Thursday, March 19, 2015

This 3D Printer Will Kill Resin & Metal Casting

by SandWyrm

This is a time-lapse video (7x normal speed), but you're still talking about 6 minutes for a mini the size of a 40K figure, with extra-crisp and smooth detail.

Now imagine a production line version of this thing where instead of one dip-head, you have 20 or 50. With each head able to pull a different design out of the gooey bath before dropping it on a conveyor belt for sorting and packaging. Bye bye Finecast, metal, plastic-resin casting, and anything else that's not a 2-second per sprue injection molded plastic product. Hello custom anything-you-want without mold lines.

GW still has the credit/cash to buy into this technology NOW and not be totally left behind, as they already have digitally machined plastics down pat (even if half their designs suck ass). So this would just be a different output option for the same kind of digital designs they've been doing up to now. Basically anything low-volume enough to not warrant the tooling for a plastic mold. Their only challenge is how they'll make enough money to survive as they're forced to lower their prices.

Wyrd has transitioned to digital design too, so they can switch over anytime they want to, or mix this option with their injection-molded stuff.

But you're probably looking at the death of Battlefront. The garage plastics guys are already drinking their milkshake, and BF haven't been able to match their quality or price yet with their own old-school plastics, which still rely on hand-sculpting and hand-tooling.

Since they haven't made the transition to digital design at all, this tech will now finish the job of killing off BF's more custom metal and plastics, as competitors will be able to goop-print not just custom one-of-a-kind tanks, but also entire infantry stands, bases, and texture/terrain detail quickly, easily, and cheaply as a single piece that doesn't require assembly or cleaning.

Unpack, put it on the table, and play. If you want to paint it up later, you can, but these should be available in basic colors appropriate to each faction/period/theatre.


  1. I love this series you've been running.

    The problem we have with these printers is that production does not scale well. The parts come out coated in a uncured resin and need a slow and messy cleanup post printing. I would hate to have to do that for 60+ models. The form 1+ sample I received was just at the quality where I might consider it. However, as a painter the surface was still too pitted for glazing. Add to that the messy cleanup, and the printers are just not convenient enough. I think we will get there eventually.

    1. This particular approach is supposed to not have the layering roughness of the additive process that current printers use. Those extrude layers upon layer mechanically like a traditional printer going back and forth to build an image. These continuously cure, looks to me more like developing a photo instead of printing one.

    2. Did you see the UV-printed Necromunda models that I bought from Shapeways a while back? Once undercoated and washed, you can't tell at all that they're not plastic, except that they have fine details cut behind things that you can't do with an injection mold.

      Go to the site (it's linked in the article) and you'll see that those models are just as clean, if not cleaner, than the ones I got. The only issue I see is getting paint to stick to them properly, as I noted for my Shapeways models.

    3. Plus, a simple high-speed spin post-bath ought to get most all of the uncured resin off. Which is something that could easily be engineered for an industrial model printer, with a catch-shield that would recover the excess goop and let it pour back into the reservoir. A bit of compressed air and a chemical bath ought to clean it up enough to be shipped to customers.

  2. Does this material hold its form?
    Around the 5 minute mark this guy talks about how his awesome Octopod started to lose its shape after a few years.

    1. Good video!

      Not sure exactly what materials he was using, but it looks like the shell that distorted could have been made on a colored powder-printer. Which range from bendy prints to crumble-in-your-hand if squeezed at all.

      That was state of the art 3 years ago, and is still the only real way to print in full color, but the printer I'm talking about above (and the one used to print my Necromunda girl-gangers) are hardening a resin with UV light. My gangers are not bendy at all, and snap cleanly without bits flying off.

      Will there be problems with those prints in the future? Who knows. But if you're printing a single miniature in one piece (rather than in pieces for assembly), then you'll be much less likely to have/notice any distortion of the model over time.

      Looking at the Octopod, there are probably some design flaws that led to that distortion being more noticeable. Such as a general lack of structural support under and within the egg-body at the back. Having the side be removable without leaving a girder underneath certainly didn't help there either, and I don't think re-casting it in resin would have made much difference. Cast resin bends all the time too, especially if there's a large amount of heat.

