We were at Rail 2009 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We were there to get feedback on BeneluxSpoor.net's rapid prototyping initiative. BeneluxSpoor.net is a foundation of railway enthusiasts and they have a rapid manufacturing/3D printing working group that is doing research into how 3D printing can benefit the model train community. They are looking into painting as well as a host of different 3D printing processes. We were at Rail 2009 in order to show off Beneluxspoor's work and find out what the railroading community think. And let me tell you that they are a tough crowd to please. Their eye and attention for detail is second to none. We got a lot of enthusiastic responses though and think that this is a huge opportunity for us and model railway enthusiasts. With Shapeways people can produce unique trains and other accessories and even sell them via the Shops: the long train if you will.
There was a complete manufacturing section on the Beneluxspoor stand with a CNC machine, a Dimension 1200 3D printer a LOM 3D printer and a laser cutting machine. There were also a few computers where you could try out the Alibre modeling tool.
This is very interesting. I am prototyping various UK N Gauge (1:148) model train parts at present with some success. Over the next few months I hope to be producing a mix of master models, for resin casting, and a number of smaller components for direct use.
I know of at least one other person who is looking seriously at the 3D printing methods.
Although it would be a long way off in the project, or may be to expensive, I have heard rumours of a 3D printing technique, for surface printing onto models. However, I have not been able to find any information to substantiate the rumour. If I have the info right, it is rather like having an inkjet printer printing onto the outside surface of a 3D object.