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

Discussion in 'Aircraft Design / Aerodynamics / New Technology' started by Vigilant1, Sep 14, 2019.

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1. Sep 14, 2019

### Vigilant1

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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.

Options I know about:
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

Last edited: Sep 14, 2019
2. Sep 14, 2019

### Hot Wings

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3. Sep 14, 2019

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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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4. Sep 14, 2019

### Hot Wings

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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.

5. Sep 14, 2019

### ScaleBirdsScott

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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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6. Sep 14, 2019

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7. Sep 14, 2019

### mcrae0104

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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.

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8. Sep 14, 2019

### Vigilant1

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

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.

Last edited: Sep 14, 2019
9. Sep 14, 2019

### Hot Wings

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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.

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10. Sep 14, 2019

### Jay Kempf

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Fusion 360 is the right answer for you. We have been using it a couple years now. I am way more experienced and work in Solidworks or Siemens NX but we use Fusion for all our milling toolpath work. It will do everything you need and the student license is free. Full blown license was $1500/yr last time I checked which is a bargain for what it can do. The tool path software is quickly learned. The interface is a bit AutoCADie, new term I just made up, but easy to find your way through. Doesn't seem to crash and seems to have everything needed to do advanced lofting. I will still hold SW up as the best overall modeler. Many disagree but I can make it do all the things I want to do in aviation. Been doing nothing but lofting composite parts with it for years now. Takes some experience in any modeler but you can start small and work up to the advanced stuff. 11. Sep 14, 2019 ### rotax618 ### rotax618 #### Well-Known Member Joined: Nov 1, 2005 Messages: 687 Likes Received: 267 Location: Evans Head Australia Freecad works, is pretty simple to use, is completely free and open sourced and is being improved with every new release. Its probably not mature enough at this point to do everything that is possible in Fusion, but you own the drawings, they are on your computer and new features and workbenches are being added all the time - worth a look, lots of youtube tutorials. Would be ideal Cad/Cam to develope and build a “Ranger” type aircraft. Vigilant1 likes this. 12. Sep 14, 2019 ### Topaz ### Topaz #### Super ModeratorStaff Member Joined: Jul 30, 2005 Messages: 13,829 Likes Received: 5,463 Location: Orange County, California I was pretty happy with OnShape, and was learning that for a while. Then they forced all free accounts to have not only a restricted data space (which they always had, although the restrictions aren't particularly severe), but also that all models built with a free account were publicly visible. Now they seem to have discontinued new free accounts altogether, or at least I don't see that option on their pricing page anymore. I just logged in to my account and it still exists and functions, so they must be grandfathering "old" free accounts. The package is good - developed by ex-Solidworks engineers - and includes assemblies, kinematics, full sheet-metal functionality, and more. Their "basic" paid package is$1500 a year, which is too rich for my blood given the very low amount of use I'd have for it. So I'm just sticking to manual 2D drawing and, if I need a "pretty" drawing, I'll recreate it in Adobe Illustrator, which I have as part of my work software package. For lofting I have an old (it came on 3.5" floppies ) copy of Peter Garrison's Loftsman. Still works, at least as of Windows 10.

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13. Sep 14, 2019

### Vigilant1

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If I go with Fusion 360, the files I create (as I understand it) remain stored on Autodesk's servers, and my ability to keep working with them is subject to my maintaining access at whatever future subscription rate they ask. So, it's a risk, and companies do unanticipated things when their product lines change, when the companies are bought, when they change corporate emphasis, etc.

A nice, easy, cheap, stable 2D package, preferably with the ability to view in 3D ('how does that fuselage really look? Any humps/dips?) might be all I really need after all. I suppose it would be impossible/darn hard to do the drawing in 2D on some sort of Romper Room simple program and then import into Fusion 360 to see how it looks in 3D, assure the fuselage shapes are conic sections/makeable with sheets, export files to a flatbed panel cutter, etc. If Autodesk changed the terms of access, at least I'd still have all the basic drawings on my computer and a program to manipulate them.

For now, there's not much risk in me dabbling in Fusion 360 (see if it makes my head explode). Before I get serious I can examine the available escape options if the fee goes up or the access requirements become onerous.

14. Sep 14, 2019

### Jay Kempf

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Free Fusion360 requires sharing your designs online. No big deal if no one can see the stuff you are doing. When you start paying that changes. But at all times you can upload and download anything from your library local. The software installs and runs local but looks at cloud folders and local folders. We use DropBox a bunch and that allows us to transfer stuff in and out of Fusion360. 2TB on DropBox is secure and is currently I think $99 a year. What the 2D people will tell you is you don't need 3D. But those think there is a higher learning curve 2D vs. 3D if you have never touched a 3D package are wrong. Same. Solidworks is the simplest to learn of all the fancy ones. DesignCAD is$99 and it is really good.

When you start in 3D drawings of any kind are simple. If you start in 2D you think making 3D is hard. It's all about sketching tools and planes, then learning some primitive shapes you can build out of the sketches. You can approach design using surfaces or solids or both.

