The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

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The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Dreezy » Sat Sep 05, 2015 4:53 pm

I'm a model railroader who is currently going to business school. As part of my program, I visited a workshop earlier today that specializes in 3D printing. The guys working there there described all of the things that they can do. The items that the shop produced were quite impressive. They were able to quickly make a few plastic animals for me and my colleagues to take home. That prompted me to wonder what practical applications this technology might have for railroad modelers. How might this change our hobby? It seems to me that as 3D printing continues to "come of age," so to speak, crafting bespoke items and replacement parts may become significantly easier. As far as I can tell, the only major drawback is that modern printers can't yet achieve the level of detail it would take to build truly tiny things, like detains on the side of an N-scale locomotive. This also sort of caused to wonder whether 3D printing might "disrupt" (to borrow a business term) the model-building industry as a whole. Anyone with a little know-how and access to a 3D printer could become far less dependent on manufacturers to provide very specific things. A Google image search seems to bear this out.
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby CNJ999 » Sun Sep 06, 2015 12:09 pm

While 3-D printing will undoubtedly find a place in model railroading's future, I anticipated that it will be on a fairly limited basis. More likely is the potential for more small companies like Shapeways to contract with individuals to create specific products in very limited batches for personal use.

While there remains a certain percentage of today's hobbyists capable of both computer designing the critical set of specs necessary for 3-D locomotive superstructure fabrication, as well as the modeling skills/talents equally necessary to successfully scratchbuild the mechanism for say a custom steam locomotive's frame and drive gear to carry a 3-D generated superstructure, their numbers are small and by all evidence shrinking. The days of large numbers of hobbyists building road specific motivepower that might support a broad use of this new and innovative approach to our hobby is long past and 3-D printing is highly unlikely to revive it.

At best I could see a future in a limited 3-D printing market for R-T-R, or less likely advanced craftsman kits, addressing highly road specific locomotives and rollingstock produced in very small batches on a pre-order basis at what in our current economy would be regarded as outrageous prices. Such might be the future of the few remaining large commercial manufacturers we still have today as interest in our hobby shrinks...shades of a return to something like the cottage industry that scale model railroading arose from nearly a century ago. :wink:

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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Desertdweller » Sun Sep 06, 2015 11:34 pm

I saw the cover of the current "Model Railroader". Cover story was using a 3D printer to produce model structures. Other articles featured DCC.

This sort of stuff is why I no longer buy that magazine. How many model railroaders happen to own a 3D printer? How many would spend several thousand dollars from their model railroad budget to buy one? Is this even "modelling"?

The model railroad seems to have gotten lost in the hardware. Maybe a better title would be "Model Railroad Computer and Electronics Projects".

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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby jwhite07 » Tue Sep 08, 2015 1:30 pm

This sort of stuff is why I no longer buy that magazine. How many model railroaders happen to own a 3D printer? How many would spend several thousand dollars from their model railroad budget to buy one? Is this even "modelling"?


I did get beyond the cover and read the article (not meant as an offense, Les). The hurdle stated in the article was not the need to invest in a still-very-expensive 3-D printer, but owning and knowing how to use a CAD software package suitable for design of such a project. There are not a few people who have exposure to CAD programs in their professional and even personal lives, and from the number of CAD programs out there made specifically for model railroad layout track design, I suppose CAD really isn't only for the realm of engineers and computer wizzes (I am neither; CAD is still Greek to me). At any case, one of the points made in the article is that it is not necessary to own a 3-D printer; printing services are available through Shapeways and other vendors.

I am intrigued by the possibilities of 3-D printing in model railroading. For example, one of the things I have really desired in the HO scale modeling world is "normal" everyday automobiles. I model the circa-2000 era, where streets are full of import cars such as Toyota Camrys, Honda Accords, you name it. But these have never been readily available in the market - except now there's a vendor on Shapeways who makes 3-D printed Camrys. I snapped up a half dozen of 'em. Yes, they're kinda rough and will need some work to make presentable, but they're AVAILABLE, as are countless other things you could never find before. And the technology, and thus the possibilities, will only get better.

Same thing with laser-cut structure kits. LOVE 'EM. Can't get enough of 'em. They beat the snot out of plastic. They add to my enjoyment of model railroading. Somebody's gotta have the hardware, computer program, and know how to make 'em, but it doesn't have to be me.

DCC? Well, we've all talked both sides of that in this forum many times. For me, I was a holdout until just a couple of years ago. Now I'm sold on it, all of my locomotives have DCC, and I read articles on it to learn what the technology offers over my limited knowledge of putting decoders in locos and programming which way the pointy end is. I'm not going to get into sound (I think it's overbearing and annoying in a small-to-medium sized layout room environment), I'm not interested as some are in using DCC for signals and controlling turntables and most of the other stuff DCC is good for. I'm gonna learn enough about DCC and JMRI to speed match and optimize my locomotive fleet, control lighting functions, and wire a few reverse loops and wyes, and I'll leave the really high tech stuff for those who want that.

