For Ron Olsen, scale models have been a way of life for over five decades. And while 3D printing is something new to Ron, he’s certainly made it his own. His shop, 3D Model Specialties, currently has over 1,000 different parts, and he keeps adding dozens every week! Amazed, we caught up with Ron and tried to see what’s driving him to do what he does. The answer was simple: passion.
How long have you been working with models?
Fifty-one years. I started when I was eight, and continued building until I was in my late teens. At that point, I had built over 200 models up to 1/4 scale in size. But then I just kind of quit until about two years ago. I found myself working on a 1/6 scale ’34 Ford Coupe that nobody seemed to have parts for. Through a moment of serendipity, I heard about 3D printing. Since I’ve been working with computers for over 30 years, I figured I’d try my hand at it. What started as me making parts for myself blossomed to a full-blown business when others wanted my designs too, so I started 3D Model Specialties to meet demand.
Tell us about a project you’re particularly proud of.
My biggest, and most exciting project is still the ’34 Ford coupe. I’ve actually been working on it for 20 years, but was trying to scratch build everything, which was not working out well in that large scale. I’m very proud of my collection of engines that has grown immensely in the past two years that I’ve been creating parts for the Shapeways store.
“Through a moment of serendipity, I heard about 3D printing. Since I’ve been working with computers for over 30 years, I figured I’d try my hand at it. What started as me making parts for myself blossomed to a full-blown business when others wanted my designs too…”
How did you learn to make 3D models? What software do you use?
It was quite challenging at first, but I picked it up quickly. I started in OpenSCAD, a free command-line CAD software. I’ve typed hundreds of thousands of lines of code to create parts, but I’ve started to work in Rhinoceros to make better models for my customers. That, and my fingers are sore.
My first parts were for the twin turbo engine for the ’34 Ford. I can now add about 20-30 new parts a week to my store, which can be hard to keep up with!
How does it feel to do what you do? How does it feel, after the hours you put in modeling, tweaking, and getting things just right, to finally hold that finished piece in your hand?
Modeling is a great way to express oneself, by customizing, painting and assembling unique cars, trucks, etc. Creating new, fresh and unique parts is a passion for me. It’s exciting to offer parts to the thousands of modelers out there that are tired of just buying a kit and gluing it together. They want individualism, uniqueness. Something that knocks their project out of the park.
I try to offer parts that have never been offered, as most kits today are the same ones I remember from 30 years ago in new boxes — sometimes not even that! There are very few, if any, updated engines, intakes, chassis, and wheels available, so I try hard to offer as many as I can. And I’d say I’ve succeeded. 3D Model Specialties now has over 1,050 parts in the store across 10 scales.
“It’s exciting to offer parts to the thousands of modelers out there that are tired of just buying a kit and gluing it together. They want individualism, uniqueness.”
What has 3D printing added to your appreciation of model cars?
3D printing is a scale modeling paradigm shift. Nowadays, as long as it fits in your printer, you can make it. I use full-scale car parts catalogs as guides to create new parts. With 3D printing, if it looks cool, I can make it. And there’s a ton of cool parts out there.
“With 3D printing, if it looks cool, I can make it.”
How did you buy or make model cars before you discovered Shapeways?
Like everyone else: kits, aftermarket, scratch building, and resin parts. In my teens, I ended up basically building everything from scratch, as normal kits weren’t cutting it for me even then. It took 40 years and the advent of 3D printing to get me back into it.
How has Shapeways changed the way you do business?
When I started out, I only offered 1/8 scale and up, which was the limit for my home printers. It’s also more fun for me because I can get into much more detail over smaller scale builds.
But with Shapeways, I can offer all of my parts down to 1/25 scale and some I can do as tiny as 1/32, which most home printers can’t even touch right now. I love starting from scratch and making super-detailed parts, knowing that thanks to the power of Shapeways, they’re available to everyone.
Give us some of your favorite memories interacting with the Shapeways community.
A lot of my customers have connected with me on social media. We talk almost every day on and off the site. Many of them have become very good friends, and it’s always great when I get a message from a customer telling me how much they loved one of my parts.
On a more personal note, I’ve worked with a lot of clients to produce custom parts for cars that have special significance to them — the car they drove to high school, or in one case, the car this particular customer’s father owned before they died. Making custom parts to get it just right means a lot to them, and I’m proud to help them out.
“I love starting from scratch and making super-detailed parts, knowing that thanks to the power of Shapeways, they’re available to everyone.”
What do you have coming up, and what plans do you have moving forward for your model-making?
For me, it’s just business as usual. I want to continue to offer different model bodies that most other stores don’t have. Another space I want to get into soon is motorcycles and top fuel boats. But of course, I’m always looking for insane engines and chassis parts to design and print.
(We usually don’t post this, but Ron’s answer was too good to not share. We can only imagine he typed this with a very self-satisfied (but well-deserved!) smirk.)
Can you tell us about another modeler with a storefront that should be featured?
I don’t know of any of the current modelers that have a storefront. They’re all coming to me for their parts.
You can find Ron’s store right here, where he offers over 1,000 model parts ranging from 1/6 scale all the way down to 1/32 scale.