Friday, April 9, 2010

GW's Worst Nightmare

by SandWyrm

Full-Color 3D Printing Is Here Now

I have 2 videos here that every GW hobbiest needs to see.

First, watch this video. Skip to the end to see the miniatures.

Then watch this:

Now ask yourself, is Games Workshop prepared for a world where it's factories, warehouses, and even it's stores become largely obsolete? Where every hobbyist can print their own minis at home or order them over the internet from any supplier they want, using files they scanned, modified, and/or traded?

The 5-axis machining tech is pretty new, but the plastic printing tech has been around in various forms since the early 90's when I was in school. I still have a couple of samples from those days. The plastic printing machines used to cost $4,000,000 and were only used by large companies like Ford and GM to prototype car parts. Since then I've watched a zero drop every couple of years until now you can buy them for just $40,000. The first $4,000 machines will be here soon.

Indiana University has a full-color 3D printer, and they've offered me a free test print which I intend to take them up on as soon as I come up with a good tank model to use. The current cost for printing a Leman Russ through them would be about $200. Drop a zero from that two years from now and GW will have a real hard time shifting model kits.

Once this goes mainstream, you'll see GW models scanned and uploaded onto the net just like music and video is now. You'll also see brand new models made by fans that infringe on GW's IP and that get traded via P2P networks. As well as works that combine GW models with fan-made modifications.

Pre-Heresey Marines? Sure!

New Thunderwolves? Absolutely!

Parts to convert a Valk to a Stormraven? Yep!

So, just like the music and recording industries, the plastic model and miniatures industries are going to have to adapt to the new digital world.

The question then is, will GW embrace this new tech and provide quality digital files for printing/converting, or will it do what the RIAA has done and try to hide behind it's lawyers? At first, their kits and minis will have a quality advantage over the grainier prints. But eventually the quality will improve to the point where GW won't be able to sell much beyond rulebooks and fiction. Viewed on an iPad, of course.


  1. I would think that it stands to reason that, as it becomes cheaper for the companies (GW included) to produce kits, price will drop.

    Not on its own, necessarily, but as with all things, competition begets competition.

    There are already a number of suitable (and cheaper) substitutes for models that would fit in perfectly for 40k. Pig Iron productions springs to mind - in fact, they make figs that go quite nicely as trenchcoat Guardsmen, which people have been clamoring for since... well... always.

    Not quite as nice, but a little love and paint can fix that up rather nicely.

    But how many PIP armies do you see? Even if they have a cheap (about $2/model) fix for something that tons of people ask for... people still go out and buy GW's plasticrack.

    If I had to guess, I'd say that this sort of thing would be used for individual conversions (particularly HQ characters and the like) though the bulk of things would stay GW-centric.

  2. The thing is, Pig-Iron is still just one company with a small staff of probably 20 people or less.

    Compare that to all the hobbyists in the world that will be able to trade models on the web. Yes, most of those homebrew models will suck, but you'll also have plenty of good 3D sculptors in that community. Some of whom will even be current or ex-employees of GW.

    Sound crazy? That's how open-source software works now. It's also how the INAT FAQ, and the various pre-heresy and alternate codex projects came about.

    So eventually you'll have teams of professional and high-quality amateur modelers who cooperate and compete to provide quality models for more variations, themes, Xenos races, and other ideas than GW can even contemplate developing. Some for money, but many just for the attention and prestige they get from it.

    And once they've released a high-quality model, anyone in the world can download and print it.

    So instead of posting instructions for how to convert a Chimera, someone like me will just post a 3D file of the entire painted model.

  3. This is GW we're talking about, I can see the legal shitstorm already.

    Very cool though, if it does end up working out.

  4. Hi. I work for a custom metal fabrication company. We have a number of 5-axis CNC centers (ours are Amada, not Daishin Seiki). Personally, I think Amada is better than Daishin, but that is just my opinion. Anyway, while I definitely see smaller and smaller versions, those smaller versions will come at a cost of two things:

    1. Detail capabilities. The reason CNC machining centers are the size they are is because of what they are cutting (metal generally) and because as you get smaller and require more detail your actual fabrication machines probably won't get too much smaller than they are now. There are engineering limits and cost factors that have nothing to do with what you are making, rather what the manufacturer of the machine that does the making of 3D print can economically produce and actually engineer. Small desktop CNC centers will probably max themselves out carving soft plastics and active polymers (these are improving fast). So, the detail on these guys will likely never be more than 90% of a cast miniature. However, CNCing probably won't need to actually "cut" anything. In the future, I'd wager everything using lasers and a heat-bath polymer liquid. Stuff won't be cut as much as it is grown. If that is the case, then detail is not an issue.

