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Into a New Dimension - Part Three





I am grateful for the patience shown by my followers, while I have been wrestling to make progress on 3D modelling, against a background of many distractions!


In my previous post on this subject, I described my progress in understanding how ‘slicer’ software turns a 3D computer model into a file suitable for 3D printing.  This enabled me to make a few test prints by downloading 3D models from the web.



3D printed carriage from file on web


The experience has left me with some reservations concerning the 'Geeetech E180' printer that I bought.  It is a very neatly-designed machine, which fits well into the domestic environment, but the best results I have managed to obtain, so far, appear to lag behind some other low-priced printers.  More importantly, technical support is poor and I suffered a print-head failure after a very short period of use.  The print heads are a clever modular design that can easily be unclipped and replaced.



Geeetech E180 print head assembly


Unfortunately, spares seem to be unobtainable in UK and I had to place an order for a couple of print heads, directly from China.  These took about a month to arrive, which somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for exploring printing possibilities much further at that time.


My original idea was to look into making components, which lay outside the capabilities of my 2D Silhouette cutter, for some of my loco and carriage designs. This initial plan was side-tracked, when I realised that a carriage, like the one I downloaded from the web, is little more than a box with holes in the sides for windows, so it looked like an easy candidate for learning basic 3D drawing techniques.


To make it a bit more interesting, I went back to look at a carriage I had already constructed, using sides made with the Silhouette cutter.  As one of my readers (Winander) pointed out, the prototype appears to have had rounded ends, which I had not been able to make, so I decided to see whether I could use 3D printing, to convert it to a more refined overall shape.



Model of early GWR carriage at North Leigh


I was especially interested to try the Autodesk ‘Fusion 360’ software, since it appears to be a comprehensive solution, aimed at becoming an industry standard, like other Autodesk products.  Even more attractive is that the software is available free of charge, to hobbyists not seeking to make commercial projects.


Quite early on, I came across a web video that described how to make an electrical junction box with 'Fusion 360' but then I couldn’t find it again, after a period spent on other things!  Such are the problems of short-term memory becoming less reliable with age.


Instead, I started to look at some of the Autodesk training videos but, perhaps I started in the wrong place, as I didn’t find them very helpful in deciding where to begin – there seemed to be an endless array of tools and techniques, and I had no idea which of these might be useful to me in the early stages.  I came close to giving up on the whole idea, thinking the ‘learning curve’ was too steep for me but, then, I suddenly found that simple introductory video again and things started to feel possible, once more.  In fact, this video by Lars Christensen, on the web at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5bc9c3S12g proved to be the turning point, which convinced me that I really could get going with the Fusion 360 software!  There are 3 episodes, which cover the basic principles involved in making a box-like structure, with curved corners and various penetrations through the walls



3D tutorial example


To cut a long story reasonably short, I learned from these videos that the starting point is to lay out a 2D plan on one of the three planes defined in the software.  In the case of my basic carriage, this was just a rectangle, representing the floor.  Even with the help of the videos, and after writing copious notes, it still took me a while to grasp the basic concepts behind the 'Fusion 360' user interface.  Because it is such versatile software, there are many different modes of operation and, for my task, the first selection to be made was to choose the ‘Model’ environment from the top-level menu.  I also set ‘mm’ as my dimensions parameter.  The following screen-shots show the steps I took, following the Christensen video:



Steps in making a carriage body with 'Fusion 360'


Even while selecting these images, I had to go back to check some of the steps, where I couldn’t remember exactly what to do.  The big difference in computer modelling, as opposed to ‘real’ modelling, is that no ‘bodging’ is allowed – you have to specify each step in strict accordance with the program requirements!


After following these steps, I had a box of the same dimensions as the coach I hope to build.  A feature of the software is that I could paste a 2D DXF file, which I had already created for my Silhouette model, onto the appropriate faces of my box.  With the image in place, I could then select the window openings and the droplight recesses, and use the PushPull tools to open up the apertures in the sides of the box, as described before.  In this case, I used the inside face of the side as the depth reference point.


Using parametric references means that the windows will still penetrate the width of the side, if I subsequently decide to change this width parameter.



Importing a DXF file into 'Fusion 360'


That’s as far as I’ve got, at the moment.  I hope that the techniques I’ve learned will ‘stick’ in my memory but I now have a written guide, to help me when needed!

I’m especially pleased to have found that that I will be able to use my existing collection of carriage drawings when creating new 3D models on the same basic principles.



Basic 3D carriage model


Of course, there are lots more components to add : interior partitions, seats, external mouldings, and so on, but I have reasonable confidence that I know enough of the basics to be able to make these additions relatively easily.




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  • RMweb Gold

Well done Mike.  I know the problem of leaving something for a while and when you go back to it you stare at in wondering what it is, or where your tools are.  I have started making notes of what I did last and what to do next, and that is just for conventional modelling.  Never think that you are too old.  You may take 15 seconds rather than 6 seconds to go from 0 to 60 but you get there in the end.

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Thank you, Chris.  I know that this is pretty basic stuff but we all have to start somewhere.

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  • RMweb Gold

Hi Mike, thanks for sharing this, once again a big help.


Apart from rolling stock it has occurred to me that  3D printing would be very useful for making a range of goods items. Although there are many of these available from the trade, they are often not quite as I would have wanted them or simply don't match what I see in period photos of goods depots and wagons. Such items might also be a gentle way of starting 3D modelling, so I am all ears.


Lars has the unmistakable accent of a compatriot who spent some time in the US :)

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Thank you Mikkel - I'm pleased to know that you found it helpful.  I'm taking my learning very steadily but I agree that the potential is enormous.  My next step is to learn how to do curved surfaces.


I must say that Lars' explanations are very clear, although it took me some time to be able to complete the model without having to refresh myself on some particular point.

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This is excellent stuff as always from you!  It is also yet another spur for me to learn 3D so I can finally have that 3521 0-4-4t in both 'narrow' and broad gauge versions!  Now if only I could find more time....



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  • RMweb Gold
3 hours ago, drduncan said:

so I can finally have that 3521 0-4-4t in both 'narrow' and broad gauge versions!


The 3521 is also on my bucket list. Maybe we can convince Mike to do commisions  :lol:

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I'm so pleased, Duncan, that you find my stumbling progress of such interest.  I'm sure there are many people out there who have this 3D modelling 'thing' fully mastered.  If you or Mikkel wait for me to provide a 3521, I suspect it will involve a very long wait indeed :)


You've reminded me, though, that I would like a round-firebox Dean Goods - perhaps I might see if I can produce a replacement boiler for my 'Mainline' model.


So many ideas - all it needs is time ...

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Mike, we all stumble at first. If we didn't we would never be able to 'get into our stride'. I think that you are making tremendous progress, and once you become a second dan(?) black belt in this, I've no doubt that you'll be firing models out left right and centre.


I'm often having to drop tools for months at a time, and since the last time I used it, my software of choice, Blender, has had a major interface clean up and change. You can imagine the conversations I was having in my head when I was attempting to get back into the swing of things. :)

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I also find it irritating when software suppliers change their interface for no very obvious reasons.  It seemed that Adobe used to move all the tools around in the palette with each new version of Photoshop Elements ... Why?   The Fusions 360 software is web-based so I get a message 'you are now running the latest version' every so often, which usually means names and locations of tools have changed!

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