@TotallyFred: on learning new machining, CAD and CAM. Yes, it is painful. The glory is when you’ve learned, look at what you can make!
When I learned machining, I was taught by Manhattan Project and former Navy machinist mates near the end of their carriers. They had come through the depression and the war and were very, very concerned about mistakes, safety, not wasting, and being efficient with your time.
They made McGyver look like a baby in diapers!
In the beginning, they would teach us how to do things and then watch us do it. Once they saw that we could do many things they would leave us to making, only rarely peaking in and making a comment. Once we we good at things, now we were dangerous. When confronted with something complex, we would often get totally frustrated because we couldn’t machine it or it would take ridiculous amounts of time and operations to accomplish the task.
Universally, they would come over and say something to the effect of “Don’t blame the tools. That is a sign of a incompetent machinist. GO AND THINK ABOUT IT MORE!” They would send us away to ponder. It was expected that you would come back with a good solution or proof that it couldn’t be done (usually followed by “now let me introduce you to this tool/machine…”).
There was almost always a way to do it and do it well/efficiently. They wanted us to learn to push our tools to the edge. Use what you have, get creative and so forth. Get the job done! Figure out how to make the process more efficient later.
Coming from machining as a manual process I think it is a bit easier to see how to do complex CNC jobs… but really, it’s the same process. Use what you have, deal with part of the problem. Do it again, and again, until you’re done.
Learning to think like they did - many layers, iterations and creative use of what was on hand, internalize the underlying processes and principals; being able to do it “better” is a luxury - is valuable, albeit painful.
MeshCAM is does some fancy stuff (optimizations like what fancy, expensive CAM does) but, by design, it limits the number of operations per pass/invocation. This makes it much less confusing for new CNCers, more than capable of handling a great deal of the jobs out there, and not an expensive, complex piece of software.
MeshCAM is pretty awesome for what it does - and this is from someone who regularly uses high end CAM programs. If one sticks with it, like the people I learned from, you can learn to think about how to use it, repeatedly, to get a job done and done “reasonably” well/efficiently.
Fusion 360 is all about fusing CAD and CAM - to make things smoother - and to use more complex CAM tools. Now you’re working on individual features, not the surface (as MeshCAM does), but one now has increased complexity to learn… and lots of it. You’re into “hard core” machining expectations.
Speaking from experience, one spends a GREAT DEAL of time in their CAD program. We acquire “CAD think”. Switching to another CAD program is often very painful and time consuming, at least to be as or more efficient than we were with the old package. Jumping to new CAD has to make sense.
Likewise, CAM leads to “CAM think”. We can make it work with what we have… but it may not be as nice as elsewhere. If it is worth it, we jump to another CAM package… and suffer as we learn.
Fusion 360 looks really, really good. I still use my tools because it doesn’t offer what I want yet (4 and 5 axis continuous machining), I’m familiar with them and have quite a bit of $$$ invested in them.
If you’re ready to choose a CAD package, Fusion 360 is a very good choice. That it has CAM as well is very, very nice.
Choose what tools make sense to you. If you find CAD that is right for you. Use it! Spit out the CAD data in the richest format possible and use CAM that works for you.