Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

3D printing and the future of the hobby

1678 views
23 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    June, 2018
  • 14 posts
3D printing and the future of the hobby
Posted by Mjorstad on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 11:47 AM

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of whether 3D printed plastic shells could help model railroading.  

One particular application comes to mind.  There were a lot of locomotives out there (diesel and steam) that shared very similar frames and wheelbases, of which one model may already be made.  Could one application be interchangeable outer shells for different prototypes?

 

For example, there are a lot of 4-8-2 Mountain classes whose dimensions hovered around 73 inch drivers with a 19-20 ft driver wheelbase and 41-42 ft locomotive wheelbase.  There are already two models extant of some of these Mountains (UP’s MT-1/2 and SP’s MT1-5); it seems just 3D printing out a boiler/cab and *maybe* valve gear could make for an easy job of kitbashing for another RR’s class (say, MoPac’s MT-73).  

 

And that’s just one example-there’s plenty of other steam loco classes that share similar chassis characteristics, and it doesn’t even begin to get into the interchangeability of F or E units’ chassis, among so many other diesels.  

 

 

My point is, is this viable, and it so, why isn’t it common?

  • Member since
    April, 2018
  • From: 53° 33′ N, 10° 0′ E
  • 300 posts
Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 12:40 PM

Mjorstad
My point is, is this viable, and it so, why isn’t it common?

3D prints are not at all cheap and a print of a full size HO scale Diesel or steam engine body costs nearly as much as RTR model just for the print, not counting the endless hours of CAD work that has to go into the "drawings"

In the UK, Howver, 3D printing has spawned a number of cottage type business providing narrow gauge body kits to fit on commercially made drives. Mind you, these are tiny locomotives when compared to the standard gauge behemoths of US prototype.

Just to give you an idea of what is already on the market:

Narrow Planet

Fourdees

These are just two examples.

Cheers,

Ulrich

"In my age, I don´t tan anymore - I simply rust!"

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 3,296 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 3:11 PM

Is there a youtube video of locomotive shells being made by the traditional process?  Somehow I imagine it's dozens/hundreds? of units per hour  My impression is that 3D printing is a much slower process.  At least my sons' 3D printer is a slow affair.

I wonder how different the CAD program really is for one vs the other?  Somehow they have to translate a drawing of windows, rivets, fan and locker detail into the mold. 

Good excuse for Stephen to send Cody on a field trip to China.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    February, 2017
  • From: Ayer, MA by way of Queens, NY
  • 74 posts
Posted by TheGamp on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 3:25 PM
Consumer-grade melted filament printers don't really have the resolution folks want for train models in HO or N scale. Cured resin printers are up to the task but expensive, which is why doing the CAD work and farming out the printing to services like Shapeways seems to be the way to go, at least for now.
  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • From: Potomac Yard
  • 1,868 posts
Posted by NittanyLion on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 4:54 PM

Tinplate Toddler

 not counting the endless hours of CAD work that has to go into the "drawings"

On the other hand, there's very few complex shapes involved, especially once you start getting a back catalog of components drawn (imagine a CAD Cannon and Co. or Details West) or locomotive families developed.

Its rolling stock, but no one makes Amtrak's autoracks for the Autotrain.  Armed with detailed photos, it would take a moderately skilled draftsman several hours of work...which is still way less time than it would take to actually print!

  • Member since
    May, 2016
  • 35 posts
Posted by Atchee on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 6:40 PM

Like a lot of stuff we take more or less for granted these days, I suspect that 3D printers will at some point take a quantam leap. 

I expect to see fast reasonably priced machines that use a thumb type drive that will allow X many copies before it erases itself.  Having watched several things recently it appears that printing engine bodies, frames, and drives be easily accomplished.  Print different "phases" of the same locomotive in the same run.  Custom frame set up for various motors, one or two off bodies on rolling stock  with add-ins, much like detail parts are purchased now.

I really expect to see this with things like plastic pipe fittings, valves, sprinklers, etc., as shipping and stocking inventory is expensive and having what you need, including parts that wouldn't be stocked because of poor demand, printed while you wait would seem to be a reasonable thing down the road a bit.