Yes, the "trade press" as it were sure does use up a lot of pages on the technology aspect of the hobby. I'm old enough to remember my eyes glazing over reading the lists of diodes, rectifiers, and capacitors from Radio Shack and the incomprehensible and uninteresting (to me) circuit diagrams that were in articles about how to build your own throttles or signal systems or such things in years past. "Computers in Model Railroading", indeed! Heady stuff, writing a layout capacity calculation program in BASIC (I actually did that one!). Has anything REALLY changed all that much? It's just another generation of technology being applied to the hobby.

I do think there should be more articles on the basics - there are an awful lot of new layout building and scenicking techniques out there that need to be talked about more (something I am especially interested in since I am finally, after two decades of dreaming and a decade of talking about it, beginning to construct my first layout of my adult life). There should be more articles on truly mind blowing model railroads and how they were built. There are some, sure, but the thing which has struck me several times recently and what I am FAR more concerned about being a trend, is I read about a really incredible feature model railroad, only to get to the end of the article and read that it was built by some guy who's retired from upteen years as a professional, or the railroad has been already been dismantled or its owner passed away long before the article was even published. No wonder it took me 20 years to finally say enough, I'm ready. I'm in my 40s now, I was apparently too young until now! Should I wait another 18 years until I can retire and have time to build a magazine-worthy model railroad?
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby YamaOfParadise » Tue Sep 08, 2015 4:22 pm

As of the current pricing of 3D printers, and the quality-to-cost ratio, its effect is definitely more in the purview of the manufacturing-side of things. This enables smaller manufacturers - like Shapeways - to come about and be solvent in the long-since-dwindling market. Something I see as a benefit of 3D printing, however, is that it can enable a deviation from the more traditional "manufacturing runs" model of production towards a more "order-and-receive" model. While a manufacturer would still need to make sure that they can sell enough to recover their design costs, after that, the only limitation after that is simply the material/energy costs of printing the thing; the model's file will exist digitally as long as the drives containing it are functional (and it isn't deleted, of course). The total number of people needed to merit the production of more models would be simply 1 person.

In my own experience with personal 3D printing, though, the most affordable 3D printers currently available just aren't suited make highly-accurate prototypical models. This will inevitably change in time, though it is not a given that the decrease in price nor the decrease in price for higher-quality 3D printers will continue infinitely or at the same rate. The most affordable 3D printers out there tend to have either rougher prints or lesser ability to work at smaller precisions (or both), so are definitely be more suited to buildings and other scenery, as opposed to locomotives or rolling stock. If one has the skillset/expertise required to make a model, one does not necessarily need to own a printer to get a print done, they need simply to have access to one. Besides from the obvious benefit if you know someone who has one, or if one has the permission to take advantage of their place of work's equipment, makerspaces often have 3D printers available in them. Demographically, these skew to younger college-age folk (like myself), but as long as you have the skills to produce a 3D model document on your own, it's an option. The caveat being in the latter part; but the knowledge on how to do 3d modeling is not fundamentally any more unreachable than conventional modeling knowledge and experience. It just tends to cater to different pre-existing skillsets and talents. As such, some individuals will have a harder time with it, just as some people will have an easier time with it.
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby CNJ999 » Sat Sep 12, 2015 9:37 am

jwhite07 wrote:
(SNIP) I do think there should be more articles on the basics - there are an awful lot of new layout building and scenicking techniques out there that need to be talked about more (something I am especially interested in since I am finally, after two decades of dreaming and a decade of talking about it, beginning to construct my first layout of my adult life). There should be more articles on truly mind blowing model railroads and how they were built. There are some, sure, but the thing which has struck me several times recently and what I am FAR more concerned about being a trend, is I read about a really incredible feature model railroad, only to get to the end of the article and read that it was built by some guy who's retired from upteen years as a professional, or the railroad has been already been dismantled or its owner passed away long before the article was even published. No wonder it took me 20 years to finally say enough, I'm ready. I'm in my 40s now, I was apparently too young until now! Should I wait another 18 years until I can retire and have time to build a magazine-worthy model railroad?


