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3D Technology and Model Shipbuilding

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

With the advancements in 3D technology, it is now not only possible but also affordable to use these technologies in our model shipbuilding. Recently I purchased two new tools for my business and workshop - a small, portable CNC machine and a 3D printer. These machines are extremely accurate in what they do.

The CNC machine is called the Nomad 883 Pro made by Carbide3D. You have probably seen it in the latest catalog from small tools specialists, Micro Mark. It is a self contained unit with a very nice spindle instead of a router. The spindle is very high torque. With the enclosed case and high torque spindle, it makes very little noise compared to its larger counterpart, the CNC router mill. Where it really excels is in milling 3D parts.

The cutting area for this mill is only 8" x 8". It comes as shown in this photo with the various accessories which include a sheet of aluminum/acrylic for cutting out a sample wrench and a block of synthetic wood for cutting out a sample 3D face.

The machine includes software to control it , a CAM program to change 3D files into g-code, and a CAD program to draw objects in 2D and 3D. All of this software comes in both Windows and Mac format.

Recently I began designing and building a model of the Dutch Yacht, Pegasus. I discovered this gem of a model on eBay last year and even order the kit from a Chinese dealer. But after waiting a month, it became evident that the dealer didn't actually have the kit but was trying to get the kit from the Chinese manufacturer. Here is a photo of the Pegasus kit as seen on eBay.

What makes this model so amazing is the 3D CNC milled carvings that adorn not only the sides, stern transom, and figurehead but also the deck. Here are some photos of those carvings.

The kit was first developed by a Russian model shipbuilding club. The club held a contest to scratchbuild a model ship of your choosing and this is the model that won the contest. They then used this prototype to develop the kit. The problem is, they still have not ramped up production of the kit itself, however, I found that the carvings for the kit are available on a Chinese website called Taobao. The carvings come in 2 packages and cost about $150.00 USD with shipping. I bought the carvings and decided not to wait for the kit but to develop my own CAD drawings so that I could build the model from scratch. Here are some photos of my scratchbuilt model which is still under construction as of this writing.

Using AutoCAD, I lofted the frames which are based on the drawings in the book Statenjacht Utrecht. This book is available from Seawatch Books .

I used boxwood for the frames and planking and holly for the lower deck planking. I'll talk about the 3D printed fireplace in a moment.

The bulkhead you see in the photos was milled on my Nomad 883 Pro CNC mill. I drew the 3D bulkhead using a free CAD program called Fusion 360. Fusion 360 is available for free to anyone and runs on Windows or Mac. It is a cloud based 3D CAD program by the makers of AutoCAD, Autodesk.

The bulkhead has 3D printed curtains in the openings. The inspiration for these bulkheads came from the Utrecht ship itself as seen in this photo.

You can see one of the openings in the bulkhead and the curtains in the opening. Inside the opening is a bench that people can sit on to eat at the dining table. The fireplace you see in this photo is not the one you see inside my model. It is actually a second fireplace that I will later print with my 3D printer. It sits further aft on the lower deck. The forward fireplace in my photo is the one used to cook the food. The one in this photo is used to heat the dining room.

I have also milled some doors for the lower deck using the Nomad 883 Pro CNC mill. Currently my 3D drawing are rather simple in design compared to the very complex and detailed 3D carvings I purchased for this scratchbuilt model. I hope some day I will become proficient enough to sculpt 3D images such as those for future models I'd like to build.

The 3D printer I purchased is a Chinese resin 3D printer called Anycubic Photo 3D SLA printer. Here is a photo of the printer.

It's not a very big printer. It an easily sit on a desk or small table. It has a color touchscreen display and quality resin tray and Z axis printhead. These type of printers have the highest resolution of all of the different types of 3D printers on the market today. What is so amazing about this printer is not only its reasonable cost (now less than $500.00) but also it's resolution. It has the highest resolution of any 3D resin printer on the market today. It's vertical resolution is from 25 microns (0.000984252") to 100 microns (0.00393701"). What this means is that you can set the layer thickness to as thin as 10/10,000" up to 3/1000".

