Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bakersfield and 3d Printing

I gave a talk on mass-producing freight cars with a 3d printer at the NMRA's Pacific Coast Region 2017 Convention; I've put the slides for that talk on-line, along with some hints about using SketchUp for making 3d models.

It was a fun talk to give - sharing the high points and low points of starting a 3d printing business out of a bedroom. If you read my article last year, you already heard my stories and opinions. 3d printing is closer to manufacturing than crafting, so trying to run off twenty - or even ten models - requires problem solving for the issues you might have expected getting a new production line running. I also mentioned last year how the labor required with tending the 3d printer was more than I'd expected. Finally, I'd been surprised by just how many one-off tasks needed to be done to get a new kit out the door, and how much time that took. Making a new pilot model took the same effort as building a good resin kit, and the time required was hard to justify when only selling forty or fifty kits. I've had a great time getting the Hart gondolas on the market, and I'd do it again for the right model... but it's not a path to riches.

In both the talk and the original article, I'd mentioned setting the price for my Hart gondola kits around $35 to make them comparable to a resin kit, and because I wanted a string of cars to be affordable. I realized after the talk that I also felt a bit of unexpected pressure from Shapeways. Shapeways would have charged $70 to make the Hart gondolas in Frosted Ultra Detail. That price set sort of an upper limit on the kits; if I found printing the kits on the Form One took too much labor for the price, I could raise them a bit... but as the price approached the Shapeways price, I had a pretty strong motivation to throw in the towel and just sell the cars on Shapeways with a small markup. Making the cars on my own printer... and in my own boxes... required beating the labor costs, yield, and quality that Shapeways could do.

The Bakersfield convention had many other great talks. Jack Burgess shared his own 3d printing experiences. He's been using Shapeways to make small parts for a few years now; one memorable project were Adirondack chairs for his Bagby Hotel. These tiny details might seem minor, but they do add an amazing amount of realism to a scene. Jack also remarked how 3d printing was addicting, and how he'd search around for another model to create. I've had the same feeling many times. Because 3d printing lets us make models we wouldn't have been able to make in any other way, it can be quite exciting to push ourselves for the next impossible model.

No comments:

Post a Comment