In regard to the widely held opinion among today's hobbyists that one needs to attain at least middle-age or older before successfully becoming a model railroader, be advised that this is a completely mistaken concept. In fact, the further one goes back over the history of the hobby in the second half of the 20th century the younger the typical adult hobbyist becomes. For many years Model Railroader magazine published reader surveys documenting all manner of facts about its readership and one of the most striking aspects of these was watching the age of the typical hobbyist rise with the passage of years. The advancing figures had become so striking by the 1990's that MR ceased to publish these survey completely, undoubtedly out of concern that it might deter any younger enthusiasts. The final cited number from the mid 90's was as I recall 56 years. In 1989 the number had been 44, in 1979 37, and in 1969 it had been 33. The figures published in a 1950 issue were the most telling of all, citing the average hobbyist's age as just 30 and indicating that only 5% of MR readership were over 50! Talk about the greying of the hobby.... :(

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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Desertdweller » Sat Sep 12, 2015 8:57 pm

CNJ,

I think the survey results you allude to are quite telling. As the average age of model railroaders increases in close proportion to the dates indicated, do you supposed the individuals polled are in fact the same people? I think this is highly likely, as people who get into the hobby as young adults tend to stay with it. In my own case, I got into the hobby at age 20, and continue in it at age 66. I have changed scales once, from HO to N, at age 30.

I suppose the people who are just trying out the hobby tend to be at the younger end of the demographic. They are looking for an enjoyable hobby, and if they don't like it, they will quickly drop it. There are always a lot of choices in hobbies.

Another thing can influences this is economics. Younger hobbyists are apt to be working into higher-paying jobs, and are apt to have many demands on their resources. By the time they reach middle age, their children are grown and they are reaching their highest earning years. Also, they are more apt to have space in their homes for model railroads. If they want a nice model railroad, now they can afford it and have space for it.

I was lucky to have had at least an idea of what my ultimate model railroad would be. I have been accumulating equipment for it for 30+ years. Much of this is out of production now. If I had to start all over, I don't think I would be able to do it. What will happen to my model railroad when I die? My children and grandchildren really have no interest in modeling a railroad world they are not familiar with. They cannot be expected to model something they cannot relate to.

So old model railroaders will continue to get older, with not many newcomers to replace them. High tech model railroad products will price themselves out of the beginners' market. I'm afraid there is not much future for this hobby.

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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby RussNelson » Sun Sep 13, 2015 1:09 am

Interesting. The people who run speeders on 12" to the foot railroads are also concerned at the greying of their hobby. If they don't have enough people to go on an excursion, how are they going to be able to afford to pay the railroad's fee?
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby CNJ999 » Tue Sep 15, 2015 10:48 am

Desertdweller wrote:CNJ,

I think the survey results you allude to are quite telling. As the average age of model railroaders increases in close proportion to the dates indicated, do you supposed the individuals polled are in fact the same people? I think this is highly likely, as people who get into the hobby as young adults tend to stay with it. In my own case, I got into the hobby at age 20, and continue in it at age 66. I have changed scales once, from HO to N, at age 30.

I suppose the people who are just trying out the hobby tend to be at the younger end of the demographic. They are looking for an enjoyable hobby, and if they don't like it, they will quickly drop it. There are always a lot of choices in hobbies.

Les



Not really wishing to derail the original topic of this thread, I would nevertheless like to offer an answer to the question posed in Les' post above.

I feel that the greatest factor in the obvious aging of the "average" MR hobbyist derived from the fact that as the years passed fewer and fewer young people took up the hobby, thus forcing the figure ever upward. Appreciate that between a third and a half of all American households had Lionel or American Flyer trains circling the Christmas tree toward the end of each December in the 1950's. This was the obvious gateway that led many older teens to scale model railroading as they began to mature. The MR reader surveys that I cited previously sometimes included the percentage of "teens" who were in the hobby (ownership of Lionel or Flyer trains did not qualify, being regarded as a totally separate hobby from about 1955 forward by MR). According to MR one reader in five was a teen in 1956 and even as late as 1974 this figure still stood at one in nine. I'd bet the farm that not even one in a hundred MR readers is a teen today! Likewise, around 1955 model railroading was regarded as the second most popular adult hobby in the United States (stamp collecting was #1). Today it doesn't even make the top 100 in lists I've seen.

It would seem that model railroading has mainly been a Baby Boomer Generation interest always. The hobby was very small prior to WWII but exploded in the 50's. Although a definite craftsman's hobby throughout much of its history, there appears to have been something of a resurgence in interest shown by the older Boomers from about 1990 through the early 2000's with the mass introduction of sophisticated RTR HO which made the hobby much more accessible to those lacking the modeling talents of their predecessors. The Baby Boomer Era is drawing to a close and I leave it to readers to say what will become of the hobby in the 2020's and 30's.

