We as Lego Model Railroaders are being treated pretty well these days. After the launch of the PFx Brick Kickstarter 10 days ago (who, by the way, have just said they will include Bluetooth in the PFx Brick!), 4DBrix decided to launch a Kickstarter for a 3D printed Modular Switch Track System.
Until now, there was not really any way to obtain other than the standard L-Gauge switches for your Lego railway, unless you were into some forms of extensive modding. Thanks to the Modular Switch Track System, this will be a thing of the past. 4DBrix actually has come up with a pretty nifty system that could rival with TLC’s own ideas:
I had the opportunity to ask the founder of 4DBrix, Tom Lowa, some questions in regards to using these switches for ‘pros’ like us. Mostly, I was wondering about any anti-studs on the back of the switches, how durable 3D printed switches are, and also, why they don’t do injection moulding.
First of all, I asked Tom about the fact that these switches are 3D printed, and what this means both for the quality and durability of the switches, compared to the procedure of Injection Moulding procedures of TLC and the tracks of ME Models.
“For train tracks we don’t think there is actually a difference in durability between 3D printing and injection molding – the ILUGNY run our monorail track for 24h over 3 days at a show and there was no sign of wear…”
Next is the question of the anti-studs on the backside. Tom was kind enough to send me a picture of the new design and an explanation of how the switches will look from the backside (a good thing to know for us ballasting-boys):
“So far our backside was filled but now for the switches we are including connection points for studs at the end of the ballast (see picture of prototype below) – that allows you to anchor the track (we won’t do that in the middle as it would increase the price but not add functionality as you cannot do it everywhere anyway because of the mechanism and the curves).”
This is a great thing to hear for us ballasting guys, even though ideally studs in the middle would have been of great added value as well. However, by for example using the 1×4 plate with 2 studs with the non-studded parts underneath the sleepers, I think this could be solved.
Lastly, I was wondering about if they are ever planning to do injection moulding, or if they are planning to stay with 3D printing. About this, Tom had the following to say:
“We want to remain with digital production as we like the flexibility (we can create a lot more cool things that way…) & we really don’t think the market is big enough for the investment required for injection molding… And we believe 3D printing will keep on evolving”
A fair point from a business perspective, I think. Injection moulding is very expensive because of the low tolerances, which means highly expensive moulds, which means big risks when it comes to investing capital into it. 3D printing thus seems like a great solution for this, as long as the tolerances are strict enough.
Overall, the Modular Switch Track System looks like a great addition to any Lego Train layout. Knowing how crazy expensive the Double Crossover switch is, and how much effort it costs to properly mod a switch to become a Stubby Switch or Single Crossover, I think it’s worth the risk to add this system to your collection. Tom has promised more parts of the modular system are on it’s way, even going as far as 3-way switches and more. The best is yet to come!