Products and Design, Shapeways

Designer Spotlight: Stony Smith

This week’s Designer Spotlight focuses on Stony Smith, who uses 3D printing’s ability to make small and complex parts to make incredible replicas of trains at Z-scale, which is one of the smallest guages out there, at 1:220 scale. He is also one of Shapeways forum moderators, with a wealth of modeling knowledge, he is a friendly and helpful resource that we are lucky to have! 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? Where are you located?

I had a co-worker label me an Alpha Geek.  I can do pretty much anything with computers: if it’s got a keyboard, I probably can fix (or hack) it.  I live in Texas, because I married a wonderful woman from Lubbock some 32 years ago, and I still can’t get her to move out of the state.  My day job has always been in some kind of computing, mostly high power data analysis that would bore you to tears but my true addiction is robotics and artificial intelligence

What’s the story behind your designs? What drew you to making miniatures? 

In 2008, my wife suggested that I (again) take up model railroading.  I started working on a train layout, but quickly found that there were items (especially houses) that I wanted, but weren’t available for purchase. Even though I can do a few artistic things, my very early background was in architecture and mechanical drawing, so I tend to work with real or technical objects more than fanciful organic creations. My normal workflow involves in designing the object in decimal feet using 1:1 dimensions as often as possible.  If the real object is 40 feet long, I design my object to be 40 units long. Then, I have the freedom to re-scale the items to match whatever train scale I happen to be working for, which then makes it easier to offer multiple sizes.

A rail crane: The cab swivels and the boom travels up and down, and it’s all printed in place: no assembly required. Yes, that is a penny in the background!

How did you learn how to design in 3D?

My first semester in college, rather than work on homework, I attempted to construct what you would call today a voxel-based model of the Star Trek Enterprise. If you can imagine, it wasn?t a great success using 80 column punch cards, but I did get it to the point where I could do 2D prints of the ship from any random rotation angle.  In the 80’s, I played with Pov-Ray and week long scene rendering.  Then, in the 90’s, out came Truespace, which allowed you to build VRML worlds you could walk around in, which has always been my true goal: a virtual world you could walk around in, like Stark Trek’s Holodeck.  I’ve used Truespace since version 0.9, and I am really saddened that Microsoft bought it and killed off new development. I really should try Blender, but that’s for another day.

A railroad pusher: all four axles turn and the center two axles are on swing arms allowing them to move up and down. 

What brought you to 3D printing with Shapeways?

To me, it was all about the houses. I want several more houses on my layout, and there are precious few of them available for Z scale commercially. Either the current ones don’t have the look I want, or they’ve got an impossible number of parts to glue and paint. I had seen Shapeways a couple of times on HackADay.Com, and I had even tried uploading a model or two, but I was always getting the dreaded ‘non manifold’ error.  Then I stumbled upon OpenSCAD and was able to construct a STL that would successfully upload and print.  From that success, I was able to go back to Truespace and get it to work. From there, it was a very simple matter.  Every person that I show any of my designs to has always had the same one single response: That’s really cool! Can you do one of THESE?
Most of the items in my shop are there because someone has asked me to design the item.
(Ed note: This great article in Wired Magazine about Stony shows his design and creation process in detail)
How do you promote your work? Is there a community you participate in?

Most promotion is word of mouth, just customers telling others about some product. I’m a webmaster for ZCentralStation, a model train community online, and the guys there are always bending my elbow to get something special designed for them.  The Z-scale train world is rather desperately lacking in many items that are available in the larger scales.  That works out great for me: I get to do something that doesn’t compete with a commercial product, and due to the small scale, the prices aren’t completely impossible. This month, my shop passed 3500 total items sold so I would love to give a shout out to the many customers that have bought from my shop over the past 3 years: THANK YOU! 

I was truly honored when Ana asked me to be one of the moderators for the Shapeways forum.  It’s fun to keep up with what everyone is doing here.  I love to talk about what is possible in 3D printing, and I really enjoy helping others to get their designs working.  If you have ANY questions, I’ll be glad to try and answer them.

A miniature snowplow

Who are your favorite designers or artists, who has served as an inspiration to you?

I really need to credit my father here. He was old-school, a master with leather, woodworking and the pocketknife. I wish you could see the miniature saddles he fashioned from just scraps. Many fond days were spent with him trekking thru the backwoods looking for just the right piece of wood to turn into some creation.

If you weren’t limited by current technologies, what would you want to make using 3D printing?

A higher detail colored material like a smooth Full Color Sandstone would be really nice. That, and transparent windows would be extremely helpful.  A material suitable for making working gears (at 1:220 scale) would allow me to pull off a number of ideas that I’ve currently got, like a working railroad handcart. Lastly, I can’t wait for the day when we can mix materials as we will be able to print working motors and circuitry in a single pass of the 3D printer!

Anything else you want to share

It is almost impossible to describe how fulfilling it is to design something on the computer and then hold a copy of it in my hand: it’s truly a life-long dream. Beyond that, it brings me to a profound sense of accomplishment when someone shows me a painted and finished version of my items sitting on their train layout. Understand: Stony Can’t Paint, and when someone takes one of my models and finishes it up properly, it’s overwhelming.

Check out Stony’s miniatures in his Shapeways Shop, on his website or find him in the ZCentralStation forums. 

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