Diamond Age

3D desktop printers are really making progress.  My sense is that soon this will be absolutely essential for my hobby (model railroading).

Update:  You don't have to own one, a number of companies emerging that will print your designs for you.  About 5 seconds after I posted the hypothesis that I would soon need a 3D printer for model railroading, I read a model railroad blog post about ordering a custom locomotive shell from this site.  From that site saw an idea I had not thought of - custom Legos!  How often in my young Lego-obsessed days did I long for a special piece of a certain shape that did not exist.  Now, make your own!


  1. Eric Hammer:

    Definitely. We already use them a lot in wargaming to produce models by CADing them up at home, sending the file out to a professional for printing, then making resin copies of the results. Being able to do this all at home, and possibly without the resin step, will be fantastic. It will also seriously shake up the industry as producing models will be a bad business to be in. From sculptors to the desktops of the world!

  2. Matt:

    You have to wonder if Lego is going react the way you'd cynically expect a content gate-keeper to react if this goes main-stream.

  3. johnnycello:

    Hook it up to the Feed and you're all set!

  4. mark2:

    There is a reason why other brands of building blocks do not use the exact same size and shape as Lego and Duplo blocks.

  5. sean2829:

    Lego doesn't have much to worry about. The quality of an injection molded plastic part is much better than a 3D printed part and it's cheaper to mold them as well. I could see a few blocks made on a printer for a personal touch but you would't make a set that way.

  6. obloodyhell:

    Sorry, copyright/patent aren't going to work on this scale. You cannot seriously attempt to stop a million men from making copies of a design.

    THIS is why copyright is totally EPHED UP, and needs to be completely revamped. Rewards for creating an idea that becomes popular need to be inherent in the process of releasing it for public use. They cannot involve control, as all current reward systems do.

    This is just as valid now as it was almost 20 years ago when written:

    The Economy of Ideas

    As Barlow put it: "People keep rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of existing copyright law".

  7. Incunabulum:

    That in and of itself won't be reason enough to keep a group making a large enough amount of money of their IP from trying - just look at the movie and music industries fight against copying.

  8. obloodyhell:

    This is true NOW. But it's only a temporary condition as both quality and expense goes down. You DO realize laser printers cost as much as $2000 when they first came out? In early 1980 dollars? The only reason it's not cheaper and easier to print a book on site has to do with the binding system, not with the price per page of printing a paperback (esp. given that a paperback could be laid out so as to provide 4 book pages per sheet)

    You'll also note that the binding issue would not be a problem with Legos.

  9. sean2829:

    Have you worked with 3D printed parts? We do everyday. Their are layer lines to contend with and the building process for the thermoplastic systems essentially leaves a knit line between each layer. I don't know what the cost of resin is in the home systems but the polystyrene that the molder uses is $0.65 per lb. The cost of the filament used in these machines is likely 10-20 times as much. Then there are tolearnce issues when you want to make a reliable snap fit. And it does cost something to actually print the parts as well.
    3D printers are great for unique or low volume high margin items (like model railroad items if you can produce them in high enough resolution) but you'll have a tough time beating molded plastic parts anytime soon for parts that are manufactured in the hundreds of thousands or millions like Legos.

  10. josh:

    I can barely get a 2d printer to work.

  11. obloodyhell:

    Incu, I concur. But they'll fail. And if people get sick and tired enough of their efforts restricting free speech and enabling censorship, then there will be a massive push.

    At this point, the industry has that usual high reward vs. low reward for the individual thing going on to distort law and practice in their favor. But it's going to change because all existing copyright-as-control is a distortive force on the market.

    There is a very big, very real downside to it, but it's not all that visible... what will happen is someone with a vested interest and deep pockets -- Amazon or Google or other -- will step in and make it a major fight, and, since it's already going to have the average person on their side, they'll win.

  12. obloodyhell:

    Dude, the first public-oriented laser printers only got 300 dpi despite costing the equivalent of about 6 grand nowadays. This changes with time. I didn't argue your current assessment. These are the first cheap ones. Of course they'll be limited.

    I will lay odds that the precision of these machines for much the same price OR LESS will be several times greater within a decade. Give it twenty and it'll be the equivalent of your current injection molding, with a similar price once you consider the overhead of the injection molding equipment, the assembly and transport costs, and the general overhead ($$taxe$$$$) being applied.

    Moreover, depending on what you're making, a 3d LATHE/milling machine might even be a better choice... and THOSE have been going down slowly but steadily, too. Right now they're being pushed as engraving machines as much as anything, but some units can handle aluminum and brass blocks the size of a standard brick, and can easily be afforded by anyone with a small business.

    Give it another 10-15 years and they won't be able to implement gun control because anyone will be able to make a functional, effective gun in their own garage for five thousand bucks (and there will be those who will pay for such a thing just so they can).

    Legos are done well but they ARE done in the millions. They are GENERIC pieces. The capacity to make something EXACTLY the shape you want can make up for a little hand work with an emery board...

    Further, Legos are done by the millions and fairly well, but I've seen LOTS of molded parts that were crap -- burrs all over the place, ill-fitting supposedly interlocking pieces, badly designed "latches" that snap off because they weren't created to handle blatantly obvious stresses... The capacity to make ANYTHING you need in your den/office is hardly a trivial ability. How good it looks in many cases will be secondary, and be handled with "revision 7" of the hardware ten years later. By that time there will be a huge library of pre-defined parts for everyone to use.

  13. obloodyhell:

    LOL, that's ok, Josh. Others around you will help you. ;-D

  14. mark2:

    The replicators from Star trek will soon be with us. Even food can be printed now.
    One of several articles.

  15. mark2:

    I chose this article because of the eco-nut angle. Eco nuts who claim this is so great for "sustainability" will be the first to protest when someone actually tries to sell the stuff in a grocery store.

  16. mark2:

    That's cuz your missing a d. Buy another d, and it will be like magic!

  17. Eric Hammer:

    The resin I use is ~.32 cents a tablespoon. It would be cheaper if I could buy 50 gallons at once and use it in a reasonable way (i.e. not hand pouring :D)
    I am very confident I could cast my own Lego, and make half molds of them by accident a lot due to using them in mold boxes. They fit together well, but no better than Mega Blocks, and not within the same tolerances that I make 32mm models with high detail. I never bothered since it wasn't likely to save me much money compared to buying them used in bulk off eBay, but it is pretty close. I fully intend to make my own trains for our eventual mewling larvae as soon as it is old enough to want such things, for example. Hopefully then I can just cad them up myself and print off the master on my desk, instead of sending out to a shop to print it out at 32 cents/mm^3 (I think that is ShapeWays current rate)

  18. obloodyhell:

    }}}} It will also seriously shake up the industry as producing models will be a bad business to be in

    The actual manufacturing end, yes. But producing them may well be a nice little side business, kind of like being a graphic artist or photographer and having things to sell to clients who want that thing.

  19. irandom:

    That new $2199 3d printer has resolution of 100 micron, so the striations are barely noticeable. The feedstock is $45 a spool for 1kg. If you want to do custom shells a cheap vacuum mold setup would get you damn close.