While working on my Revell USS Olympia model a while back, I noticed an inconspicuous detail that the kit designers hadn’t thought to include: the ship’s bell. Not finding any in my spare parts box, I’d have normally gone to the local model railroad shop to find something suitable. This time I thought I’d try something different: 3D printing.
3D Printed Parts
A relatively new resource for scale modelers, 3D printing, also known as rapid prototyping, is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a virtual Computer-aided design (CAD) representation with a materials printer using digital technology. The shape is built up through an additive process where successive layers of material (in this case resin) are laid down in different shapes to form the object rather than the traditional method of removing excess material to produce the shape. Among the companies offering this service is an outfit called Shapeways, and a quick search for scale bells yielded Frame Mount Locomotive Bell N Scale by the vendor MP Scale Models. Based on a Southern Pacific SD-45 prototype in N-Scale, these parts measure .962cm w x .456cm d x .424cm h (.379in w x .18in d x .167in h) – perfect for a 1/232 scale Olympia ship’s bell!
At $6.65 for 8 bells (plus shipping) the price seemed reasonable, so I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. The bells arrived attached to a frame matrix similar to the sprues on injection molded plastic parts. Shapeways describes the "frosted ultra detail UV cured acrylic polymer" material as, “matte translucent plastic that showcases fine and intricate details” – a pretty accurate description. The substance is similar to the polyurethane resin commonly used in aftermarket resin models; solid but also easy to work. I was pleased to discover that the shapes are flawless, and the little step artifacts of the layering process are so small as to be virtually invisible. They do, however, make a useful key for paint. Fitted to a .015 inch plastic strip mount attached to a couple of the cowl vents, the 3D printed bell ended up looking right at home among all those Old School injection molded plastic parts on my Olympia.
Of course ship’s bells are not the only 3D printed parts available; Shapeways hosts a number of individual vendors offering scale model parts. The fittings available so far are limited, but this technology is still fairly new, too. As with the advent of prior technologies such as injection molded polystyrene plastic, photo-etched metal, cast resin, and laser cut scale wood decks, rapid 3D prototyping promises to bring all sorts of new opportunities for ship modelers to take their scale creations to the next level.
Highs: An innovative new way to add excellent parts to your model shipsLows: Limited selection of parts available – so far
Verdict: This fascinating new technology offers great possibilities for modelers!
About Tim Reynaga (TimReynaga) FROM: CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
I am married with three daughters and a son, and I oversee the team of regional workforce policy advisors for the State of California. My wife is an elementary school teacher.
I’ve been building models since I was five years old (my first model was a NASA lunar module bought for a dime from a mag...