Rapid Prototyping with Fusion 360

The phenomenon known as 3D printing has been around for several years.

The process usually goes something like this:

  1.  Find something to print on thingiverse.com, pinshape.com, or GrabCad.  The common currency here is STL files.
  2. Utilize some sort of slicing program to divide the component horizontally into layers.  Slicers typically also set variables such as layer thickness, overhang allowance, extruder speed, ect.  The slicer then generates the NC code, typically in .gcode format.
  3. Finally, you fire up your printer and/or print controller software and feed it the .gcode file.

I know, it sounds like a lot of disconnected steps, but what happens when one of the online STL storehouses doesn't have exactly what you want?  Now you're faced with trying to edit an STL model which can be challenging at best.

Fusion 360 can help you achieve your design/prototyping objectives while also condensing the process into one tidy package.

As you probably know, Fusion 360 comes in a couple of flavors; a subscription based version for production work as well as Fusion 360 for Personal use.  While the subscription is reasonably priced, the Personal version is free with the limitation that you can't use it for any "for profit" activities.

The sweet spot is that the following process works with either version.  No extensions to purchase, nothing else to load, it's built in to the core application.

As I stated above, I often find that I can't find exactly what I want to print on one of the online sources.  Another benefit of Fusion 360 is that it employs Autodesk's AnyCAD technology.  It's actually included as a free preview under your Profile Preferences. 

This allows you to find an actual CAD model, (such as on GrabCAD), and edit it directly within Fusion 360.

But, my favorite feature is that I can design a component, then quickly manufacture as a 3D printed part all from within Fusion 360.

The example I'm using for this article is a small fan cover.  It's actually a model I developed for use in our Fusion 360 Sheet Metal training, but it also lends itself nicely to 3D printing.

Once you've completed the model there are 3 main steps to configure Fusion 360 for 3D printing. 

  1. Create a Manufacturing model
  2. Set the printer to be used
  3. Configure the print settings

Creating a Manufacturing Model

You might not always need a manufacturing model, but it's important to orient the model that lends itself best to 3D printing.  This means minimal overhangs and a reduced need for support structures.  To create a manufacturing model go to the MANUFACTURE workspace, select the ADDITIVE ribbon menu and choose Create Manufacturing Model.  This creates a copy of the model that's disconnected from the original. This allows you to make modifications that are necessary ONLY for the manufacturing process. Once you have created the model you need to right click and choose Edit Manufacturing model.   The main thing we want to do here is to get the model oriented for most efficient 3D printing.

Set the Printer

Fusion 360 comes with a number of machines, (printers), pre-installed.  If you require your exact machine rather than a generic equivalent, you can import other machines.  Autodesk has a library of machines located at: cam.autodesk.com/machineslist

Open the machine library using either the drop-down or the icon on the Manage tab of the Additive ribbon menu.

Initially, your machine will be imported without any print settings.

Configure the Print Settings

I like to copy one of the existing print settings, then modify it to suit my needs.  Print settings allow you to make all the adjustments as to how your printer performs.

Once you have things set the way you like, go back to your Machine settings and add your print settings to the machine.  Going forward your machine will use those print settings until you change them.  You can modify print settings for a particular print using the Print Settings Editor on the Print Settings tab of the Additive ribbon menu.

Now that we've got everything configured, we'll create a Setup.  Think of a setup like the instructions on how we're going to print in 3D.  The setup will contain the machine, (with its print settings), the operation type, (in our case Additive), and finally the model we're printing.

Setup is located on the Setup tab of the Additive ribbon menu.

When you click OK in the Setup dialog, you will see the setup appear in the browser tree.  Notice that the icon indicating the toolpath is out-of-date.  

Right click on Additive Toolpath and select Generate to update.


Simulate Print Job

Right clicking on the Toolpath icon and picking Simulate Additive Toolpath will allow you to watch as Fusion 360 simulates the print.  This feature allows you to study how the infill aligns, or how support  structures are configured.  


Generate the .gcode

Selecting the Post Process button will let you save the .gcode file.

This should get you well down the path of creating models in Fusion 360 then creating a rapid prototype using 3D printing technology.




About the Author

Tim Strandberg

PLM Solutions Consultant<br><br>Tim focuses on business process management consulting, product lifecycle planning, and system to system integration.

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