# Easy CAD software for modest requirements: Fusion 360? Other?

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#### Vigilant1

##### Well-Known Member
I'm trying (again) to move into the 21st century and learn a CAD program.
Objectives:
1) Turn an aircraft idea, with dimensions, into an external 2D sketch and eventually a 3D rendering.
2) Lay out an internal 4130 tube-frame or aluminum bulkhead-and-longeron fuselage structure for the aircraft
3) Get a cut list for the tubing or angle for the internal frame
4) Lay out panels (sheet metal, thin ply, or 2-D flat-formed composite panels with bend lines) to match the above fuselage frame
5) Be able to send the panel design to flat-bed CNC cutter to make the sheets.
6) Extra credit: Be able to export the external design to OpenVSP.

I'm looking for good,inexpensive CAD/CAM software that will let me do this with a low pain level. I'm new to this, and my previous experiences have not been pleasant--I have no problem "seeing" perspective drawings, but working in 3D from the start was pretty frustrating for me. I think it would be far more natural for me to start with a "pure" 2d sketch and then plump it up than to start with a bunch of solid shapes and modify them, working in 3D the whole time.

Solidworks (through the the EAA program): It's very powerful--maybe too powerful. "Powerful," in my experience, often means a thicket of deep menus with opaque names or inscrutable icons. I don't anticipate needing/wanting to do FEA, stress analysis, etc. The hardware requirements are fairly extensive. I'd definitely need a new desktop computer to use it.
Sketch-up: Very popular. I have read that it is not easy to export files to do CNC work. I tried it a bit, didn't like the "you'll work in 3D only and like it!" approach, but I could very well be off base with this.
Fusion 360 (by Autodesk): Free to tinkerers, seems to do everything I need. From what I can see, starting with 2D sketches works fine with it, and is expected. Most of the computing is done "in the cloud," so my hardware requirements are modest (and I don't have total control of my data ). I have not tried to use it yet, but "Fusion 360 for Dummies" tutorials are out there.

I'm leaning toward Fusion 360 right now, but would welcome any input on:
1) Will Fusion 360 do what I'm expecting?
2) Is there other software that would be better (esp easier to learn)?

Thanks for any input

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#### Hot Wings

HBA Supporter
Log Member

##### Well-Known Member
I used Solidworks professionally as an engineer for more than a decade, so I'm partial to that package. If I had to start again, though, I would use Fusion 360 just because it's a one-stop-shop solution.

As it stands now, I have to import files into Fusion 360 in order to process them for CNC machining. Fusion's integrated CAM makes moving within the program easier. Solidworks does have CAM plug ins, but it's another paid add-on.

As long as you stick to either one and really learn it, I don't think there's too much difference in what you can do. I do recommend getting 3D mouse to make moving around in 3D easier https://www.3dconnexion.com/spacemouse_compact/en/

And I do mean stick with it, because every package has something frustrating about it. Having taken my share of ineffective CAD classes in college, I think the best way to learn is to recreate something that exists in 3D. That way you can compare your work with the real thing to gauge your skill level.

Made in Solidworks with almost entirely mathematically defined conic curves:

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#### Hot Wings

##### Grumpy Cynic
HBA Supporter
Log Member
I do recommend getting 3D mouse
I'll second that motion - no pun intended.

The only downside is that every time you transition from SW to a web page there is a tendency to want to control the page with the left hand on the 3D mouse.

#### ScaleBirdsScott

##### Well-Known Member
Fusion 360 is kinda weird but it's probably the best one-stop shop to get into right now. The downside is technically even as a hobbyist you only get up to 1 year free, and after that apparently you have to begin a paid subscription. On one hand, it's $60/month which is not cheap, but not totally unreasonable if its something powerful you use every day for business (I pay that much for Adobe CS and I don't use that every day or make money, but I'm glad to have the programs at my disposal so I keep chuckin' bucks) but I do think there's other CAD for cheaper than$60/month into perpetuity so consider the duration of the need and the returns on investment if any.

On the other hand, as a hobbyist they may not necessarily care about how long you keep using it and I'm sure there's ways for many hobbyists to sign up over time, as long as the current offer stands...

Sketchup... I get some of the appeal it can be fast. But it was never really designed with the sort of engineering type features we use in mind. The best I've seen are various workarounds, and so at that point its more to learn. 2D sketch to 3D feature workflow in the Fusion/Inventor/Solidworks world is just a more stable workflow. I wouldn't even bother with Sketchup now that they've lopped off all the export functionality and stuffed it behind some silly paywalls. It's the worst of all worlds for someone trying to engineer a complex thing. unless you really really love their modeling style which, some do I guess.

Solidworks, through the EAA, should stay free. Pretty sure it has watermarks, and any models created with it will be 'tainted' as educational version models. But that shouldn't matter unless you're looking to move into a commercial operation with your design later and want to start paying for it. At that point look long and hard into whether you can get the models officially sanitized. There would likely be a fee for such a process.

SW has more power in some areas than Fusion, but less features all around as was mentioned. It'll let you design a fully featured and complex widget with all the engineering details and variations and set up molds and tooling based on your parts and go the whole way from initial idea to revision AX of some 2D drawing of a part, and beyond. Fusion is not as flexible for such work from what I gather.

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#### mcrae0104

##### Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
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V1, what is your previous CAD or drafting experience? This might influence the best path forward. Learning, really mastering one of these will be a big investment in time. I understand the utility of integrated 3D design for large complex projects but I question it for one-off designs especially when the designer also has to learn a whole new language.

i wouldn't try to talk you out of it but I do think it's easy to let the model and documentation become the project. Kudos for wanting to learn something new. Please let us know which you select and how it goes.

#### Vigilant1

##### Well-Known Member
Effectively, zero. On a happier note: at least I'm not needing to unlearn any previous software or bad habits!

This might influence the best path forward. Learning, really mastering one of these will be a big investment in time. I understand the utility of integrated 3D design for large complex projects but I question it for one-off designs especially when the designer also has to learn a whole new language.

i wouldn't try to talk you out of it but I do think it's easy to let the model and documentation become the project. Kudos for wanting to learn something new. Please let us know which you select and how it goes.
Thanks. Honestly, I'm not excited about taking this on (which is a bad sign). I'm not the kind of person who is ecstatic when Microsoft releases a new version of Office and then spends weeks exploring all the great ideas the folks in Redmond have wrought. I'm the curmudgeon in the corner swearing at the arrogant design team that has now made it impossible for me to figure out how to change the margins on a letter or do the thousands of things I could easily do in the past.

But, if I have a design in my head and I want to get past the "spreadsheets" phase, I think I need to be able to draw the thing. I'm fine with jettisoning the CAM aspects of this if it simplifies the drawing part, but I get the impression that getting the ability to export files for flatbed cutting won't drive me to need CAD/drawing software that is less user friendly.

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#### Hot Wings

##### Grumpy Cynic
HBA Supporter
Log Member
I understand the utility of integrated 3D design for large complex projects but I question it for one-off designs
This is a very good point. After all plans are all 2D, other than some of us that are generating 3D PDFs as compliments to the 2D plans.
If it can be built from 2D plans it can be drawn in 2D.
The only time you really need 3D is if you are going to be offering kits and you need 3D machined parts. Even 2 1/2D parts can be made from 2D prints on a CNC.

Edit:
There is always the paper and T-square option.