The x and y axis resolution is called 2K. This means that the length and width of the print will be 2560 pixels by 1440 pixels. All other resin 3D printers on the market use a resolution of 1080P or what is called High Definition resolution. This means that the Photon printer has twice the horizontal/vertical resolution than any other resin 3D printer on the market.

When resin 3D printers first started to appear on the market several years ago, they were out of the hobbyists price range with prices from over $3000.00 up to more than $4000.00 for such a printer. Now, there are several Chinese resin 3D printers on the market in the $500.00 to $700.00 price range which makes 3D printing reasonable for a model shipbuilder who is serious about adding detailed parts to his or her model.

Basically the way this resin printer works is that the 3D drawing that you wish to print is sliced up into layers. You can control the thickness of the layers using the special slicing program that comes with the printer. I have been using a layer thickness of .001".

Once the 3D drawing has been sliced, it is saved in a proprietary file format that only this printer understands. You copy the file onto a USB thumb drive, which also comes with the printer, and then you upload it to the printer.

There is a special leveling process you must go through before you can print the object. This involves adjusting the side to side and front to back angle of the printhead so that it is perfectly parallel to the resin tray. It's much easier to do this than it might sound. Once the printhead is level, it is raised up a very small amount and the azis is "zero'd" which means that you are setting the reference point of the printhead to zero.

After leveling you can begin printing by pouring resin into the special resin tray. The tray has a very special clear, see through silicon bottom which you can change if needed. Beneath the bottom of the tray is a LCD screen. This screen is where the magic happens.

Resin printers use a very special kind of resin that will cure when exposed to ultraviolet light. By projecting the slices onto the 2K LCD screen, the UV light it emits is projected onto the bottom of the resin tray causing the resin to cure only in the areas where the light hits the resin. The cure time is controllable by the slicing software. The layer thickness of the cured resin is also controlled by the slicing software by controlling the length of time the layer is projected onto the 2K LCD screen.

The cured layer of resin is first stuck to the printhead. Then each time a layer is projected onto the screen, the printhead lifts up a tiny about equal to the layer thickness so that the next layer exposed in the resin is then stuck to the previous layer. This repeated projection of layers and lifting the printhead one layer thickness (.001" in this example) produces the 3D print. The 3D print literally is lifted up and out of the resin. It's amazing technology but it does have one drawback. It takes hours to print something. My brick fireplace took 8 hours to print, but once you start it you can just walk away from it. The slicing software will tell you how long it will take to print the object.

Even though it takes hours to print, you can print multiple copies of an item all at once and that won't change how long it will take. For example, I could print a dozen cannon barrels in one printing session and it would take no longer to print all 12 than it would to print just one. This is because the print time is based on the number of layers in the print and since each cannon is the exact same height, each layer projected will just have more information on it but the total height of the 12 printed cannons will still be the same. The length of time to print something is determined by the tallest item being printed.

Here is a video of the printer in action as seen on YouTube.

So far I have been able to draw the curtains and the brick fireplace in 3D and print them on the printer. I have plans to print many other items not just for this model but for my next model, a scratchbuilt plank on frame model of the Royal Caroline.

With the combination of the highly accurate CNC mill and this 3D printer, making parts for a model are only limited by their size and my ability to draw them in 3D. If I can draw them, I can make them using this latest 3D technology.

Here are some additional photos of my Pegasus Dutch Yacht. The curtains you see are 3D printed. Also visible in this photo are some beds with a pillow on them. They are 3D printed as well.

In my next article I will show more detailed parts made with the mill and printer. A third article will be published when I begin designing and building the Royal Caroline.

I hope you enjoy these articles. I know this technology is not for everyone but I also know that there are some people out there who build from scratch and are always striving to add more detail to their models. These tools are becoming another standard tool in a scratchbuilder's workshop. I have even seen model railroaders using this 3D printer to print items for their train layouts.


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