Working with a Free CAD

Most readers here know CAD is the acronym for Computer Aided Design. I think it is fair to say that the computer has totally replaced the pencil and paper (drafting) of the not so distant past. I was taught drafting or mechanical drawing back in the 1960’s. (Maybe that was a long time ago…)

Well, CAD is all that I use today. Pencil only meets paper when I am doing some preliminary sketches or idea doodling. I also get preliminary dimensions and add to my pencil sketches. Paper and pencil are not totally absent, but present and necessary only in the very initial idea stage.

I own and use several types of CAD systems in the jewelry, machine tools, and 3D printing that I enjoy. I am not going to promote one from the other, but each version or type that I own have their own special features that help me. Every designer needs to find the CAD systems that works best for their own skills and needs.

As a hobbyist user, I consider myself a semi-pro. I use the big-name software, but not to the design extent of a major commercial manufacturing industry. I am not designing a new 60,000 seat sports stadium with a free-span roofing system. What I create I can hold in one hand.

One of the major big names in CAD is AutoDesk. Makers of AutoCAD, Inventor, Fusion 360 and others. But there are other very serious and big-name CAD software systems. There is a free CAD product actually named FreeCAD. (I have it.)

I mention AutoDesk as I started using one of their 2D (two dimensional) AutoCAD packages when I first started working in the construction industry. Today I use a new 3D system they offer called FUSION 360.

AutoDesk software has always been very professional and therefore very high priced for a hobbyist. They had a 2D (two dimensional) AutoCAD Lite version at a reasonable price, but not free. I used that for many years.

But FUSION 360 broke new ground for AutoDesk when they offered it free to hobbyists and start-up business. They have recently (this year) modified that “for free” offer. The Start-up/Hobbyist has been separated into Start-up (Commercial) and Personal (Not for Commercial Use) Both are free but there are some limitations for free Personal. I then became unsure in which group I belonged.

I first registered Fusion 360 for KautzCraft Studio and thus qualified as a Start-up business, as I sell a few of the small jewelry and 3D printed items I design in CAD. My other (purchased) 3D CAD software systems (mostly Rhinoceros and Vectric Aspire) I pay high dollar to own and have no qualms about income derived from using them. They are the CAD I use for jewelry design. Fusion 360 is my primary 3D print CAD. I sell very little of my plastic 3D printed Junque. I mostly give it away.

I am not really a Start-up Commercial business by its true industry definition. I am a hobbyist making some minor profit from selling some of my hobby-made items. I recently changed my FUSION 360 Start-up to the Personal (free) subscription after AutoDesk (at last) clearly defined a hobby revenue amount. I never intend to grow into a $100K business.

Buying the regular subscription is what AutoDesk really wants the Start-up to do. At least grow into a need for a purchased subscription. The promotion subscription price (about $25/month) is in-line for what I pay for my other CAD, but I really don’t need to pay for a third (actually 4th) CAD system. I like F360 well enough, but not enough to add it to my overhead costs. I am a small hobbyist, earning enough (in my old-age retirement) to pay for the materials and tools of my hobbies. If I don’t need a tool, I won’t buy it.

I now know my limited personal hobby revenue qualifies for the amount AutoDesk defines as personal use. They state (in writing) less than $1000 revenue from hobby sales qualifies for personal use. Total KautzCraft Studio revenue including jewelry is not even close to that annual figure. $1K revenue is not very much these days. But it is a mark in the sand. I have no need to worry where my hobby business fits.

If I were manufacturing and making a sustainable living from the use of their software in a commercial business, I would be happy to be paying my share to support THEIR business. Plain and simple. If THEY offer free use to me as a hobbyist, then I accept their generous offer.

The personal (not for commercial use) version eliminates the collaboration feature, data management and generative design. Also, phone and email support are not available. There are limitations from importing commercial file formats. Nothing I need at this point.

If someday I become NOT qualified for free use, I will let AutoDesk know. In my heart, I would know when I am not, and would do what is necessary.  Free use is a privilege and not a right. Some folks may fail to understand a free privilege does not mean unlimited.

I could live (enjoy my hobby) without FUSION 360. That’s my second determining indicator. But I will admit I have gotten comfortable using FUSION 360. It does have some quirks and limitations, that’s why I am keeping my other CAD packages updated. If FUSION 360 goes away because of qualification abuse, I will miss it. But I have several options for continuing with my other tools.

There may come a time when all I need is FUSION 360. I’ll probably make that decision when or if I must choose to renew the other subscriptions I have. I think Vectric Aspire is one of my keepers for sure. But I need more than just that CAD/CNC system alone.