Thursday, March 31, 2016

3D printing: it's coming, and it will revolutionise this hobby

Don't believe me? See Peter Wingfield's site here: In particular see the series of software images he used to develop the body for the so-called Ferrari Breadvan, here: (Thanks to the folks at Profil 24, who have this link on their web page).

So what's a 3D printer? It's a device for spraying little droplets onto a surface, under the control of a computer program that tells it where exactly to put each droplet. This is the same way your inkjet printer sprays little ink droplets onto a piece of paper, except the 3D printer sprays little droplets of melted polymer, and allows them to build up, layer upon layer, into a 3D object instead of a printed 2D sheet.

A decade or so ago I visited the laboratories of the mechanical engineering department in a major Canadian university. They had an early, home-made 3D printer that cost somewhere in the vicinity of $250,000 to build, and that was with lots of cheap graduate student labour. Given the costs, they were predicting rapid prototyping would be the first uses of the technology, so a company could verify things like fit and ease of assembly prior to committing to a production line using conventional injection molding or other methods. As a souvenir, they gave me a small, functioning adjustable wrench which is really quite clever: there is no way they could have made the three components separately and assembled them, because it is impossible to insert the little geared roller into the body; they had to have been deposited at the same time.

At that time, the polymer filament, which is fed into the printer off a spool that looks like a Weed Wacker thread, was the big issue. It has to melt at relatively low temperatures but solidify quickly once deposited, and this limits the properties of the finished product. It is also fairly granular due to the size of the droplets, as you can see in the image above. So it might be dimensionally stable but might not have the visual, mechanical or thermal properties necessary to replace a finished plastic product. Hence the limitation to prototyping, not production.

Fast forward to 2016 and Staples offers a home hobby system by MakerBot for about $2000, click here, that will make objects that fit inside a 4" cube. (MicroMark used to offer a cheaper hobbyist-type system but now I can't find it on their website -- maybe the customer complaints were too much.) The resolution of the MakerBot system is 0.2 mm, about 0.008", so still a bit coarse; you can see the pattern of the traversing print head in the pictures of Wingfield's 250 GTO Breadvan if you zoom in. The resolution will be at least partly due to droplet size, but also probably to the resolution of the stepper motors used to shift the print carriage from one track to the next -- pay more and get better resolution even if the droplet size is the same. Recall how happy we all were when the 8-pin dot matrix printer was replaced by the 9-pin system...

Software is a separate purchase or you can use the free software that comes with it; there is also an industry-standard file system just like JPG or PDF standards, so you can download stuff off the Internet. Finally there are home systems that you can use to scan and digitise an existing object, say for instance a Hewland gearbox which no one seems to make in 1/24 or 1/25 scale; Staples offers a MakerBot scanner/digitiser for about $1100. The real challenge would appear to me to be in making something as thin and flexible as a model car body -- transaxles would likely be a lot easier. I haven't seen Wingfield's models in the solid plastic but I am guessing that he has made significant progress in that area, probably by first deciding where to start depositing drops.

This will likely require all kinds of fiddling, both with the type of polymer used and the computer program. In fact it reminds me of early home printers, which were expensive, finicky and produced low-quality results. Compare that to today's ink-jet printers which are cheap, plug 'n' play, and produce publication-grade images.

I'm excited. It's the next step towards the transporter beam in Star Trek: first we stopped buying books because we could download and print them on a dot-matrix printers; then we stopped buying CDs because we could download and burn them in a CDR writer; now I'll be able to download and print toys for my granddaughter, not to mention kits of every possible obscure car you might care to imagine. Who knows what we'll digitise and ship next, byte by byte, over an expanding digital network...

If I were Jimmy Flintstone, I'd be digitising stuff like crazy and offering the digital models for sale online: $15 for the digital file to make a Cadalicious body to go with your Revell '59 Caddy kit, $20 (plus shipping) if you want a hard copy printed and shipped to your door. First one in will build the reputation and the customer base. And maybe he can fix the quality of some of his bodies while he's at it ...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Motivating early '60s wagons

So digging around in the stash, I came across a complete AMT Corvette ('93 LT1 convertible) that will serve as donor, along with the Ross Gibson twin turbo small block Chevy, for motivating the '61 Olds F85 wagon. At a quick glance the track is almost the same so the entire drivetrain should all fit without major bodywork to clear the tires, or major narrowing of the 'Vette chassis. The main issue will be lengthening things but this is a lot simpler than narrowing a 'Vette rear end.

