Monday, June 24, 2013

3D Models - Taking a Closer Look

3D printing is fairly new in N scale, and for me personally, I have only been doing this about 5 months now.  In my own experience and also observing chatter on various public forums, there are many opinions about the print capabilities, quality, and cost in producing N scale models.  It seems that a common topic is the texture and horizontal banding that often occurs with printed models, and the difficulty in being able to produce a smooth model.  Of course different designs, print orientation, and quality of machines can produce varying results as well.

I thought it might be a good opportunity to take a closer look at some of my models to illustrate some of the actual results I am getting from Shapeways, and highlight some of the potential trouble spots.  You can make your own judgement whether these are deal breakers, or minor inconveniences in the quest to produce a non-existent model in N scale.

Ok, before I go any further, I must give a shout out to my good friend Bob who passed on to me an earth shattering cleaning technique.  I recently sent him a pair of bottom dump trailers to try, and in addition to using some of the tools I have mentioned here on my blog such as a file and sand paper, he used another very clever technique.  Using an old toothbrush and a drop of toothpaste, he gently scrubbed the models to remove the remaining fuzz that is left on these models after they come out of the solvent bath.  I actually tried this myself and it works brilliantly.  So needless to say, Bob has become a permanent consultant of mine in this endeavor.  I hope to share some of his work soon if he allows me.  Take a look below at some examples of raw and cleaned models.

Ok, here is an example of a pair of truck frames right out of the solvent bath, and a pair after a quick scrub using a tooth brush and toothpaste.  You can see the fuzzy texture of residue that clings to the frame sides and detail, and if left alone would give poor results in the painting steps.  For a model like this with a lot of detail, the toothbrush works perfect.  Using a file or sand paper would risk the details being sanded off or broken.  The two frames that have been scrubbed need just some minor touch ups in the little nooks and crannies, and are nearly ready for a coat of primer.  The time spent and level of effort is about 60 seconds each, and very little pressure applied.

Here is another example of several details right out of the solvent bath.  Again, these may look like a lot of work to get to a clean model, but some minor scrubbing is all that is needed for these to be ready for paint.  Check out how beautiful those wheels and hubs printed.  That is amazing detail.

 Here is my grain trailer after solvent.  Again, very clean model without any work.  Some fuzz around the ladder detail on front can easily be removed with a tooth brush and file.

Here is a pair of bottom dump trailers after solvent.  There is some visible fuzz and horizontal banding on the sides.  A little scrub with toothpaste, and the model will have a very smooth side.

There you have it.  Some close up illustrations of work that is out of the box and out of a bath of solvent.  While this may not work for everything, I am convinced that a printed model can compete any day with metal and resin casting quality.  Of course there are costs and other considerations that make this method complimentary to others, not a replacement.  

The best part of all is that my start up cost to get into 3D printing = $0.00 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Latest Truck Models - Cornhusker 800 Dump Box & Pup Trailer

A very common truck/trailer configuration that I see locally, as well as just about every other place in this country are dump trucks often pulling a pup trailer.  Not far from me in Lincoln, NE is the Truck Equipment Service Company that makes "Cornhusker 800" trailers.  I chose their model for my N scale design since I see these daily any time I am on the road.  The design work was much less effort than my previous models, so I decided to create a couple different versions.  Of course it was also extremely helpful to have an existing base truck model to work with, as I simply reduced the frame length, moved the lift axle to the front of the tandems, and added a hitch plate to the rear for the pup trailer ball hitch.  I just placed an order for these last night, so I will provide some details once Shapeways sends me the printed models.

You can see these new models in my shop now, but they are not yet for sale:

First up is the Cornhusker pup trailer.  This has a 14' aluminum dump box in two versions: side boards on the top rails, or a flush design without side boards.  The frame comes in two versions as well: a triple axle, and a spread axle.  The tongue and hitch are designed to fit the hitch plate on the Kenworth dump truck below.