It is a lot easier than people make it out to be. 3D modeling is so much faster than tedious drafting. Drafting is automatic if you need it after you get the parts right in the assembly. You can grab surface or solids to feed to whatever cutting or printing tool you like.

Most of us don't hardly do drawings anymore. You create the part, you transfer the file, you put a tooling strategy together and you make the part. Drawings are for QC of production parts or to communicate a design to someone else. You can't dimension a complicated lofted surface using 2D thinking. It's the 3D model that drives everything. It can be sliced anywhere and a profile can be created to check anything. Then the tolerance becomes a deviation from the 3D model... I spent a lot of time becoming expert in a bunch of 2D packages. I never use them any more for anything. Can hardly use AutoCAD anymore. Used to do drawings on the board. I only miss some of the artistry of it.

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15. Sep 14, 2019

### FritzW

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Actually you kinda are. Your having to unlearn the traditional way you've always transferred designs from the designers brain to the builders brain.

With traditional drafting you have a 3D idea that you have to translate into 2D representations (because paper was all we had) and the builder had to translate those back into a 3D idea.

With CAD you have a 3D idea that you make a 3D model from. 2D drawings of the model are just a byproduct of the process. The software makes the 2D drawings from the model with a few mouse clicks. ...if you want 2D drawings for some reason.

ie. CAD isn't a new form of drafting, it's a whole different animal. It's not just a way to make "pretty pictures" it's the way everything gets designed now because it works so well (how many drafting tables are there at Boeing or Airbus?)

quick war story: I'm scratch building a new 3D printer from "plans". There are boat loads of complicated 3D parts that have to be made but there isn't a single 2D drawing of the machine. The closest thing to a drawing of it is an online 3D model that you can manipulate anyway you need to.

Sorry for the long unsolicited rant, it's been a long day.

EDIT: when you really get your mind around the idea that CAD ain't drafting then either SW or 360 will work great. I'm a SW guy but I think SW is slowly fading and 360 is going to become the premier package before long. If your in it for the long haul 360 may be a better choice.

Last edited: Sep 14, 2019
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16. Sep 15, 2019

### Hot Wings

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I think this pretty well sums it up. I was trained in paper and blueprint days but I found it a limitation because I tend to think in 3D, and we all live in a 4D world. I still use my 2D because it's quicker for some things, but I now open SW first. As has been mentioned above the drafting side of the 3D programs is just a byproduct - if you need it. The other thing about the better programs is the parametric functionality. This can save a LOT of time when a change is needed - like when we are developing a new design.

Steep learning curve, but for a lot of us it was worth it.

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17. Sep 15, 2019

### Vigilant1

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I suppose one reason that it is hard for me to let go of 2D thinking is that, at least for the exterior of a conventionally-configured airplane, the traditional 3 view drawings (each in 2d) provides a huge share of the most relevant information (wingspan, wing area, horiz tail area, vertical tail area, etc). And, they even happen to be organized as viewed from the three functional axes of motion (roll, pitch, and yaw). Maybe it's very limiting or self-constrained, but that's the way I find it most useful to visualize airplanes in the design phase--as shown in the traditional 3-view drawings. I'd find it most natural to draw the plane from those views, then make the final adjustments (fillets, rounded wingtips, compound canopy curvature, etc) as a cleanup operation. Maybe that's not practical.

18. Sep 15, 2019

### FritzW

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There was some discussion on another thread about "top down" vs. "bottom up" design. What your talking about is text book "top down" design and it's the most common/best/only way to model something complicated like an airplane. Your half way there already.

The mysterious quagmire learning curve that you've worried about doesn't really exist. It'll disappear after an hour of watching youtube tutorials. You still won't know what all the buttons are for but you'll know enough to ask google the right questions. ...and the learning snowball starts rolling.

I know my way around SW pretty good and I still don't know what 90% of the buttons are for. I just draw until I get stuck then I google my way out.

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19. Sep 15, 2019

### lakeracer69

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I am at the point where Vigilant1 is. My question is which platform has the "most" tutorial support?

I would need classwork that shows me how to do the most basic of basic tasks and builds on that. I.E. draw a line, define an arc, intersect that line, find a point on that arc that is tangent to the line, save the results, etc.

Reading blueprints and machining are things I have quite a bit of experience with. Thorough online CAD schooling ( go at my own pace) is what I am talking about. I'm also only going to use it for a hobby aspect so "relatively cheap or free" schooling would be best.

20. Sep 15, 2019

### GeeZee

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Yep, I’m at the same point as you guys. I chose SW (EAA/student edition). As far as PC hardware requirements I found that there are a boatload of off lease workstations available through amazon, eBay, and local mom and pop computer stores at very attractive prices. I chose a local mom and pop store for ease of return/repair. I paid 500$for a machine that was probably someone’s CAD workstation (had a FirePro video card). Amazon has similar for about 350$.