Industry Article

Understanding Multi-Faceted Modeling Within Fusion 360

November 24, 2020 by Sam Sattel, Autodesk

Documentation within the project pipeline is essential and design modeling is no different. In this article, learn about how to leverage the different modeling methods in Fusion 360.

There are many different moving pieces to a project, so it’s critical to keep all design processes streamlined and documentation organized. A previous article, How to Manage and Store Project Data with Fusion 360, broke down how integral documentation is within the project pipeline — design modeling is no different. Teams conjure up a staggering variety of products across multiple industries. Modeling helps designs reach finality, while also providing: 

  • Acceleration of the overall design process from start to finish
  • Identification of obvious (or obscure) pre-production design shortcomings
  • Easier visualization and testing of prototypes in different environments or lighting
  • Easier sharing across platforms and teams, especially while remote

Accordingly, different components require unique modeling procedures. Function, geometry, materials, and other factors determine optimal approaches. Engineers can subsequently fine-tune crucial design elements. 

Autodesk’s Fusion 360 is a tool that provides multiple modeling solutions that can be used to help products with design and modeling. In this article, learn about how to leverage the different modeling methods in Fusion 360.


Direct Modeling

While iterative, version-controlled design paths have their advantages, working directly with a component’s geometry is often preferable. Engineers typically refer to this as a history-free approach. Keeping a detailed account of a design’s evolution isn’t paramount — unfettered manipulation of a component is, which negates the need for a linear process. Accordingly, it can foster spontaneous creativity. 


Direct manipulation is quick and easy within the project workspace.

Figure 1. Direct manipulation is quick and easy within the project workspace. 


Fusion 360 counteracts existing problems in the product design space such as non-standard formatting, which can be a challenging issue for many CAD users to navigate. Additionally, users often receive static assets; they have no histories. 

The Fusion 360 direct-modeling function allows immediate editing of physical design features, allowing teams to avoid inefficient design challenges, like awaiting changes from outside CAD tools. Fusion 360 can also accommodate assets in numerous formats to allow easy changes.


Harnessing Tools and Functions 

A team with clear design objectives can utilize Fusion 360 direct modeling using the following steps: 

  • Use the Select tool at the rightmost portion of the ribbon, to highlight a specific design element. This allows for granular changes without impacting the entire product. 
  • Translate, pivot, alter orientation, or adjust the overall presentation of different components on a 3D axis via the Move/Copy pane.
  • Determine customized facial offset distances using the Offset Faces pane.

Fusion 360 functional groups are immensely powerful for such tasks. Teams will notice the following in the ribbon: 

  • Create controls
  • Modify controls
  • Assemble controls
  • Construct controls
  • Inspect options
  • Insert options

With so many options for starting anew, editing, or adding one’s mark upon a design, direct modeling continues to be a useful tool for geometric figures. 


Surface Modeling

Importing models can be a tricky task because every physical product has multiple surface bodies depending on its composition. These bodies are zero-thickness geometries, representative of their material makeup. They’re almost like a skin — accordingly changing in shape, character, and cohesiveness for each component. 

Trouble can arise when an imported model is a collection of these surface bodies. Translation hiccups and other conversion problems can leave surface edges misaligned and determining a design’s true layout then becomes difficult. Traditionally, it can take hours to solve this puzzle. 


Numerous surface bodies can exist within a single file. This is where surface modeling lends a hand.
Figure 2. Numerous surface bodies can exist within a single file. This is where surface modeling lends a hand.  


Fusion 360 can cut this troubleshooting time through surface modeling. Automation and tooling combine to fix lingering issues within models and processes for repairing any inconsistencies may be streamlined. Additionally, parametric surfacing tools let users create functional and aesthetically-engaging surfaces, eliminating any existing design gaps while keeping things to spec. 

Surfaces are many things to one another — they make contact with each other, exist tangentially, and are intricately curved in many instances, which is why achieving continuity within the digital model is essential. Fusion 360 surface tools give designers the ability to create flowing, connected surfaces across entire products. 


Transitioning from Surface to Solid 

Oftentimes, teams using Fusion 360 will eventually want to craft a solid body from a cohesive collection of surfaces. This is a critical step in the modeling process because it brings a design one step closer to finalization. 

One powerful method for achieving this is the following: 

  1. From the Surface tab in the ribbon, click the Create button marked with a drop-down arrow. 
  2. From the menu, click Boundary Fill. This tool allows for intersection, cutting, and combining of surface elements into a complete solid. This accommodates solid bodies, surface bodies, planes, and even geometric tools.
  3. Use the fill tool to match intersecting sections to one another and combine other elements together.

