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Tiny 3D Trains

An intriguing discussion is taking place on Trainboard.com, a place for model railway engineers to discuss, well, model trains!

User ppuinn asks, “Has anyone used 3D printers to make structures for their model railroad?” We think that is an excellent question, since railway engineers will have need for all manner of small plastic building items, and likely could use custom-designed items frequently. To us, this seems to be a very ripe market for 3D print technology.

However, the discussion points out a few issues:

  • Few of the engineers were aware of 3D print technology. User Lownen said, “I didn’t know such things existed. This video leaves me speechless.”
  • The engineers fear the price of 3D printers, and they should. They are definitely too expensive at this point. But what they don’t know yet is that many 3D print service bureaus exist and could easily print out practically any design they wished to submit.
  • Resolution is an issue for model railway engineers. Their parts are very small, and must be relatively high quality to obtain the required visual effect. User Robbmann said, “The lower cost versions aren’t capable of the resolution needed for HO, much less N scale.”

One specialized service bureau has already emerged for this space, MakeMyModel.com, which apparently accepts 3D designs and prints out Z or N scale models.

In spite of these issue, we suspect that model railway hobbyists will very soon discover that is possible to leverage 3D print tech in ways they had never imagined.

Via Trainboard and MakeMyModel


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2 Responses

  1. A recent Model Rail Craftsman magazine had an article about 3d-printing an HO scale passenger car. He used Shapeways, and the article documents some of the difficulties he had, mostly with making sure the data model was printable. He had to do a little bit of cleanup, but in general the Shapeways printer did a great job.

    I've been trying to use a Makerbot for HO models, but it's still a little coarse for such work.

    Model railroad structures are much easier to do with laser cutting. There's a bunch of companies making kits from laser-cut components. Usually, they cut wood with adhesive backing so that they can be assembled with a minimum of glue. The laser-cutting also does fine detail (such as individual pieces for window frames and panes), and can scribe materials to resemble clapboards, or cut paper for shingles.

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