A brief mention in an Autodesk post suggests Formlabs is to integrate functionality within Fusion 360.
Autodesk’s Fusion 360 is a very popular tool or designing 3D printable objects. It’s available as a subscription, or at no cost for qualified individuals, which is why it’s frequently used in the maker community.
The typical workflow using Fusion 360, or other 3D CAD systems involves first designing your object, followed by exporting it as (usually) an STL file. This file then is imported into the slicing software associated with the specific 3D printer for job setup. The setup will include orienting the part, selecting materials, organizing support structures, and more. Finally, the object is 3D printed.
If that sounds like a lot of steps, you’d be correct.
But now it sounds like Formlabs wants to simplify this process by the inclusion of a a new “SLA Support” feature in Autodesk Fusion 360 that is said to be “coming soon”.
“Soon you’ll be able to easily define printing orientation, support structures, and print specs right within the Fusion 360 Additive space. Since your designs are parametric, any changes you make to you model will result in an update to all manufacturing models as well. Prints setups can be updated with a click of a button.”
It appears that you would set up virtually the entire 3D print job within Fusion 360, and then pass it through to the 3D printer. That takes out quite a few steps and should speed up workflow for those doing a lot of 3D printing.
This is quite interesting, as it isn’t just file shuffling behind the scenes. Fusion 360 is already a parametric 3D modeling tool, meaning you can numerically change a dimension and the entire 3D model reorganizes itself around that change. The new SLA Support feature seems to store versions of the “manufacturing model”, which would be “oriented and supported” designs, separate from the actual 3D model.
As someone that’s used SLA 3D printing and Autodesk Fusion 360, this feature could be of significant value.
That’s because support structures are the single most complex aspect of 3D printing with resin equipment. You want to minimize them to save on material and particularly post-processing cleanup, but at the same time you want to maximize them to ensure the 3D print has no stray overhangs, nor too much weight to slump and distort the geometry.
The result is that resin 3D printer operators tend to spend most of the prep time fiddling with support structures to get them “just right”.
Formlabs job preparation software, PreForm, does an admirable job generating support structures automatically, but there are always improvements possible, particularly on complex designs.
With the new Fusion 360 feature, it will be possible to experiment with support structure design in a much more controlled manner due to the versioning capability. Operators could perform “A-B” testing on support designs to determine which is most appropriate and effective.
Autodesk doesn’t say exactly when this feature is to be released, other than “coming soon”. Given that Autodesk tends to update Fusion 360 on a monthly basis, it might not be too long before we see Formlabs support appear.
Finally, I’m wondering what other 3D printer arrangements Autodesk might be working to incorporate into Fusion 360.