    2. Cost limitations. Tool companies, especially precision tooling companies, have really high overheads. The way to beat the overheads is to maintain profits as high as possible. Okay, enough Gen Busi 101. These companies are generally building tools to sell to other companies, not general populace retail. The result is costs are high because the sales are comparitively low. Yet, like a refrigerator or a washing machine, the costs even if they get to one that is retail-smart, probably won't drop that much. $4,000 is probably the shy minimum. I'd wager a really good desktop performer, say something capable of making a Space Marine helmet or bolter with just about zero comparitivity difference, running at $7,500 to about $9,500. Not entirely out of the range of most people financially or even groups of gamers. Though, I don't see it doing more than cutting up more than .25" to maybe .375" material - probably some kind of styrene (low melt factor though for machining) or UHMW.

    Still, superb info find, mate!

  5. I'd also say that there are other model sources that are more advanced to draw from... Starship Troopers minis could be an interesting replacement for bugs, and with enough conversion work you could make quite a variety of minis to provide a full army.

    But again, I have yet to see this, even on the mystical interwebs.

    I also do agree that GW would probably take legal issues if people took it too far (and rightfully so... at least to a point).

    Designing a "GI Joe guy with a rifle" is pretty standard.... but a Marine with a Bolter? That's still copyright.

    I think this is great for conversion possibilities, independent companies producing pieces (trench coat Guard) that GW hasn't yet, and the like. Want to not have to convert a Tervigon or one of the new BA BA toys? Got you covered.

    Short version, I think we'll get a more limited, but (hopefully) more affordable Forge World out of all of this... but not a new GW.

  6. Very interesting. Personally, I'd love one of these toys, of course!

    I don't know if they will be as good a quality though - remember that GW's quality has massively improved in the last 5/10 years, stuff like the plastic SG wings being considered impossible not too long ago. These machines will take quite some time to reach that level, and so GW are safe until then.

  7. I have to disagree with the folks who say they'll be getting cheaper FW and GW models out of this tech; just b/c they're easier to produce doesn't mean GW will pass the savings on to the consumer. When was the last time they dropped the price on anything? It's more probable they'll just be keeping a bigger chunk of the profits.

  8. @James

    I hear you, but people kept saying that desktop printers and CPUs had reached their theoretical limits. Then these were blown past. There was just an article out this week discussing new processor tech that would allow chip circuits to shrink even more.

    3D printing/milling will get there eventually, with detail that is good-enough for most folks.


    Look at the print world. Full-color magazines and books have a definite quality edge over most desktop printers. But who really cares? Unless you're doing a few hundred copies you print at home. And even then you just go a mile or two to the copy shop when you want quantity.

  9. I agree with James that this technology won't be making a dent in the hobbyist space for a long time. Fidelity issues and the brittle nature of 3d prints makes them a poor substitute for GW minis both in terms of appearance and for practical issues with breaking.

    The analogy with printing is pretty accurate. There will always be this fidelity gap between what a small home device can do and what a commercial printer can achieve.

    The middle ground of local commercial printers doing prints on the cheap can't really get off the ground because of IP issues. Having said that they may well be able to buy a licence to print from GW and just make customised models to order. That would be very nice indeed.

  10. ...

    I am simply blown away by this post.

    It's like seeing something out of science fiction. My favorite book last year was Blindsight by Peter Watts; at one point, there was discussion of a machine that could auto-manufacture anything based on computer schematics. As long as it had the basic materials, whatever heavy duty construction equipment or microscopic chip you may need, in the quantities you need, come rolling out the business end.

    That's science fiction... or it was.


  11. I've worked with print prototyping, it's pretty cool. not the best for fluidic prototypic down to micron toleracnes, but it worked.

    I was testing new 70 micron orofice nozzle prototypes for cytometry at I-Cyt, the round outer diameter was about 1cm with the height being about 1cm, cone shaped.

    I was pretty impressed. it did start coming apart under 45psi, and 50Khz vibration... then again, I expected that.

    the 5axis stuff is pretty cool. I've seen one. it's so cool.

    I don't think it will change GW's stance any time soon. I'd think GW COULD use some of this tech to possibly cheaply produce molds... then again, maybe not.

  12. Dear Farmpunk,

    You've no idea how much I enjoyed reading that last comment: I'm a bit of a sucker for words, and I feel like I've waited my whole life just to read the phrase: "70 micron orofice nozzle prototypes". Thank you.

    Ahh, jargon-bliss!

  13. As my wife and I like to say... "Talk Nerdy To Be Baby!"

  14. yeah. Sometimes I forget how truly nerdy Flow Cytometry really is. so much physics, so much math, so much engineering, so much biological fluid...

    it really is fascinating science. I know enough to teach a class on it, and still only be scratching the surface.

    I miss being a test engineer. Even Milking the bulls to get sample to sort wasn't so bad. I can say I know how to make an artificial Va-jay-jay.


out dang bot!

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