Not going to happen tomorrow but if you look at how far cell phones have come and how we started using home computers with cassette and disk drives, nd the cost and speed of data storage, I don't think this stuff will be all that long coming.  Remember when home computer printing looked like it would stop at impact printers? 4 color ribbons?  8 1/2 X 11 color prints in an astounding 25 minutes?  You get the drift.

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 3,296 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 7:54 PM

I swear I posted another reply.  

Micro trains and Rapido both have decent videos on production of models.  The "toolings" are several; blocks that are the sides, top and end of the shell.  Neither gave the sense that there are multiple copies produced at the same time, but the Micro trains video gave the sense that one copy could be produced in seconds.  Then the work begins to have a completed model.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Chamberlain, ME
  • 4,442 posts
Posted by G Paine on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 11:05 PM

Mjorstad
is this viable, and it so, why isn’t it common?

It all comes out to cost per unit, and the economic niche that fits the process.

The tooling for plastic injection molding is very expensive; so, to make it cost effective, large production runs are needed. The recent interview with the head of Rapido talks a bit about this
https://cprailmmsub.blogspot.com/2018/07/is-he-still-having-fun-interview-with.html 

Resin fits a middle ground. The tooling is less expensive, and a smaller production run in needed to make a break even point. That is why companies like Westerfield and Funaro make the kinds of model kits that they sell. They can not compete with mass produced plastic kits, but make kits of less common prototypes.

Companies like Shapeways are geared to making one-off models made to order from a large library of designs. The cost reflects this. Their 3D printers cost over $1 million each; that is how they get a finish that is acceptable to modelers, jewelers, etc. For instance, I just checked their library for HOn30. There are 442 items listed. HO scale has 24 thousand items. You probably will not find an HO F7 shell there, but you will find parts to convert an N scale steam locomotive to HOn30 - cabs, domes, pilots, tenders and the like

George In Midcoast Maine, 'bout halfway up the Rockland branch 

  • Member since
    June, 2003
  • From: Culpeper, Va
  • 7,695 posts
Posted by IRONROOSTER on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 9:31 AM

I think this has possibilities, but it's too expensive.  Also, for locomotives, I can't tell from the pictures how acceptable the printed detail is versus separately added parts.  I suspect that you will need some number of separate parts.  Also the locomotive mechanism - frame, drivers, rods, motor, etc - will have to be purchased or built separately.  Which makes this a kit in a time when RTR is king for locomotives and becoming so for rolling stock, structures, etc.  And so may never become mainstream.

Like a lot of new technologies, this one has some real intriguing possibilities.  It will be interesting to see how this develops for model railroading, especially as the costs come down and the process matures.  But for the moment it is a niche area.

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
  • Member since
    November, 2013
  • 560 posts
Posted by snjroy on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 2:17 PM

Hi there. In my opinion, 3D printing is likely to take more room in the hobby. I recently did a kitbash of a porter hon30 loco using a 3D print of the cab and boiler (from Shapeways). The level of detail is quite acceptable - and it can only improve in time. I see a lot of potential for detailed engine parts and buildings in the short term. My guess is that in less than a decade, many of us will have one at home and will be able to print from files downloaded from the Web. I actually can't wait for that to happen... But this will not replace the RTR, as others have mentioned.

Simon

  DSC_0173 by " alt="" />

  • Member since
    June, 2004
  • From: From Golden, CO living in Puyallup (Seattle), WA
  • 552 posts
Posted by Renegade1c on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 2:27 PM

Having a 3D printer at home, I have finally been able to get the necessary resolution to make components for structures. I do not yet believe my home printer yet has the resolution to do detail parts. It is not as capable a printer as  something like shapeways. 

It has really helped in construction of many things on my layout, especially in the refinery I'm building. Ia currently building a cooling tower and the fab units at the top are cone shaped, a very difficult thing to model, however the 3D printed part was super easy to make on the printer. The other nice part is that styrene and ABS plastic will bond nicely to each other.  I will post picture of said components once I get home.


