20150206_122747As 3D printing technology becomes more accessible and advanced over time, hobbyists around the world have been starting to turn to this emerging technology as a source of innovation and creation. One particular hobbyist area that 3D printing has impacted is railroad and train modeling. From the professionally 3D printed Hawaiian Islands railway replica by Shapeways to the Euroreprap Railroad Collection conjured up by a maker for an Instructables project, the ability to produce your own scale models with 3D printing technology has never been greater. In fact, this integration of 3D printing into hobbyist projects has just made its way into the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM), the largest model railroad museum in the world.

The 28,000-square-foot museum is split into four sections, which are decorated with scenic natural habitats, sprawling cities, and winding railroad systems. Though most of the SDMRM’s model kits are injection molded, 3D printing technology was called upon to help celebrate the centennial year of San Diego’s Balboa Park. To do this, the SDMRM enlisted design-savvy Clayton McIntyre to 3D model and print part of the museum’s latest exhibit, the Centennial Railway Garden. The exhibit includes scale replicas of key historic buildings from Balboa Park, some of which are no longer standing. Visitors are able to control the model streetcars via iPad, or can just sit back and observe the 3D printed decorative facades that help make up the scale model of the garden.

McIntyre with 3D printed piece for the Centennial Railway Garden exhibit

McIntyre with a scale model for the Centennial Railway Garden exhibit

The foundations of the model buildings were built out of precision board, which is a polyurethane tooling board, by Dovetail Joint Designs. McIntyre then went on to design all of the decorative facades, using his own MakerBot Replicator 1 as well as a Replicator 2 provided by Monster Modelworks, a company that specializes in highly detailed scale model building materials and kits. The 3D printed parts will be painted and glued to the model buildings by the SDMRM sometime this month. McIntyre became a part of the Centennial Railway Garden project through friends he met at the San Diego Makers Guild.

The exhibit isn’t just restricted to the SDMRM; McIntyre has also uploaded part of his design process to the hardware project platform Instructables. In his Instructable, the designer explains how he modeled the buttress for the California Tower, which is home to San Diego’s Museum of Man. McIntyre details his technique of importing 2D images into a CAD model. The process started by bringing scalable 2D images of the buttress, which is an architectural support structure, onto front and side planes, which he essentially traces and extrudes into a 3D model. The freshly traced CAD model is then rendered, 3D printed, and assembled snugly onto the California Tower. In the Instructable, McIntyre explains his heavy dependence on 2D images to create the perfectly scaled CAD model.

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In the Instructables project, McIntyre includes the STL file for the buttress he designed, which can be downloaded and 3D printed for free. The Centennial Railway Garden exhibit is currently open for public viewing in the cumbersome San Diego Model Railroad Museum, which is open from Tuesday to Sunday. The museum’s latest display proves the immense impact that 3D printing technology continues to have on hobbyist projects and exhibits like the Centennial Railway Garden, as the technology heads down the track toward becoming a crucial tool for scale modeling. Discuss this project further over in the 3D Printed Buttresses forum at 3DPB.com.

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