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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Engineer Spike » Tue Sep 15, 2015 8:39 pm

The whole hobby has changed over my 30 year modeling career. In the 1980s, Model Railroader used to have kit bashing articles, and also about signal system circuits. One was for wiring a CTC control point. This involved having the signals correspond to switch position, and direction of travel. Other articles were about detailing locomotives. Now everything is about the grandiose layouts, which most people don't have time or money to build.

On the bright side, I belong to a locomotive scratch build/kitbash/detail forum called Diesel Detailer. The big manufacturers seem to offer the same thing over and over. Each run is more costly, but has more detail. They get the mass appeal. Just about every railroad has had GP38s, so just about everyone will need one. This equates to more sales.

The hard core want models of less popular equipment. This has been the domain of resin casters. Kaslo Shops has been big here. They seem to specialize in Canadian prototype, although they have done American too. This still has to be done in batches, as the molds apparently wear out fast.

3D has a big advantage. Once the CAD drawings are done, the model can be printed as needed. Someone with copious time could make dozens of drawings. This is a good way to have the oddballs available. Imperial is a company which does lots of transit models, such as trolleys, subway cars, and commuter equipment. Their site says that the resin molds are being replaced by 3D printing.

I have seen some interesting results, such as a Metra F40PHM Winnebago, early GE Dash 8, Santa Fe Topeka GP7 cabs, and NS Crescent and Admiral cabs.

I'd also like to add to my comments earlier, about the mainstream manufacturers. They all trip over each other to make the same thing. Intermountain did the GE ES44AC. Athearn then did the same version. Canadian Pacific has at least 4 car body versions of that model. Both above did the first version. Why not cooperate? If Intermountain did the early version, why couldn't Athearn do the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th?

Now Athearn wants to copy Atlas with the GP39-2. Only about 5 class 1 lines had them new. This is why I give Bowser a thumbs up. 6 axle Alco/MLWs, Canadian SD40-2! Something no one else had the creativity to do.
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Bigt » Tue Dec 08, 2015 2:01 pm

Engineer Spike - I agree with your thoughts. One item is brought out by someone, then,
everyone does their version. As I have said in various other sites on this forum, I will not pay
the prices that are now being charged for model locomotives. I don't care how well detailed
they are. Quite honestly, some of the rolling stock is now approaching (or has) the point of
being way overpriced.

I think too that the loss of modelers can be attributed to the very culture of today's society. Yes,
I know times change, but, when was the last time you experienced a truly friendly railroad? Do we
all remember when you could contact the public relations department, or other department of a railroad,
with questions or requests for information, brochures, guest speaker, etc., and, actually receive a reply?
That does not happen now. Or, when a person was not looked upon as a "suspicious person", but, as someone
interested in the railroad industry, and therefore, was treated accordingly. With permission, I photographed
the men of the local that serviced my hometown while they did their jobs. In return, I provided each one with
a complete set of the photos I took - with as many copies as they might wish. In return, I was provided endless
answers to my many questions, and, fostered many long-time friendships. I don't see that happening anymore.
As I said earlier, I know times have changed. But, how would you foster interest in a young person of an industry
that really no longer wishes to create good public trust and goodwill? Just my thoughts....might be wrong..........?
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:17 pm

Desertdweller wrote:This sort of stuff is why I no longer buy that magazine. How many model railroaders happen to own a 3D printer?


Few to no one. But you can hire someone to produce custom parts for you. You provide a drawing and get stuff printed, or purchase something from the thousands of pre-designed products out there. It's another tool in the modeling arsenal, not a replacement for talent. In fact, there's a real talent in designing some of these items, whether they are carbody shells or small details.

For example: http://www.shapeways.com/marketplace/mi ... el-trains/

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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby MarkVIIIMarc » Mon May 16, 2016 9:50 pm

3D printing rocks.

I have very limited experience but after fighting Sketchup for a few hours I was able to create the body of a HO well car I could actually use on 18" turns! Glued on some trucks and couplers and I was in business.

Image

Image

Image

Cost was about $20 a piece if I recall plus equipment so probably $30ish? I figure a good artist who really likes to count rivets could do 100x better.
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Re: The Effects of 3D Printing on Model Railroading

Postby Dreezy » Tue Oct 04, 2016 2:18 pm

MarkVIIIMarc wrote:3D printing rocks.

I have very limited experience but after fighting Sketchup for a few hours I was able to create the body of a HO well car I could actually use on 18" turns! Glued on some trucks and couplers and I was in business.

Cost was about $20 a piece if I recall plus equipment so probably $30ish? I figure a good artist who really likes to count rivets could do 100x better.

Wow, great job MarkVIIIMarc! That's something I would really love to learn how to do. Do you mind if I ask what sort of printer you used (and what the resolution was)?
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