Colorado Front Range Railroad: 
http://www.coloradofrontrangerr.com/

flag

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Chamberlain, ME
  • 4,442 posts
Posted by G Paine on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 4:50 PM

IRONROOSTER
I can't tell from the pictures how acceptable the printed detail is

Shapeways has a number of choices of resolution; naturally the more fine the printing, the higher the cost

This is a boxcab I bought a couple of years ago, shown as received. The quality of the print was good with no filling needed

George In Midcoast Maine, 'bout halfway up the Rockland branch 

  • Member since
    January, 2009
  • 2,828 posts
Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 5:24 PM

I recently purchased some 1:87 scale figures from Shapeways to use for making molds for casting resin figures.  The Shapeways 3D printed figures have worked out very good.  My resin castings are far superior to the 1:87 scale figures available from the hobby manufacturers.  By using a high quality master in a Silicone rubber mold the resin figures are almost perfect.
 
My son has access to a fairly expensive 3D printer, about $3000 and it’s resolution is much poorer than the Shapeways printed material.  He also has a quality 3D scanner and it does a good job on 1:87 scale vehicles.  The printer does a pretty good job printing vehicles from scans.
 
I’ve been into 2D CAD for 34 years and at 81 I haven’t been able to master the 3D version of CAD to the point of making a worthy 3D E7A locomotive shell.  My son has been using 3D CAD since it became available and he can whip out almost anything easily so it is learnable but not by this 81 year old dingy.  
 
 
Mel
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 3,296 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 5:56 PM

RR_Mel
By using a high quality master in a Silicone rubber mold the resin figures are almost perfect.

I saw your pictures in another thread.  You figures have pieces that I would think are hard to mold, like elbows sticking out away from the body, like loosely attached boomerangs.  Are you making the molds with the figures head down?  How do you avoid bubbles or air locks that would block the small detail?

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    January, 2009
  • 2,828 posts
Posted by RR_Mel on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 6:31 PM

I make two piece molds.  I let the four hour Silicon rubber set for between 30 to 35 minutes before putting the master in the rubber.  The figures float on top of the rubber.  Using a tooth pick I rock the figures so that the arms and legs pick up some of the rubber.
 
After the Silicon has fully cured I check it very closely for rubber in the wrong places then pour the second half.  I made 15 molds this week with two figure each.  
 
Send me a PM Henry and I’ll sent you some pictures of the process.  I don’t want to clobber this 3D printer thread.
 
 
Mel
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
  • Member since
    June, 2004
  • From: From Golden, CO living in Puyallup (Seattle), WA
  • 552 posts
Posted by Renegade1c on Saturday, July 14, 2018 8:22 AM

here is one part that I 3D Printed for my Refinery. Any other method of making it would have been super difficult. It is the beige colored cone on top. It is vent fan housing for the cooling tower. 

20180304_224051


Colorado Front Range Railroad: 
http://www.coloradofrontrangerr.com/

flag

  • Member since
    February, 2006
  • From: Germany
  • 503 posts
Posted by faraway on Saturday, July 14, 2018 8:47 AM

I am using Shapeways very intense for small add on parts like ditch lights etc. Larger parts with smooth surfaces are still a problem. Anyhow online ordering, printing in the Netherlands and mailing to Germany is far more pleasant than ordering brass parts etc. in the US, learn what is not on stock, pay a fortune for mailing, wait several weeks and visit the local customs office for pickup.

 

Shapeways used to need 2-3 weeks until they shipped. They improved that dramatically down to 2 days for my last order. Ordered Sunday, they shipped Tuesday and I got the parcel Thursday right at my door. Perfect service.

Reinhard

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: west coast
  • 4,241 posts
Posted by rrebell on Sunday, July 15, 2018 12:41 AM

3-D printing is so old school now with immersion printing coming online. Might make commercial printing viable on a large scale.

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 5,789 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Sunday, July 15, 2018 12:46 AM

rrebell
Might make commercial printing viable on a large scale.

And save the Air Force a few bucks, too:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/the-air-forces-10000-toilet-cover/2018/07/14/c33d325a-85df-11e8-8f6c-46cb43e3f306_story.html?utm_term=.2ae5dcb76e29

Good Luck, Ed

  • Member since
    July, 2009
  • From: somerset, nj
  • 1,986 posts
Posted by gregc on Sunday, July 15, 2018 6:48 AM

rrebell
Might make commercial printing viable on a large scale.

