Laser Scanning and 3D Printing Steam Engines for the Love of Model Trains

By Wesley Fenlon

3D printing and laser scanning are combined to create some amazing model trains.

After reading the blog "How did we get here?" at The Flexiscale Company, it's hard not to view 3D printing and crowdfunding as phenomena perfectly poised to reshape the hobby of modelmaking. It's a niche interest, and Kickstarter has proven that dedicated enthusiasts are willing to pay for exactly what they want. And when a hobby is based on reproducing real objects at smaller scales, how could you not turn to 3D printing?

Flexiscale's founder Chris Thorpe conveys a love for model trains in his blog post and details how he went about creating the kits he'd always wanted to be able to buy. His approach to producing those kits is what makes Flexiscale so interesting, as it lies somewhere between hand-built, one-of-a-kind creation and mass production.

Photo Credit: Chris Thorpe

3D printing via services like Sculpteo and Shapeways is allowing Flexiscale to produce kits for a small group of dedicated enthusiasts on a small scale with a crazy attention to detail. Their recent Kickstarter campaign had 130 backers--a small community, but one dedicated enough to raise almost $12,000. Using 3D printers like Sculpteo provides more detailed model components than a MakerBot could, and that attention to detail is what it's all about, in this case.

Flexiscale actually partnered up with a firm called Digital Surveys to laser scan several locomotives, producing incredibly accurate 3D models of the trains they wanted to turn into kits. 3D printing and laser scanning, technologies once reserved for industry, are being used purely for the enjoyment of a dedicated hobbyist community.

They plan to release the 3D models for free. Flexiscale's first major kit of a 130-year-old locomotive named Winifred is for sale on their site and will ship in February. Check out this blog for more pictures of the train-to-CAD-to-model evolution.