The Ffestiniog Railway is the oldest independent railway in the world and the engines we're going to scan and make into kits are the oldest narrow gauge engines in the world: they're 150 years old this year. Considering their age it is remarkable that four out of the six engines are still in existence and that two of them are still in working order, regularly pulling trains on the railway they were designed for.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the delivery of the first engines and, for the first time in a very long while, all four of the remaining engines are going to be complete and in the same place, possibly the first time since before the line originally closed in 1946. Then two of the engines will spend part of 2013 acting as roving ambassadors, visiting different venues in London and Dublin.
The real engines
The four locomotives, Prince, Princess, Palmerston and Welsh Pony, are fascinating. None of them are exactly as built and over the years their designs have subtly diverged so none is the same as their classmates and certainly none of them are like their original plans. They were built especially for the line by a maker called George England. Princess built in 1863 is the oldest, followed by Prince and Palmerston in 1864. These three locomotives with the long since scrapped Mountaineer form the "Small Englands". Welsh Pony and the previously scrapped Little Giant are slightly larger, termed "Large Englands", and were delivered in 1867 as an evolution of the design based on knowledge of operation.
The scans and models
We're going to make incredibly accurate plastic kits for modellers that will allow them to build these engines exactly as they are today. We feel given the divergence from plans and from each other that the only way to really do this is through laser scanning. The data we'll get from these scans will enable enthusiasts to really replicate every detail of these engines and learn about their history as they build models of them, while also knowing that what they're building is literally a smaller version of the real thing.
Using 3D printing to make the kits allows us to create kits in a wide variety of scales and to create a kit specifically for each engine, rather than making a generic kit, since we have no tooling costs. There are also advantages where the geometry of the parts is not constrained by the casting and moulding process.
The kits will come with brass detailing parts where possible and appropriate. The initial kits will be for the bodies of the engines only; we'll work on a rolling and motorised chassis design which can be fitted later and will also have a static chassis for people who want that. Some people however will already have in mind how to make a chassis or adapt a commercially available chassis and the body kits will be ideal for them. If our funding goes above our target we'll work on the chassis which we already have in planning straight away.
We realise not everyone wants to make a model. Some people love these engines or may just like what we're up to, or may want to see the plans or photos. Alternatively some may have an older kit sitting in a cupboard and want more information to make it or improve it. For these audiences we're also creating books of plans and photos, prints, postcards and t-shirts which include the high resolution photographs and the visualisations of the laser scanning data which are very easy on the eye.
Flexiscale. We're new in the world of model railways commercially, however we've been making models for a long while. Flexiscale is led by Chris Thorpe who was recently described by Steam Railway as a techno-wizard for his work on bringing together the scanning and capture of Winifred. As with the work on Winifred, Chris will be joined by Dan Crow, a lifelong narrow gauge fan and technologist who has strong links with the Ffestiniog. Chris and Dan between them have over 40 years experience of working with and creating technical solutions to complex problems and have PhDs in Computational Biology and Artifical Intelligence respectively.
Digital Surveys. Digital Surveys specialise in the 3D scanning and interpretation of "as built" environments such as petrochemical plants and oil rigs. They're ideal for the work we're doing with them on steam locomotives as they spend most of their time understanding the complex geometry and engineering which has built up over time as people have deviated from the original plans.
DotSan. Vijay Paul of DotSan is an incredible 3D modeller who we always feel lucky and privileged to work with. He has worked with many clients including Shapeways, the London College of Fashion. He has performed all of the 3D modelling work for our current range of kits and will be working on these as well.
What we've done before
We've done this before and we're pretty sure we know what we're doing. In the Autumn of 2012 we scanned Winifred, a Penrhyn slate quarry locomotive built in 1885 by Hunslet. We did that as a proof of concept and to record the uniquely unaltered condition of Winifred which was essentially the same as when she left the quarry.
We've also made a range of kits for the wagons of the Dinorwic Quarry. A range of five wagons in five different scales is currently available with four more wagons in the research and development phase.
How we'll do it and schedule
From the outset we'll have a project blog so you can follow along with how we're doing, can see the latest data and the latest iteration of the parts. We'd like you to see what we do as then you'll know the provenance of the data and the efforts made to ensure that you are making the most accurate kit possible.
We have a provisional booking for scanning the four locomotives in the same place at the same time in February. We're going to be using a Surphaser, which is known for its unsurpassed accuracy and scan quality. Throughout we'll be recording a vast number of high resolution images of the locomotives which will be essential for us to produce the kits and to provide to modellers to help them make the kits as lifelike as they can be. The photographs and visualisations of the point clouds will, from experience, be ready for printing about a month after the scanning has taken place and we'll then straightaway start working on the books, postcards and t-shirts.
The raw point cloud data will be made available as Open Data as soon as the process is finished. The point cloud data will be interpreted using Geomagic software, and from that we'll design the kits in Rhino during March and early April. We'll be constantly testing kit parts using our Replicator2 and then sending parts off for printing by Shapeways, Sculpteo, iMaterialise and other more specialist material printers and specialist photo etchers. We'll use iterative methodologies, as used in software development, to ensure the kits as satisfying to make up as possible. We aim to have all the geometry work and the kit design work completed by late April so we can show the initial prototypes off at the 16mm Society's Garden Railway show in Peterborough and also so we can ramp up the production of the intital round of reward kits for delivery in May.
If we exceed our initial target we'll do a bigger round of kits in May and also work on the chassis design and control systems for delivery in June. This will allow people to build their kits over the summer and, if they're garden railway modellers, can have an England engine model running in their garden by the late summer!
For the unique reward with the scanned figure we've test printed some scanned people in different sizes and have met with a some providers of the people scanning services. This will happen in April/May to fit in with that person's availability and the availability of the firm scanning them.
Thank you for checking our project out, and thank you, hopefully, for helping us to archive history.
Risks and challenges
The risks and challenges are almost entirely in the properties of the materials used in 3D printing. For the smaller scale kits some of the detail parts may be too small to print, but only in the same way they'd be too small to mould or cast in injection moulding or lost wax casting. In many cases we can print small unmouldable parts. If there are parts which are too small we'll either omit the part, or if we can we'll fuse it to a more solid body part without spoiling the look of the finished model.
We know how to get hold of the data, we've already scanned one steam engine, Winifred, so there's no risk there. The Ffestiniog Railway have agreed to the project so we know there's no impediment there. We also know what scanner we're using and the people who did the scanning work for us last time are on board. We're all ready to go with your help.
We know some people are interested in the engines rather than the kits so we've thought about what else is possible with the data. We've created test postcards and t-shirts from the data we got from Winifred and have created a coffee table book too. We also know how to get the plans out of the 3D software.
We're already selling a range of 3D printed kits of wagons in a variety of scales from 7mm to 16mm. We're also in the process of making a kit of Winifred from the data we have from scanning and so far there have been no nasty surprises.
The major risk we can see is development of a functioning chassis, we're not attempting that as part of our first round of rewards, however if we do exceed our goal then the next thing we'll be working on is the chassis and control systems, and we'll put those rewards up when we know the initial scanning and body kit part of the project is funded.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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