I have given it considerable thought John!
As Tom said, I am in the middle of just such a project, and have completed designing a 1/144 scale USS Greenling (SSN-614) using AutoCad, have created the STL format files needed by the SLA (Stereolithography) machine, and have sent the files for "printing". I expect them to be made in the next week or two, and am so excited I can barely stand it.
The project kind of started on a whim. I was considering building a Greenling of some sort for a friend who was on her in the early 70's and was posting on the ModelWarships.com site soliciting advice when Tom sent me a set of plans for USS Permit. Now, I have been using AutoCad in 2D for many years to aid in my stream assessment and restoration projects, and although I have dabbled in 3D once or twice, I wouldn't say that I was experienced in 3D design. When I saw the plans though, I wondered if I could use them to design Greenling in AutoCad, so I started with the hull.
I had seen 3D printers on NOVA, but they weren't on my radar (or should I say sonar) at the time and so I went back to 2D and was planning on making a "spine" and "ribs" that I could cut out of plastic or balsa and then surfacing it with thin strips of the same. As luck would have it, my best friend in life was back in town, and when I showed it to him he told me that he could make the entire model for me using an SLA machine that he uses all of the time to make prototype parts. The only caveat was that I had to keep the parts under around 4" long because he was going to "print" them by using the free space available when he was making the parts he needed.
So, I had a blast, designing the entire ship using the plans and pictures. (Greenling was 13’9” longer than Permit and had a larger sail so I couldn’t just use the plans.) I then dissected it into parts and sent the aft two pieces to my buddy for a test run. The pictures below show the results of that test.
I was shocked when I saw the pictures, as I wasn’t expecting the plastic to be clear, but was thrilled when I received the parts and got to hold them in my hands. It was really cool holding parts that I had designed myself. The test was really encouraging because even the holes that I drilled so that the rudders and diving planes could be movable came out just like I designed them.
About this time it occurred to me that I could do the surface detailing in AutoCad and build it into the model instead of having to scribe the plastic after it was made. I started detailing the model using various methods and even made a test piece to see what different treatments would look like. The test piece was a hollowed out cube with objects of various size and shapes cut out of and added to the surface. I even engraved and added text.
At this same time there was a thread discussing the demand for 1/350 scale RAM launchers, so using pictures and a couple of dimensions provided by SgtRyan I designed a RAM launcher in AutoCad and nestled 8 of them inside the test piece.
Unfortunately, my buddy had issues converting my AutoCad file to STL (at the time I didn’t know that I could do the conversion myself) and so the detail test piece was never made. I was having so much fun though, I couldn’t stop. I picked a method that I thought would look about right and detailed the entire model, which as it happened increased in design complexity from a 9 or 10 part model to a quite detailed model with 27 parts, including moveable planes and rudders and an SPM that can be displayed deployed or stowed. I am also planning on casting the screw and Dunce Cap using low temperature metal casting, and have designed the model to accommodate chip LED and fiber optic lighting. Mounting holes, complete with nut recesses for ¼” nuts are also included in the design.
The model has been completed for some time now, but my buddy had to go to China for two weeks, and then because he was gone so long, was swamped when he got back. He told me Wednesday that the parts have been given to the “printer” for printing and that they should be completed next week. At this point, I have no idea how it will turn out though, since the detailing test piece never got made. I feel like a kid at Christmas waiting to see what Santa is going to bring me. I just hope Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) stays away.
Although a little off-topic, in addition to making the plastic parts for me, my buddy has also told me that he has access to a laser for cutting thin metal and so I have made a template for cutting a metal parts sheet. When the plastic model is made, we will shift our focus to the metal parts.
Also, at this point, assuming it comes out OK, I haven’t decided whether I am going to simply build the model as it comes out of the SLA, or if I am going to cast it, and make a few kits to sell. I have never done any resin casting so I don’t even know if this is practical or even possible. I was provided a name of a “master caster” but I tried contacting him and have yet to receive a response. I haven’t followed up though because I have been too busy. Any input you guys have on this issue would be greatly appreciated.
And I haven’t given up on the idea of making some RAM launchers for casting, and even thought that I could skip a step and simply make the mold. It seems that I could build in the pour points, vent holes, and alignment posts, but then, as I say, I have no experience with resin molding, and if anyone knows if this would work, or why it wouldn’t, I would love to hear it.
I am really glad you started this thread John, as I find it to be an incredible topic, and think that this technology is soon going to greatly expand our options as modelers.
Even now, with the MakerBot Replicator 2 listed at $2,199 and the MakerBot Replicator 2X at $2,799, it looks like I could get into a system for under $3,000. The filaments (or ink) seem expensive at $48-$90/kg, but since the density isn’t reported, I don’t know what volume of model this would make. If it would make one model, you are in the ballpark of what it would cost you to buy a model. If it makes more, it would actually be cheaper. Of course, I understand that they use a lot of energy, so I would have to factor that in, but it seems that if I had one, I could both make parts for sale, and even take special orders, and could also print other people’s parts that they designed.
The question is: “Is the market there?” Could I make enough to make it worth the effort, or even enough to pay for the system? Definitely something to ponder, but I think the future may be now for this technology. If I had $3,000 to spare, I would probably order one now, but I don’t think the CiC would be too thrilled about me buying what she would see as a $3,000 toy. Still, it’s not completely out of the question in the near future.
Anyway, if you are interested in more details about the Greenling project, and/or want to see the parts when they are “printed”, you can follow my thread at:viewtopic.php?f=35&t=11272
I will be posting pictures as soon as I get them.