Working with CAD

I have decided that I wanted to build our robot in CAD this year. I have a bit of experience with Fusion 360 and inventor. What would be a good software to use for the modeling of robots and how can I learn?

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Either Inventor or Fusion are perfectly fine options as far as I’m aware. Really, if you’re familiar with a software and you have it available to you, you can use whatever you like. My team uses Inventor because that’s what I have experience with. I learned using Youtube or included tutorials. There’s also the SolidProfessor license that every team has available to them.

OnShape is a really nice CAD tool. It’s cloud-based and free under an education subscription. Also, there are super streamlined tutorials that are essentially online classes that teach you all basics and the neat little keyboard shortcuts. It’s a possibility you should explore.


We have used Inventor and it has been very nice for us. A couple reasons we like inventor are, lots of students are familiar with it. Also we are able to take our drawings and 3D print or laser cut them which is very nice.

We are making the shift to Onshape this year but ask yourself this:

  • Am I the only one doing the CAD this year?
    If so just go with what you know BEST. Practice importing game files from last year, practice manipulating the kitbot files (if that’s what you use), practice using simple shapes to figure out build envelopes and movement clearance for arms. Practice getting fast at all of this. See how your build season improves, then try to get more students involved and choose the team CAD for the NEXT year.

  • Are other people interested in joining me this year on CAD and do they have 0 experience?
    This question is why we chose Onshape. Good tutorials, and no downloads to slow the new students down. (Personally I use Fusion at home, but it’s got a bit of a learning curve)

  • Do other students know a particular CAD better?
    Team discussion to pick one, then help each other out.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself into this one is better than that.
I’ve used Onshape, Fusion 360, Solidworks and Inventor each for 5+ years with the exception of Onshape for 1 year. Once you learn one, it’s not a leap to learn the next and usually it’s your employer that decides what the company will use anyway.


Practice, practice, practice. The more you do, the better you get. Open up an old game, and cad a complete robot for it so you get an idea of how you should pace yourself during the season.

Cadathon: 7th Bi-Annual F4 CADathon
Next one’s in December I think.

You should evaluate your teams machining abilities and CAD with those constraints. For example, if the team doesn’t have CNC capabilities, don’t CAD like you do and end up not being able to make it.


Check out The Compass Alliance’s CAD Pathway!

Hope this helps.


I would absolutely recommend Fusion 360 if you’re planning on working with a team and already have experience in Fusion.

Fusion can do all the CAD work that you need it to for an FRC robot, and it has a really solid system for version control and coordination across multiple assemblies.

The most important part though is practice! Do Cadathon with a teammate, and if possible field multiple teams. Even if people can’t commit to full time CAD for 3 days and finish a robot, it can be a very valuable experience.

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In addition to what’s been mentioned here, I highly recommend the 973 RAMP videos. They’re a great, thorough run through on how to model up a robot drivetrain and elevator. They’re done in SolidWorks, but all parametric CAD is pretty similar, and the tutorial should work in Inventor or Fusion just as well.

There was also a mention of SolidProfessor above, and I’d like to second that opinion. They have videos explaining every single aspect of CAD.

Also, some advice: modeling a robot is a lot of work. You should have more than 1 person on it. We usually have about six, and larger teams have even more.


Do they teach CAD classes at the middle school and high school that the students already have experience with?

Make sure you learn how to produce proper manufacturing drawings for each and every custom part you are going to create. The manufacturing people cannot build from your 3D model. If you don’t produce manufacturing drawings, it will be much more difficult to realize your design.

If your team cannot do the design and produce the manufacturing drawings in the time required, you are reaching beyond your teams capabilities (see Karthik’s Golden Rules) and you should aim at designing something simpler.

Just to add to the videos, the spartan series videos by 971 are awesome, and they teach you about coming up with a design, which is usually the hardest part for our team.

My team has been using Solidworks for the last two years, with no other cad experience previously. Unfortunately Solidworks doesn’t provide any file revision or cloud saving features. On the whole I’ve been very happy with it.

And for learning it there’s of course YouTube, but i would suggest

My team has been using Solidworks for the last two years, with no other cad experience previously. Unfortunately Solidworks doesn’t provide any file revision or cloud saving features. On the whole I’ve been very happy with it.

Solidworks has a some sort of deal set up with FIRST and you can get them for free in the digital kit of parts. I believe only the lead mentor can get the codes, but after that anyone can do the downloading and installing. And, you can get basically as many copies of Solidworks as you have members on your team ,

And for learning it there’s of course YouTube but what I actually used used was which if I’m not mistaken you can get a free account for your entire team to use.

As a 20+ engineering professional who has worked with just about all of them except OnShape…

  1. If you have never used any type of CAD before, give Fusion 360 a good look. Its workflows are unique and for SW and Inventor users, switching can be a challenge.
  2. If you have used Inventor or SW, it is best to stay with one of these. They will both work without question. AutoDesk will give you Inventor Professional free for 3 years for any student or teacher. SW gives FRC teams a one year version for free (you have to renew it each year)

Our HS has Inventor as AutoDesk literally gave them 3,000 seats for free. SW has not been so generous for school districts so ymmv.

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Start with Onshape, it’s has a short learning curve and is basic within the feature realm, which will keep the students from getting into some crazy 4D reverse sketch V9000 operation. But after a while you can advance some kids to either solidworks, 360, or another “industry standard” Cad. Those can get very crazy and difficult to Use, very quick, so make sure they are truly invested in learning CAD.

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