I chose to use my Kenworth T800 for my first dump truck, but plan to make a Pete too.  The Cornhusker box is 16' in length, and also comes in two versions like the pup: side boards, and a flush top rail.  The frame has been modified with a hitch plate to accept the pup trailer.  The lift axle have been moved in front of the tandems, and will have single tires versus duals as on my original straight truck version.  Many dump trucks and pup trailers have roll tarps, but many do not.  I chose to exclude a simulated tarp on this model.

I'll throw this model in at no extra charge.  I made some quick design modifications to my Kenworth T800 and now have a daycab tractor.  This gives me both the Pete and Kenworth in a tractor version.

Here is where my inspiration comes from for my N scale Cornhusker box and pup.  The great part about dump trucks in general is that the configurations are almost limitless. As I continue to add more truck models to my design collection, I can simply design the frame to accept my dump box, add the pup, and have a whole new model.  Of course the that doesn't even take into consideration the different designs of dump boxes that are available too, which make the number of possibilities even more great.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to you dads out there.  I thought I would take just a couple minutes today and write about a new little project that I have started.

There is a lack of reefer trailers in N scale, and while I have added this to my list of future 3d printing projects, I simply don't have enough time to get to it immediately.  I have a handful of MicroTrains, Atlas, and Deluxe Innovations 48' trailers, and decided to convert some of them to reefer trailers.  BLMA makes a very nice refrigerator unit, and I wanted to take advantage of this ready made detail.  I do plan to design a reefer fuel tank and use Shapeways for this necessary detail, which is a lot smaller project than designing the entire trailer.

I have some refrigerator units on order, and while I wait for them to arrive, I have started painting the trailer bodies.  I want generic white trailers, so I removed the original paint and lettering using a bath of brake fluid. Next came a coat of white primer, and then the aluminum.  I am using common spray cans for this project, and having good results.  I then masked off the top and bottom rails, and painted white again.

Next I will paint the frames, paint details like taillights, add the BLMA chillers, and DOT striping.  These trailers aren't a great match for reefer use, but they should pass for general reefer trailer service.  That is of course until a better alternative is available.

Here's an example of an older 48' reefer trailer that is providing some inspiration for this project.  This is a Great Dane trailer, but not a bad match to the N scale trailers I am using as a starting point.  I'm hoping that a small fleet of trailers with white skins and refrigerator units will reasonably pass for reefer trailers, and add to the overall effect of the Council Bluffs Sub layout.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

3d Printing - Still Not Convinced?

I had another Shapeways order delivered recently and just pulled the models out of solvent tonight.  I decided to consolidate everything that I had printed so far in a single photo to illustrate just how far I have come in just 5 months.  It is hard to believe that I literally downloaded Sketchup for the first time around Christmas a few months ago.  Although it was a steep learning curve, I was able to produce my first model which was the Wilson 43' grain trailer just several weeks later.

There have been some bumps in the road, like Shapeways printing models, and then rejecting subsequent orders.  This is a frustration shared by many, and voiced on their dedicated forum.  I have learned some of the tricks to ensure that their manual and sometimes inconsistent review and approval processes don't impact my models.  I am conservative with my drawings, and avoid pushing the limits on wall and wire thickness minimums.  I am now getting very consistent results with my personal orders and sales by others.

Overall, I am very pleased with what I have learned and experienced so far.  Is 3d printing for N scale purposes perfect?  No, but when I look at many of the models available today outside the big names like Kato, Athearn, Atlas, etc. the quality of products has a long way to go still.  And, if 3d printing isn't good enough yet, then I guess we'll just have to sit back and wait for someone or something better to come along and make the models that we need for us.  I have decided to continue down the road I started a few months ago, and see just how far it will take me.

Thanks again for those of you that have purchased my models.  I hope to see some finished models showing up soon around the N scale community.  As you can see, I have my own collection of models waiting for paint and details.  6 more Pete cabs were in the last order, so I better get the airbrush fired up.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

3d Printed Models - Basic Finishing Steps

I wanted to take some time and further explain and illustrate my finishing techniques for my printed models for those interested in this type of technology, or those that have purchased models from Shapeways.  I touched on this briefly in a previous post, but now that I have more finished models, I have some new ideas for painting.