    2. Would a light-sensitive resin be sensitive to sunlight? If it's already reacted maybe it's then stable in light? I guess my fear is that these resin printers end up essentially printing in failcast which would be pretty lame. Also any idea how much this resin costs?

    3. (Shrugs) I don't know. Hell, there are still traditional artists out there who won't use acrylics because we don't really know how long their colors will last, etc. They want something that they know will last 100's of years, even if 99% of the work they do will only be appreciated for 10-20 years before being lost to the trash heap, or the back of a moldy storage unit.

      I've got to think though, that if you prime and paint a UV cured resin piece (protecting it from UV light), you're likely to have fewer problems than you would if it were left bare. My guess would be that if extra UV did anything, it would make the model more hard and brittle.

      There are already clear UV-sprays on the market too, since these are commonly used to protect artworks and posters from exposure to sunlight through a window.

      As for resin cost, here's what the Form1 guys had to say on their Kickstarter FAQ:

      "We estimate ongoing resin prices of around $149 per liter, but Kickstarter supporters who buy a Form 1 print package will be guaranteed at least 1 liter per month for $129 ($0.13 per cubic centimeter) or cheaper for the life of their printer. This is compared to available resin from traditional suppliers, which currently costs around $300-$800 per liter, and is less than a tenth the cost of online print services."

      I'll take that as a rough guide.

    4. Almost all plastics are light and or oxygen sensitive. Compare a 20 year old white Lego brick to a new one. Even CD/DVD/Blu-Rays will degrade over time, especially if not stored properly. Most of the products we buy aren't as permanent as we'd like to think.

    5. Good point.

      Hell, if cast-lead were a new thing, we'd be discussing how easy it is to bend, the health effects of exposure to it, etc. Every material has strengths, weaknesses, and a useful life.

      When we talk about 3D printing, we're not talking about 1 material, but dozens. From glued metal bits, to extruded plastic shaping, to nylon powder, to light-hardened resin, and everything in-between. Some will work better for some applications than others, and over time some standards will settle on what's good for different kinds of miniature games. You'll also see new methods and paint formulations appear that work with those standard materials better.

  3. ...
    You have a tag for 'Battlefront-Fail.'
    That's awesome.

    Let's see what happens when Battlefront releases their Fulda Gap version of FoW.
    I'd give 'em at least that long before I'd stick a fork in 'em.
    I mean, fer sure I won't spend any more money on WWII FoW- especially Battlefront stuff. Too expensive and the resin stuff is awful.

    PSC was not only cheaper, but I feel it's a better product as well. They're actual models, not chunks o' stuff you glue together.

    Battlefront was entirely too cocky. They waited completely too long to get in the plastics game (their mechanized infantry platoons in plastic are actually a good buy, however. I can't deny that), and now look. They're announcing the Fulda Gap thing everyone's wanted like, forever.
    Sigh...I'm willing to bootleg (yeah I said it) the rulebook, but if I see ANY of their stupid 'forced reserves' nonsense with stoopid missions, I'm out IMMEDIATELY.

    But I'll wait until I see it before I say it's a wrap for BF. It could be the 'next big thing,' if they do it right. I just don't have a whole hell of a lotta faith that they'll do it right...

    1. I'm much more a fan of Battlefront's rules (well, not the late-war ones) than I am of their models. I still maintain that some (not all) of the forced reserve missions are my favorites in Flames.

      Battlefront was so promising just 3 years ago. But they keep making really poor strategic decisions. From buying a failing magazine, to trying to force tournament players to buy 50% BF models, to 40K-ing Late-War, to failing to adapt properly to PSC when it first appeared, and then this very questionable deal they have to distribute Dust. Where it really looks like they let FFG screw them over hard.

      Fulda Gap (and all the new Vietnam stuff) seem like a desperation move to me. An attempt to maintain interest in their sub-par models by introducing new stuff faster than PSC can follow. Maybe it will work for them for a while, and maybe the rules will be good. They do write pretty good rules compared to most other companies. But they've forgotten that they made their business by offering better & cheaper models than their competitors, not the other way around.

  4. From an energy and materials standpoint, mass production will always be more efficient than prototyping. What we actually see happening now is that many small producers are using 3D printing for masters, then mass producing models by resin and metal casting because it just makes energetic sense. We'll probably just see more of this. I doubt 3D printing your stock will ever be more competitive than casting your stock from 3D printed masters.

