your printer now is already selected. You need to find the “Post-Processor” of your printer and select the folder, or preferred memory card, to save the G-code.
Note that there is no direct means of linking Fusion 360 to most 3D printers (yet). You still have to save it to a memory card and stick that into your printer.
Tips for Creating High-Quality 3D prints with Fusion 360
So you have the basic workflow for 3D printing clear in your mind, but this is only half the battle, dear reader.
There is going to be a lot of manual messing about to get prints that are perfect. Welcome to the world of consumer-grade 3D printing.
Here are some tips for creating high-quality 3D prints in Fusion 360:
- Use the correct Fusion 360 settings for your 3D printer and material. Fusion 360 has a wide range of 3D printer and material profiles that you can choose from, so make sure to select the ones that are most suitable for your printer and material.
- Check for issues before printing. Use the Mesh Repair tool in Fusion 360 to check for and fix any issues with your design, such as holes, intersecting geometry, or self-intersecting faces.
- Use support structures where required.
- Experiment with different infill patterns and densities. Infill refers to the internal structure of a 3D print and can have a big impact on the strength and quality of the finished product. Try experimenting with different infill patterns and densities to find the best balance between strength and print time.
- Select a smaller layer height to reduce stepping on curved surfaces.
Tips and Tricks
Not everything can be fixed in Fusion 360. There are things you can do with regards to the printer, materials, and even the environment itself to help get the best from your hard work.
- Use a high-quality filament. Using a high-quality filament can make a big difference in the quality of your 3D prints. Look for filaments that have a consistent diameter and are free of impurities or blemishes.
- Calibrate your 3D printer regularly. Regular calibration is essential for ensuring that your 3D printer is printing accurately and consistently. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for calibrating your printer.
- Keep your 3D printer clean. Over time, dust and debris can accumulate on the print bed and nozzle of your 3D printer, which can affect the quality of your prints. Regularly cleaning your printer will help to ensure that it is performing at its best.
- Use an enclosure to keep drafts away. Drafts cause warping.
So there it is. Fusion 360 is a relatively easy tool to get productive within a short period of time. Although mastery of the software takes some a little while longer.
It is loved by makers around the world who are looking for a budget-friendly modelling solution, and the collaborative elements make it good for teams wishing to share their ideas.
The variety of manufacturing tools is quite wide, although it has to be said that the CNC tools are vastly superior to the 3D printing slicer tools.
Maybe you need something more than what the native Fusion 360 slicer requires. Or maybe you like the integration within the same modelling workflow that is provided by using the in-built slicer.
As with all things CAD, there is no one-size-fits all solution. Different strokes, for different folks, as they say.
Our recommendation is to try the Fusion 360 3D printing workflow for yourselves, and to see how it suits you.