Editorial - A Matter of Opinion

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3D or not 3D - that is the question

I recently had the pleaseure of watching a 3D printer at work. The resulting products were impresive, with a smooth finish and excellent rendering of fine details.

There are apparently free 3D CAD programs available for WIndows and MacOs which allow you to design your own objects for printing and save them to industry standard formats. This of course opens up new opportunities for the computer literate modeller. Having said that, I have only just recently got to grips with 2D CAD, which I used successfully on my bogie stores van project.

I am reminded on reflection, of the evolution of desktop publishing, and the improvements over the years of the quality of printing. I remember my first printer was a simple dot-matrix affair, which was just capable of producing readable script. Then came Near Letter Quality (or NLQ). - still comprised of small dots, but dithered in such a way as to be much more realistic. Ink jet printers and lasers were another quantum leap; at last we could print colour pictures, and perectly formed text. I personally own a colour laser printer and the results at times can be remarkably good.

3D printing is I think following the same development curve. The earliest printers produced in my opinion a rather grainy model. Recent developments in machines and media are getting close to the quality one would expect from injection moulded items, without the development costs and prohibitively expensive machinery.

3D printing should lead to a wider variety of models and offers the opportunity for one-off projects for the home developer to produce (or have produced) impossible to obtain items. Having almost mastered 2D CAD, I think I'll have to have a go. Now what would I like to design ??