GE fired up world's largest commercial jet engine usign 3D-printed metal parts

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

  • Member since
    May, 2017
  • 90 posts
Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Sunday, July 15, 2018 10:04 AM

It was previously mentioned, but tooling is a major drawback to plastic injection molding. Model Railroading in particular requires lots of tooling to capture different styles of freight cars, locomotives and trackside buildings. And each mold is expensive to do and make. A comparison of the pros and cons of different manufacturing processes can probably show the strengths and failings of current printing methods.

Now lets say its a large model railroading company such as Walthers or Athearn. They have enough money to invest in multiple toolings for multiple products. If one product fails, the success of the rest of their catalog will cover the costs of the tooling for the failed product. In comparison though, with the smaller companies such as ScaleTrains, Rapido or ExactRail each tooling mold is an investment... if the product created with the tooling fails on market then that is a huge loss of money which could be potentially disastrous for the company. They have enough market knowledge and practice to avoid this from happening, but it definetely highlights the risks each time tooling for plastic injection molding is done. 

So what if you want to produce a relatively unknown prototype, which only a handful of modelers would want to buy (but also has a larger market demand than just making a one off scratchbuilt/kitbash model)? That is where the world of 3D printing, resin casting and laser wood cutting is useful. When I visited the ExactRail office a while ago to see Pelle's former layout, I got to see their laser wood cutter which was next to Pelle's layout and in use making kits when I was there. A quick visit to their TrainLife website shows the type of products they are able to produce on a smaller scale thanks to that laser wood cutter in their office; all at an investment price far cheaper than making new car tooling. 

3D printing with Shapeways especially fills this demand for rare locomotive designs and freight cars. The investment in 3D drafting is not really that difficult for anyone with some Solidworks training and access to a Solidworks license; and is probably easier than desiging proper tooling for a plastic injection model. 

But do I think 3D printing has a widespread commercial use comparable to plastic injection models? Probably not. Its to slow to mass produce 3D printed models in the massive production requirements needed for large commercial runs. Once anything is big enough to go commercial, laser wood cutting can do it quicker for small scale batches; and plastic injection molding is a must for large scale mass produced batches. 

But... if home quality printing starts becoming an option; it might be possible to found model railroad companies in the future that are more like a software company than a traditional production company. Selling digital 3D designs to consumers that could be printed at home. That thought has an almost Star Trek replicator feel to it! But until then, I think 3D printing is great for one off production models, but not ready for mass production of wide product runs. 

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 10,573 posts
Posted by wjstix on Monday, July 16, 2018 12:54 PM

I imagine the price of 3-D printing will come down over time. I remember our first color TV (c.1970) cost something like $500 (roughly $1500-2000 in today's money) and was about the size of a Volkswagen. The early VCRs in the mid-70's cost around $250-300, by the eighties you could find them for $100 (or less).

I think too you have to weigh the price vs. the alternatives. I'm a Great Northern fan, but I don't know that I'd pay $1000 for a brass GN Pacific, but I might pay $150 for an accurate plastic body for one designed to fit on Bachmann's or BLI's USRA 4-6-2 chassis.

Stix
  • Member since
    April, 2018
  • 8 posts
Posted by Jones1945 on Monday, July 16, 2018 10:27 PM

I did imagine I can make replacement small detail parts for my models train by download 3D files on the web and print it out using a 3D printer in the future, younger generation who are really good at it might be able to make a living by making various plastic parts for difference models. : )

  • Member since
    June, 2003
  • From: Culpeper, Va
  • 7,695 posts
Posted by IRONROOSTER on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 12:41 PM

G Paine

 

 
IRONROOSTER
I can't tell from the pictures how acceptable the printed detail is

 

Shapeways has a number of choices of resolution; naturally the more fine the printing, the higher the cost

This is a boxcab I bought a couple of years ago, shown as received. The quality of the print was good with no filling needed

 

Well that looks pretty good.  I don't know your prototype, but it appears that rivet detail and grab irons need to be added maybe other things as well.  And of course the mechanism.  Which is part of the point I was trying to make, in an RTR world  this will be a small niche in the hobby.

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!