The Golden Era Printed
Can you recall the first accessory set you bought for a kit? Frankly, I don’t. It has been quite some time… I only know I noticed the existence of photo-etched sets sometime in 1992, I would say, and also noted the nice, camouflaged small boxes stuffed with resin parts – detail sets by Verlinden, on the market. As far as I can recall, this producer was really “in” at that time. Amazed by the detail, the supplies of these sets, as well as of the typical flat packages with Eduard photoetch sets, kept growing in my private collection. I never kept any summary of what I spent my money on, leading to some funny moments when, on opening a kit box on which I planned to use my newly acquired accessories, I was met with the exact same pieces already staring back at me from within! Once I even managed to triple one accessory! By the way: who wants some nice Eduard Brassin wheels for the HK Models´ Meteor in 32nd at a very good price?
The wheels are a good example of the “no-problemo” resin accessory, because if one doesn't make any fundamental mistake during the mastering and molding, than all should be OK. In this case, even typical resin shrinkage presents no serious problems. But it is a very different story when it comes to the parts which must be precisely combined with the plastic parts. I think everyone who has ever built a kit with resin accessories knows that: thinning, scribing, placing and, sometimes, shouting … Many of us also experienced a disappointment after opening the box only to find out there are just original plastic parts re-molded with several “easy-to-do-myself” details added. It is even worse when the price of such an “accessory” reaches the price of the kit and the installation of these resin parts requires more effort than to do the detailing using the original kit parts.
And then, after years spent with cast resin sets, 3D printing emerged and the continual progress of this technology led the first enthusiasts to start trying to produce their own home-made parts (the more skilled and daring even made entire models of desired types). Manufacturers, well aware of what was happening, waited for the technology to mature enough to allow for sensible serial production and jumped at the opportunity when it did. Eduard did not stay aloof of this trend, of course, despite its well-established resin casting department. I remember the first attempts about two years ago, when colleagues were testing different materials for printing in search for the right one to use, the one giving the best possible results and was stable enough. And even then, I was impressed with the finesse of the printed parts. Today we have a herd of printers humming merrily along, running at full speed. And the small beauties produced by them make me want to start some super-detailed projects again, after quite a long time. For example, the Wildcat, where the wheel bay, engine and wing folding mechanism sets are really encouraging me to do it!
Anyone who knows something about resin casting knows that a rubber mold does not survive forever and the last part to come out of it will not be exactly the same as the first one quality-wise. And also he knows, there are a number of factors that can affect the result, whether it’s the quality of the air bubble removal in the vacuum chamber, the mix of the material used, the temperature at which it is cast, and so on and so forth ... 3D production is quite a different world! Yes, even the printer can make a mistake occasionally, but it’s visible and the part is discarded during quality control. Otherwise, they’re just like each other, first and last. And since these parts do not shrink, one can also rely on their accuracy. In fact, some of the printed parts seem to fit better than the original plastic parts! And I think it’s a terrible shame that this manufacturing process isn’t fast and cost-effective enough to produce complete kits. It would eliminate the many constraints that limit the detail and sometimes also shape accuracy of parts produced using molds and injection molding machines.
By the way, nowadays even metal parts can be printed with great precision, and perhaps the time is not so far away for printing molds. Such a technology might eliminate at least the milling, maybe even electrode discharging of the molds. Since it is possible to print, for example, H13 tool steel, it may only be a matter of time. Even in this case, 3D printing technology would bring a number of advantages apart from those mentioned.
In any case, 3D printing is a revolution for our hobby, and in combination with other technologies, such as Mimaki printers in our case, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the production of perfect accessories. Many modelers keep saying we are in the golden age of modelling thanks to the constant flurry of new kits. But I think the real golden era is coming with the rise of 3D technology.