    1. I think that efficiency is the wrong measure of success here.

      If I can get plastic space-dudes for $5 a pop on sprues, but 3D printed ones cost $8, then there's lots of reasons I would gladly pay the higher price. From lack of assembly, to the details BEHIND weapons and arms (normally filled-in for injection-molded stuff), to the ability to customize their exact heads, gear, etc. on a tablet or computer.

      A company like GW could also jump on this as a way to sell bitz without needing a warehouse (and staff) to store them. You click on a button, and the machine at the one-room bitz 'factory' spits out your part, and all the humans have to do is box and ship them (if that).

    2. I guess we'll see. Efficiency does matter though, in the long run.

    3. Economy of scale isn't the only way to produce efficiency. It can often produce too much inventory and cost you money Driving up end unit costs. You can get even more efficiency out of producing no more than you need. That's typically how Japanese car companies beat up on American ones.

  5. That's the car industry though...its expensive to store car because they are big. and they lose value if they aren't sold the year they are made. We're talking about miniatures...different industry altogether.

    1. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about cars or plastic kits, maintaining inventory adds to the cost of your product. You have to rent a warehouse, train and keep staff, etc. That one product type costs more or less than another is immaterial.

      The warehousing costs are exactly why GW got out of the bitz business. The overhead of storing all those old bitz (and their molds, don't forget) made the service a money-loser for them. But if their costs could be drastically reduced to 2 guys and a couple of rapid 3D printers in a back-office room, it would be something that can make money for them again.

      If you think about metal or resin-casting, those also come with a lot of costs. The molds are still relatively expensive, you need highly trained people to pour them without injuring themselves, and the space will need costly environmental cleaning and specialized ventilation. Even if these 3D printers are slightly slower in producing models (and they may well not be), the higher facilities costs and physical hazards of the traditional methods will still make 3D printing the way to go for low-volume production.

    2. We'll see. Predicting the future is always imprecise. I could be wrong, but I just don't see a business model where everything is made-to-order makes a whole lot of sense. You think it does...we'll just have to wait and see. 3D printing is great for prototyping now, whether it becomes practical for mass production remains to be seen.

    3. Also check this out"

      Apparently, people are using 3D printers to make trek style.

    4. With this speed (and what HP and others are promising soon) 3D printing is already going to be practical for mass-production. Not for ALL production, just for those things that will benefit the most from its capabilities.

      Injection-molded plastic will be the future low-cost standard for miniatures. Anything more detailed, custom, or niche will be 3D printed.

    5. The food printer is interesting, but it's gonna run into a LOT of resistance from the health community folks because of the kinds of chemicals/ingredients that are required to make the goo easy to print with (preservatives, hydrogenated oils, etc.). All of the digestive/nutrition problems that you have with other processed foods will be there in spades. I watch the videos and my gut starts doing summersaults.

    6. Food seems a major stretch of the imagination. I read one guy claiming that agriculture as we know now will be obsolete in 50 years...and its really hard to take some one seriously who says stuff like that. Especially considering that we're probably looking at an energy downturn in 50 years, when fracking plays start flickering out and we're back to being a net importer.

    7. Fraking is already flickering out. The wells aren't stable producers, and the entire industry is really just a big financial bubble waiting to pop.

    8. Interesting, where do you get your information on that? I've looked at the science of fracking a bit but I haven't really seen much on production. I presume the plays flicker out all the time, but they just move down the way a bit and drill elsewhere. It seems mobile drilling units are a must, just considering the fact that the gas and oil are so widely dispersed and dilute.

    9. I don't feel like looking them up (since we're quite off-topic), but the sources are easy to find. The wells themselves rarely last more than a year without being re-fraked, and production starts falling from day one. Yet the re-fraking never pulls production back up to what it was when the well was first drilled. Leading to diminishing returns.

      Then there's the way the industry works. Which is that independent drilling companies come in, secure the drilling rights to an area, frak the hell out of it, and then sell off the wells to investors before moving on. So the drillers have no skin in the game after they've ruined an area's water supply (among other problems) and handed off all of that future liability (and wells that don't last long) to the suckers that buy them.

      That has "financial bubble" written all over it.


out dang bot!

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