Thinking through the same problem with the '60 Fury wagon, I couldn't find any decent Hemis in the parts bin, at least none without a blower. So I dropped by the local hobby shop on my way home and picked up a Revell Viper ('93 GTS Coupe) which will donate not just the chassis but also the V10. No need for blowers or turbos when you've got 8 litres of V10 lurking under your right foot ... and again the track looks like the Viper tires will fit under the Fury fenders with little or no modifications to the body or chassis.

The Jo-Han chassis will likely get sacrificed in both scenarios but since these are vintage, one-piece chassis with molded-in suspension bits and exhaust pipes, it's no big loss. (No angry letters from the Jo-Han club, please.) And the objective is for these to be sleepers: two-tone pastel paint jobs, all the chrome intact, three rows of bench seats in the Fury, nothing to hint at the drivetrain and chassis except the tires stuffed up inside the wheel wells, and the view under the hood.

And wrapping up the '60s wagons, there is the Jimmy Flintstone Ford Starliner 2-door wagon body, shown here next to the Porsche 908 which is also not progressing, and at least one if not two AMT kits to serve as donors. I am all set for some vintage wagon bashing.

While in the hobby shop, Revell's new Porsche 914/6 sort of made its way into my shopping basket ... I am not sure how that happened. The completion rate has now dropped from 36.5% to 36.2%. And I am not counting either the 'Vette or the Viper as 'new' kits since they will both be seriously cannibalized before I am done. Time to get out the hacksaw... but first I will make a concerted push to complete the BRE Datsuns, and maybe the Mazda 787B that just needs glass and finishing.

PS none of the usual online model kit supply stores (Model Roundup, Strada Sports, Red Frog Hobbies) seem to have any Ross Gibson motors in stock ... are they out of business? If so, that would be a shame, and one wonders what happened to the molds. The few motors I have appear to be very well detailed although I haven't built any up yet.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

New acquisitions

OK, so I have been buying and not building. So sue me.

The pinnacle of road racing was the late '60's, because that was the last period where you might actually consider driving your prototype to Le Mans on Friday, switching to racing tires and running it in the 24 Heures, then (assuming you hadn't blown the motor) driving it home on Monday.

OK, OK, so you wouldn't drive a Ferrari 330 P4 or Ford GT to the track, but you could consider it, however briefly. And you could have driven a 250 GTO or 250 LM on the street.

Fujimi's 330 P4 is well molded in good quality plastic and comes with a photo-etched detail sheet. The reissue is very nice indeed, even if there is some argument as to whether it actually reproduces the 412P which was essentially identical. The motor is pretty basic, and the decklid doesn't open; I've ordered the Historic Racing Miniatures resin engine and will consider using the saw to open up the decklid. As a bonus the kit came with the photo-etched sheet of detailed bits. There are nicer kits of the various P3/4 and P4 cars out there, but they are rare and extremely expensive.

The IMC kit of the Ford GT is well known as a challenging, detailed kit. This particular copy was cheap, as it came in a rotting box with rotting instructions. I quickly scanned the instructions and decal sheet ... immaculate versions of this kit are worth big bucks, and the price I paid is commensurate with kit quality. It also means I am not afraid to build it, unlike my copy of the IMC Lola T70 which is immaculate and still sealed. One pro: it includes two complete engine and transaxle assemblies, and I am tempted to take a mold of at least one of the Hewland gearboxes for future applications. On the negative side, the roof section is bent and will require some persuasion to fit properly.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: I have at least one kit of the Lil' Red Rooster Dodge A100 pickup on the shelf. I now have a Jimmy Flintstone van body for this kit. I also have the Dodge Deora, a customized A100 pickup. I'll probably build up the hot-rodded resin slant 6 from Gibson Engines for display next to these, because the bodywork in both cases obscures any opportunity for admiring the engine compartment.

Finally the '61 Olds F85 wagon turned up. I have a twin-turbo small block Chevy motor (also from Gibson engines) lying around somewhere. All that is missing is the drive train from a late-model Corvette. The larger '60 Plymouth Fury wagon, also from Jo-Han, could also benefit from some cubic inches, and a slammed wagon with big fins, fat wheels and a Hemi could be attractive. (I realize there is a Jo-Han fan community out there that might find these modifications to be somewhat sacrilegous ... as a compromise, I'll avoid poking blowers through hoods.)