The following actions are also available to users:  

  • Extrude
  • Revolve
  • Sweep
  • Loft
  • Patch
  • Offset
  • Pattern
  • Mirror
  • Thicken

Selecting any of these options summons a popup pane on the right side of the screen. Contextual controls, fields, and toggles will populate, which allows for granular influence over one’s surface model and how that model evolves in response to dynamic design parameters. 


Parametric Modeling

In contrast to direct modeling, parametric modeling is all about documenting progress — as models mature, features evolve. Parametric modeling in Fusion 360 lets teams create history-based design changes that update across all devices automatically. This ties into Fusion 360’s cloud foundation, allowing teams to leverage versioning remotely. 

Parametric modeling is inherently linear. 2D drawings become 3D features, and these objects eventually combine to form cohesive designs. Engineers craft a complete 3D geometry in stages. These models also rely on a number of core parameters (dimensions, patterns, etc.), hence the name. 


Adopting Simpler Workflows

Within Fusion 360, teams will commonly complete the following steps:

  1. Explore and flesh out a design concept
  2. Add pre-determined design parameters, influencing looks and functionality
  3. Introduce associative bodies and edit them accordingly
  4. Create necessary components for documentation, validation, and manufacturing

Design changes in one step affect the overall design everywhere else. This interconnectedness echoes the Fusion 360 parametric approach — one where each change is automatically carried over. 


It may be more useful to create a geometry before finalizing components.

Figure 3. It may be more useful to create a geometry before finalizing components. 


That said, Fusion 360 allows for an unstructured approach. For example, other applications force users to add parts and define relationships between them within assemblies. Such methodologies quickly become problematic and dependencies become hard to manage. 

The Fusion 360 parametric modeller accomplishes the following: 

  • Simplifies the design process for parametric parts
  • Reduces the complexity of parametric assemblies
  • Streamlines file management

Parametric models are comprised of bodies, but what if a designer wants to create parts? By selecting bodies in the leftward list and clicking Create Components from Bodies, Fusion 360 automatically generates components, which combine to form an assembly with little effort. The application does the heavy lifting, thus saving time. 

While parametric modeling typically involves planning, Fusion 360 instead allows users to follow a more exploratory process. There’s less guesswork, premeditation, and problem solving involved. Design changes also won’t interfere with a product’s development. 


Mesh Modeling

Engineers depend on CAD files, and importing assets gets designs off of the ground. However, mesh files are often view-only within traditional CAD software. While the data is visible, users can’t meaningfully interact with it. 

Fusion 360 plays well with other tools, including 3D scanners. STLs and OBJs are editable within Fusion 360, even alongside other packaged engineering tools. This is important because teams can then edit mesh data and use meshes in conjunction with their overall designs. 


Translating Mesh into Meaning

Say a designer has a mesh scan and needs to craft a component from that scan to match up with an existing design.


Even 3D scans, which typically give engineers fits, are highly usable within Fusion 360.

Figure 4. Even 3D scans, which typically give engineers fits, are highly usable within Fusion 360. 


Mesh files in Fusion 360 are converted into usable objects. Here’s how users can leverage meshes effectively: 

  1. Create a cross-section, using the Create Mesh Section tool. This opens a control pane, allowing users to adjust three-axis angles and distances for selected mesh bodies.
  2. Convert the mesh into lines, arcs, and splines via the Sketch Palette. 
  3. Manipulate these new objects parametrically.
  4. Input engineering knowledge within the model, which allows for a cohesive component to come alive on-screen.

This can be done for almost any mesh file and accompanying design. 


Freeform Modeling

Concept sketches are helpful, but they also raise plenty of questions. Designers looking to model their drawings often grapple with how to translate them digitally. Many designs are comprised of shapes and geometric transitions that aren’t so straightforward. 


Some designs aren’t so simple to unify, but gesture-based tools can help make the process intuitive.

Figure 5. Some designs aren’t so simple to unify, but gesture-based tools can help make the process intuitive. 


Fusion 360 users can leverage push-pull gestures to manipulate a design geometrically. Drag any direction to create a cohesive design in seconds. 


Users can tweak the following via freeform modeling: 

  • Symmetry
  • Vertices
  • Edges
  • Faces


Watch degrees and other measurements change automatically while dragging.

Figure 6. Watch degrees and other measurements change automatically while dragging. 

Similar results aren’t achievable just by working with lofts. The primary goal of freeform modeling is to strike a perfect balance between form and function. Thanks in part to detailed contour mappings, users can create complex shapes in short order. 


Fusion 360: A Versatile Modeling Suite

Modeling processes can foster plenty of uncertainty. Traditional methods for creating digital assets are complicated and inaccessible. Autodesk’s Fusion 360 aims to be a platform for all modeling endeavors, saving organization time, keeping customers from waiting, and alleviating headaches so common with other applications. 

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