The printing process leaves a waxy, oily residue on the models, and needs to be removed.  I soak my models in a jar of solvent overnight.  I use Bestine brand which was recommended on multiple online forums, and works very well.  I have found that the solvent won't hurt the models even if left soaking for several days.  In addition, if you are in a hurry, the solvent seems to work fairly well in a short hour or less.  After soaking, I rinse the models with regular water and lightly scrub with an old toothbrush.  After the models are dry, they will look like white styrene.  There may still be some left over residue on the models and I remove this with files, sanding sticks, and other cleaning tools.  I have purchased several dozen models to date, and most of them only required very minor clean up before painting.

I then spray a couple coats of white primer.  I simply use a can of Rustoleum for this job.  The printing process leaves some minor texture in spots on some of the models, and I have found that a couple extra coats of primer will help smooth out these surfaces and provide a perfect finish after the color is painted.

I use common techniques for the painting process, and use both my airbrush and a hand brush for details.  Polly S and Model Master acrylics have worked well for me.  I recently discovered Vallejo paints at my local Hobby Lobby and picked up a few bottles.  This particular line of paint is meant for brushes, but they do also carry a line specifically for airbrushes.  A good example of this paint is the yellow Showcase Miniatures Kenworth T600 which was completely hand painted using Vallejo.  The red simulated tarp on my 43' Wilson grain trailer was also painted using a brush, and leaves virtually no brush marks at all.

For now, the new layout is my working surface for all of my 3d printing projects.  As you can see, I have a lot going on.  You can see the solvent I use, and the jar with a couple models soaking.

Here is a good example of the various finishing steps.  The flatbed is right out of the package and has the oily/waxy residue on it still.  The bottom dump trailer is dry after soaking in solvent.  The Pete cabs and frames have been sprayed with white primer.  You can also see how I group my wheels on a sprue.

 Here is another example of my Pete with white primer, a coat of blue Model Master before adding the grill, air filters, and paint details.  And finally a completed model in orange.

Here is a 43' Wilson grain trailer with simulated tarp, and a 50' version with spread axle.  Both have been soaked in solvent and are now dry and ready for primer.  These are very clean models and will require very little clean up.

Here is a pair of Kenworth T800 cabs and frames just out of solvent and waiting for primer.  You can see the suspension detail in this photo.

The bottom dump trailers are great models right out of the solvent.  They require very little clean up.  This is an example of a model where I apply a couple extra coats of primer to the sides.  The printing process leaves very minor horizontal line texture which can be lightly sanded, and primed to provide a perfect smooth finish.

There you have it.  Some good examples of my models, and the steps to get you started in finishing them.  As always, I am very interested in your feedback and hope you have success with your own models.  My Shapeways shop has many models to choose from currently, and I hope to add more in the future:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

3D Printed Models for the Woman in All of Us

I never intended to design my N scale trucks this way, but since the frame, cab, wheels, and other details are all printed separately, I found an unintentional benefit of being able to swap cabs on similar truck models.  I discovered this after I test fit a finished Pete cab onto its frame, and decided not to glue it on immediately.  Of course it doesn't work across different truck brands, but I see some big opportunities here.  Some ideas I have are: holiday themed cabs, seasonal colored cabs, cab color of the month, "mood ring" cabs, glow in the dark cabs, and the list could go on and on.

Of course I am only kidding, but just like my wife has boxes and boxes of shoes and only 2 feet, I think a few different cabs for my trucks is certainly warranted.

In case you missed it, I have a couple new videos on YouTube.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Trail King Bottom Dump + Kenworth T600

A good friend of mine sent me a pair of Kenworth T600 tractors made by Showcase Miniatures.  These are no longer in production, and hard to come by I believe.  They compliment my T800 nicely, and thought they would look good on a bottom dump or grain trailer.  I took a few minutes the other day and added DOT striping to one of my Trail King trailers, and also added mudflaps.  Overall, this is a fairly easy project, and I have been really impressed with the print quality on these particular models.

Here is the link to Shapeways if you want to buy your own: N Scale Trail King Bottom Dump Trailer

My DOT stripes are very simple.  I create a white/red alternating ribbon using regular paper, and then coat the back of it with spray adhesive.  I use MS Excel to make the stripe and then print on my inkjet.