So four more kits, and the weather is improving, so I'll likely be spending more time on the bike or sitting on the deck with a cold solution of ethanol in dihydrogen oxide in my hand. Progress may slow significantly as the days get longer. If I can avoid buying anything more (hah!) the completion rate will be 36% unless I can get the BRE Datsuns completed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fujimi Ferrari 330 P4

Speaking of Japanese kits, it seems that Fujimi is re-releasing the gorgeous 330 P4, if my favourite Japanese site is correct. I've ordered one, and have also contacted Strada Sports to see if they can get the Historic Racing Miniatures resin version of the motor for this car.

I'll look around for decals; the model supposedly reproduces the 3rd place finisher at Daytona in 1967, but the decal set doesn't list drivers.

Order here or through your favourite retailer: .

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Japanese are coming, Part 2

Looking back, I can see the Japanese focus has been increasing lately: the Honda Civic racer that I built to see if I could actually get something (anything) done in a weekend; three Skylines so far; the current BRE Datsuns. Many of these are currently displayed in the trailer portion of a Mitsubishi Fuso car carrier. I'm not counting the Nissan R90V, Mazda 787B and Honda RA272 that go back a few years, and I probably shouldn't mention the NSX and Dodge Stealth (née Mitsubishi 3000) with blown Ford 427s shoehorned into the engine compartment, the 1982 Prelude with a Chevy Blazer V6 in the back seat, or the chopped and sectioned Suzuki Samurai with a Dodge Stealth twin-turbo V6 also in the back seat. At least the Dodge motor in the Suzuki is actually a Mitsubishi 3000 unit, not a big lump of Yankee iron.

In the unstarted pile, there is a 1996 Toyota Twincam Turbo Group B rally car, a Toyota TS-One Le Mans car, a Fairlady 432R (a 2-litre, twincam version of the 240Z), an RX7, a pair of tiny little Hondas (S600 and S800), two kits of the Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon 4WD Super Exceed which I've set aside for kitbashing, and a Suzuki Carry ST30 light (very light) commercial vehicle.

Twenty-two distinct vehicles in all. And to top it off I ordered a few more items from my favourite Japanese purveyor of styrene kits, Hobby Search (click here), bringing the total to 26.

First is what was sold in North America as the Toyota Corolla from 1983 to 1987. The last rear drive Corolla, this Aoshima kit has a very well detailed twincam, fuel-injected four which duplicates the car seen in a popular Japanese Manga comic. (I found out about the Manga comic after I got the kit). You'll find it on Wikipedia by looking for Toyota AE86.

The Subaru Sambar is the opposite. The Japanese kei car (literally light car) category benefits from reduced taxation but has to fit within fairly strict guidelines as to outside dimensions and engine size. The Sambar is apparently a well-loved little commercial vehicle, a bit like the split-window VW van; in fact you can find pictures of Sambar vans made up to look like shrunken VWs. I picked up this pickup version in part for technical reasons; the 660 cc, water-cooled triple is lying flat under the back, driving all four wheels. A real little oddball. Both this and the AE86 are well-detailed Aoshima kits. I have often wondered, on coming across a particularly oddball Aoshima or Fujimi kit, whether it was curbside or not; the Japanese website listed above provides images of instruction sheets online, so you can tell before you buy just how much detail you are getting.

Continuing my current obsession with Skylines, I ordered two as described at the end of the post here:

The original Skyline wasn't even a Nissan, it was a Prince, which was in the process of being bought out by Nissan when the first Skyline came out. The Fujimi curbside kit of this, known by the factory designation 54A (moderate state of tune) or 54B (hairier state of tune), shows a fairly ugly little car, typical of Japanese 'design' of the mid-60s. I'll probably replicate the cream and wine two-tone paint job, if I can find the right rattle cans. 

It's amazing that the next iteration looked so good. Not so much the 1973 version which looks like an early Celica or 610 on steroids. The so-called KPGC 110 version has huge C-pillars and a wide snout reminiscent of the 1973 Plymouth Satellite which I always thought was a major letdown after the lovely 'Cuda of the late '60s. A comment on the kit: it contains a beautifully done twin-cam six, but the hood is molded in place, so you can't see it ... what were they thinking? Not only that, the plastic is thick, meaning a clean cut will be challenging. Anyway the next generation, the R34, is once again a good-looking car.

So there you have it: an explosion of Japanese cars. from the sublime to the ridiculous via the ugly and the cute. Yes, yes, I have to start building ...