A “paradigm shift” was one of those catching business terms like “thinking outside the box” it seems like we couldn’t get away from at the office. I can only apologize for the term and then just leaving it there. Now, on with the idea.
At the recent RPM in Truro I presented a short talk on 3D printing. I discussed my relationship with 3D printing in general and handed around some examples of models I’ve created so far. Listening to myself talk a thought occurred to me with regard to 3D printing and the potential of rapid prototyping in general within the hobby. I’m still reflecting on it and thought I’d try and introduce it here. I regarded 3D printing as a means of extending my workbench. Indeed the first models I printed using Shapeways’ 3D printing service were clerestory roofs and they were perfect examples of this approach. Over the years I’ve fooled around with various methods of forming clerestory roofs for passenger car models with mixed results. The idea of printing one pair seemed brilliant and indeed proved to be true. Extending this further, making two, three, or however many I needed with just as much ease seemed so amazing I printed more. Holding three identical roofs in my hands it was easy to see that the theory was proven without any doubt. Further, Shapeways printed these three in less time than I could have made up just one pair. “Welcome to the future!” I proclaimed to myself and just about anyone else who was listening.
So here’s the bigger thought that I’m mulling over: I believe that these processes will democratize the very way we relate to the manufacturing of model trains and it could offer some exciting potential in how we select the “right” scale for us to work in. Where before we might decide to work in HO scale because it is a scale that seems so well supported by manufacturers or avoid something like S or TT for the opposite reason RP technologies could offer something of a leveling effect. I really dislike referring to a scale as a “scratchbuilder’s scale” and wonder if the ability to 3D print stuff sort of bridges that gap a bit if you’re not ready to make every single part of every model. Instead of the choice of scale being driven by supply of product at a cost to you and your vision, it could be driven by your comfort level and further by its potential to represent the prototype you’re modeling – basically abridging a statement like “3D printing made it possible for me to model XYZ in HO scale” to what, I feel, it should be: “…made it possible for me to model XYZ.”
In a number of ways we’re still only in the early days of this revolution but the potential it offers could have a profound effect on the hobby but it’s a potential I find interesting to ponder on.