Trackside3D: From Concept to End Product
We are constantly developing new products and new product lines based on our product development strategy, customer requests, layout needs and group commissions. We have a clear eight step process from concept to release, which you can find explained below.
Step 1: Concept
Our design process starts with a concept. Concepts typically originate from inspiration while researching old photographs or a location. Concepts also come from our product development strategy, customer requests, solving a problem on our own layouts or a commissioned project. Concepts move on to the research stage once they have been evaluated for 3D printing.
Evaluating a concept for 3D printing involves looking at the size, shape and detailing on the prototype. After identifying those details, they are evaluated in terms of whether a design could be achieved with today's 3D printing technology.
Sometimes a concept comes from the availability of new features in the slicer (such as Cura's support enhancements in 4.x) which makes previous concepts now possible. Sometimes a concept comes from the availability of a new material or printer technology, such as the textured magic filament from Hatchbox 3D.
Step 2: Research
Once a concept has been approved for development, the research phase begins. The type of research and length of time needed depends on the concept. Railway infrastructure that is specific to a location, such as stations, signal boxes, platforms, bridges and so on, can be quickly researched if it still exists.
For infrastructure that is disused and long gone, we rely on old diagrams, technical drawings and photographs to create a 3D model. For concepts that are readily available, we can use manufacturer specifications, technical drawings and photographs to generate an accurate model scaled to 1:76.2.
For infrastructure that still exists today, we use various tools including Virtual Site Visits using Oculus, 360-degree video site surveys, Google Maps, Google Earth and YouTube VR to virtually visit the location and get a feel for the design. Once we have gathered enough information to build a proof of concept CAD model, we move on to the next stage. The research stage can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks, depending on the availability of information.
All of the data and assets (maps, diagrams, photographs, location data etc) collected during the research phase are integrated into our Machine Learning Image Processing System. This information is then used to have our system analyze hundreds of thousands of images in our database to search for additional photographic evidence. The results of the analysis are verified and then used to extrapolate dimensional information. The dimensional information is used by our designers to create a 3D model.
Step 3: Proof of Concept
The first stage of our CAD process is Proof of Concept. Using the information gathered from our research phase, diagrams, photographs and other information is overlayed with OO scale converted measurements. The proof of concept phase involves creating a base model of the object we are developing. The model will have the correct dimensions but will lack details and maybe constructed from basic shapes.
This stage of CAD development takes less than a few hours and depending on the size of the model, a few hours to test print. During this stage we determine if a design can be printed as a solid object or if it needs to be broken down into kit form. Testing on the amount and cost for support material is also considered. Design decisions such as how to minimize supports and print orientation are also determined.
Step 4: Building a Prototype
The next stage of our CAD process is Prototype Development. This stage involves a cycle of updating the object developed during the proof of concept stage, adding details, refining the design, optimizing it for 3D printing and test printing. During this stage we will experiment with the object on our layout, identify issues and develop innovative new concepts.
We often discover new innovations through this development process. A good example is our cable trunking system. During the development process we noticed that most of the cable troughs could accommodate 22 ga wire but using dimensionally correct lids would limit the use. By tweaking the design of the lids, we were able to turn a cosmetic product (cable trunking) into a functional product (working cable trunking) by offering a modified version of the lids. This in turn led to the development of cable trunking with holes for routing cables to signals, point motors etc, making it easier for railway modellers to route cabling along the surface of their layouts. This innovation led to us being able to create prototypical signal bases which would work with the trunking system.
Step 5: Final Design
The final stage in our design process is to produce a production prototype from the finalized design. This process involves assigning a product code to the design, saving the design files to our design repository, performing a high quality production 3D print, testing the product on our layout and finishing the product as needed (paint, texture sheets, other post-print processes). The finished production print is then compared to the real-world prototype for final verification. Any problems encountered or failures will send the product back to the Prototype phase. Once successful, the product is passed on to our Quality Assurance process.
Step 6: Quality Control Test Prints
Our QC test prints are designed to test the design with a number of different filament types, print settings and different 3D printers. The purpose of the QC test prints are to assess the quality and success of a print with certain filament types, and to provide the best possible settings for Cura and other slicing software.
During the test phase, we also test filament usage and print times. The QA process often involves rotating and changing support settings, to find the optimum setting for a particular model. Once this phase is complete, the results are documented and evaluated. Some cases we may not recommend certain filaments or printers, in other cases the design will be returned to the design phase for additional tweaking.
Once we are satisifed with a design, the settings are documented, and updated on this site. The design then moves into the final QA stage.
Step 7: Final Production Print
The final production print is the production print run. During this phase, we will use the recommended settings from our documentation, the open source Cura slicer and produce a production ready g-code file for the Creality Ender 5, Creality Ender 3, Creality CR-10 and JG Aurora A5 printers for PLA and PETG (unless PLA or PETG is unsuitable for the design -- very rare).
The number of objects needed for our test layout is determined, and a production print run is done. Once the production run is complete, some of the objects are finished and some are left unfinished. The final products are then handed off to our video production team to create a YouTube video and photograph for oorail.co.uk. Sometimes due to the demand for Trackside3D products, especially product requests from customers, the video production and documentation may lag several weeks behind an actual release.
Step 8: Pre-Release
Once a project is completed, it will go through a pre-release phase that can last from a few days to several weeks depending on the project. Customers who have pre-ordered the model will be the first batch to receive the model electronically during this phase. The model will be added to our Trackside3D subscription service, so depending on how long a subscriber has participated in our subscription program, they too may receive the model.
So far we have never had any problems with the initial batch, but in the event a problem is encountered, it will be corrected quickly and an update will be released to those who received the model.
Once everything looks good, the model is released to the general public via our Trackside3D shop.
Effective from May 1st 2020, new products are added to our shapeways shop at the same time they are made available for download from our Trackside3D shop.
Documentation and Videos
Effective from May 1st 2020, new products will have documentation and videos available upon release. Typically we will synchronize the release of the YouTube video and Documentation with the scheduled public release of the 3D model as closely as possible. Due to the high demand for Trackside3D new releases, it may take us some time to catch up on the backlog from previous product releases.
Feedback received from our subscribers and customers, from enhancement requests to difficulties with certain 3D printers, can sometimes result in an update to the design. Updates are provided for FREE to existing customers who elected to receive product updates. Paid Trackside3D subscribers who are subscribed at the time of any updates, will also receive the update for FREE. Updated designs will replace previous designs on both our store and our shapeways store. Products printed via shapeways will need to be purchased again if you want an updated print.
Want to Learn more?
If you are interested in learning more about our 3D printing projects have a look at the following pages: