3d modelling – a Birney from my own past

It’s hard to ignore how excited I am about the potential that I feel rapid prototyping really brings to the hobby of model railroading. I’m equally excited to start creating some models of my own. My software of choice is always my trusty old copy of AutoCAD 2005 and we’ve been through a lot together. Exporting to the rapid prototyper’s file of choice, the STL, is something that AutoCAD seems to be able to do using their STLOUT function.

I’ve designed some great case goods like this really neat little table for an architect friend of mine. That series was the first thing that I ever really used 3d drafting. In the case of the table I used 3d plus a lot of real sketching to help understand how to draw those table legs. The learning curve to leap from traditional 2d drafting to 3d was steep but really fun. Around that same time a little company called MakeMyModel.com had just entered the model railway scene and was not only offering their own product line but they were also interesting in “printing” other modellers work. The temptation was too great and I started working on my own model.

I chose a little Birney four-wheel trolley. Drafting for rapid prototype printing was just as steep a learning curve as 3d drafting had been and it was interesting to share emails back-and-forth with the folks at MakeMyModel.com regarding the tolerances their machines could work within. Here’s a photo of the Birney’s shell. I did finish that drawing but the technology wasn’t there and the more we tried to develop something worthwhile the limitations of the technology just became harder and harder to ignore. The biggest of which was the print resolution we would be working with. I had dreams of something that was at least on par with the resin kits I had built. Unfortunately it was looking like the print would likely be too “grainy” and the machine’s tolerances were starting to imply that most of the parts were going to wind up thick, especially since I was dreaming of doing this print for N scale.

Fast forwarding to today, we have companies like Shapeways and the incredible products being offered in Shapeways shops really speak to just how fast this technology is advancing. This morning I was reading on the Nn3 list about the latest cars Roy Stevens is now offering. These little Colorado and Southern gondolas are real charmers and I’m tempted to order some regardless of whether or not I ever, ever get back into playing around in Nn3. Check them out here…

Now that things with the impending house purchase are sort of leveling I hope to have a few more minutes to get back into modelmaking and it’ll be fun to think more about designing some TTn3 things to print out.


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