Product Design – Part 3


By now the pennies should be pinched for, at the very least, the major components of your design. We’re not so worried about the choice of fastener or paint color right now as we are in actually designing something. Finally. For me, product design equals AutoCAD Fusion 360. That wasn’t always the case but it’s my default now.

Modern Product Design

As much as I hate to jump on a technology bandwagon, I’m fully on board with 3D models. The ability to print, sculpt, machine, turn and replicate your products is amazing. Like I said before, I wasn’t always a user of CAD software. Here’s a brief history of my usage:

  • 2004 – AutoCAD created wireframes and basic 3D models of Lego robots for an Engineering 101 class. I did OK but had no idea about parametric modeling or advanced techniques.
  • 2008 – Brief run in with SolidWorks. I was quickly frustrated and couldn’t get past basic shapes. Boolean operations were beyond me.
  • 2010 – I took a SolidWorks course and dropped it after the first assignment. I couldn’t even model the basics, even with help from a friend.
  • 2012 – I tried Google’s Sketchup. I struggled with this and gave it up.
  • 2014 – Hired as a “piping engineer” and couldn’t work with the software. I told them it didn’t click with  me.
  • 2015 – Second attempt at Sketchup. Created about 1/3 of a headboard before getting frustrated and giving up.
  • 2016 – Read a blurb about Fusion 360 and decided to try it. Designed my first chair in about 3 days. Haven’t looked back after about 15 models, including animations and FEA simulations.

As you can see, I haven’t been successful using CAD tools. I have always reverted back to pencil and graph paper. Now, I still like to sketch designs to scale to get a sense of proportions but I always model in 3D to speed up everything else by leaps and bounds.


The best thing about Fusion 360 is the support community. There are a lot of helpful YouTube videos and channels. This is the first video I watched and was instantly hooked:


The absolute best (better than the support) part of Fusion 360 are the included CAM tools. I haven’t explored them too much on my own but you can move from creating a model to cutting parts using the same software. This is an incredible feature in the free marketplace. As mentioned before, I have also enjoyed using the rendering and simulation tools. Did you know that 75% of Ikea’s catalog in 2014 used rendered product images instead of actual photos? You might not get away with the limited rendering tools in Fusion 360, but they do turn out pretty nice.

Another really nice feature is the ability to import CAD blocks made by other people and, even more importantly, easily import parts from the McMaster Carr catalog. This is an amazing tool that really allows you to polish your design and dial in your Bill of Material lists.

Last Thoughts

I won’t turn this into a modeling How To but I will continue to speak about my design process in the upcoming Product Design posts. In order for you to really be able to follow along, go ahead and install Fusion 360 and create some basic models!

If you’re interested in this series, check out the first post.

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