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We're bringing back the Monorail - 3D printed!

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  • mathewmathew Member Posts: 2,096
    TikiLuki said:
    Keep in mind when I say the molds were $20k each, each mold has a number of pieces to it, but still, they are very expensive.

    3D printing is a completely different process and is still maturing.
    I'm not going to debate your experience or knowledge of injection molding.  But how does a company like "Lepin" manage to counterfeit complete Lego sets that require hundreds of different molds and sell them for half of what Lego does?  Not to mention the dozens of other knock-off brands.  What about all those crappy $1 store toys that use injection molds?
  • TikiLukiTikiLuki ChicagoMember Posts: 60
    mathew said:
    TikiLuki said:
    Keep in mind when I say the molds were $20k each, each mold has a number of pieces to it, but still, they are very expensive.

    3D printing is a completely different process and is still maturing.
    I'm not going to debate your experience or knowledge of injection molding.  But how does a company like "Lepin" manage to counterfeit complete Lego sets that require hundreds of different molds and sell them for half of what Lego does?  Not to mention the dozens of other knock-off brands.  What about all those crappy $1 store toys that use injection molds?
    If Lepin is producing in China, everything about their operation will be much cheaper than LEGO's. If TLG has their molds made in Germany (as I believe I've read), that's much more expensive than making them in China. LEGO's factories (again, from what I've seen) are highly automated. If Lepin is using human labor (which is, let's be honest, very inexpensive in China) for various aspects rather than purchasing or leasing, and then maintaining, expensive automation equipment, there's another cost differential. Lepin likely does little or no advertising, instead relying on word of mouth and internet sales.

    A single TV commercial can run from $25k to $400k to air a single time. That doesn't include the cost of producing the commercial (on average, a 30 second commercial produced by an ad agency will run about $340k). And again, that's just for one airing of the commercial. Now factor in print ads. And this is without even considering the cost of global shipping operations, warehousing, distribution, customer service, etc.
    AanchirLyichircatwranglerstlux
  • sklambsklamb speaker of American EnglishMember Posts: 478
    edited February 2017

    The key word there is "crappy." When I've supported Lego-like projects on Kickstarter, the main source of time delays is always "getting the mold right." It's easy to get a mold that is more-or-less adequate, especially if you aren't worried about flash or molding lines; much, much harder to get a multipiece system to generate a molded piece with the fit and finish of Lego. Presumably, all the time and work involved in going from a poor mold to a mold suitable for generating Lego is reflected in the final price. How Lepin does it I can't say--especially as I've never seen their product. But anyone who remembers the "lead" figures used for role-playing games in the late 20th century can attest to the difference between the product made by the best (and most expensive) manufacturers and the sloppy, undetailed blobs that came from cheaper companies.

    It will take a while for 3-D printing to get to the level of injection molding as far as precision goes, and even then I'd wonder about how uniform the material could be, given it's being layered on itself rather than shaped from one continuous piece. But I have no doubt that engineers are working on these problems as I type, and it will be the production method of the future, at least for general-purpose, non-critical equipment or parts.

    catwranglerstlux
  • TikiLukiTikiLuki ChicagoMember Posts: 60
    I think some 3D printing processes and equipment are already on par (quality-wise) with high-end manufacturing, but they are prohibitively expensive to use for things like toys. 

    In fact, the big thing with 3D printing that's revolutionary is that single parts (think of outdated parts that are no longer manufactured by the original maker) can be made without the cost overhead of tooling (mold making, molding machines etc.).

    I believe this is already being used for things like parts for antique cars, guns, clocks, old airplanes and motorcycles, etc.
    Aanchircatwranglerstlux
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114

    We just finalized our train detection sensor for LEGO® trains and monorail. The train sensor emits IR and detects the reflected amount. It's designed to detect trains, it's focused to see objects that are 1 to 2 studs away from the sensor, it's not affected by objects that are further than 6 studs away. The sensor works during day or night.

    It can be used with the nControl software or with your DIY Arduino based train control system. The sensor can easily be mounted on LEGO® train track; there's also an adapter to mount it on monorail track.

    You can fully program the behavior of the sensor using the nControl sensor tile. In operational mode, the sensor tile shows the detected amount of IR in real time. In the layout shown in this video below the sensor controls a traffic light, cross and monoswitch. We ran this setup for over an hour without any issues.



    SprinkleOtterdutchlegofan50MattDawsonsid3windrcatwranglerstlux
  • madforLEGOmadforLEGO Chicagoland USMember Posts: 9,206
    Fairly certain City is still one of the top selling themes in the LEGO lineup.
  • BumblepantsBumblepants Sofia BG/Dallas TXMember Posts: 5,589
    Just tossing an idea out there: what about printing a small connecter track that allows standard RC Lego track with its puzzle piece couplings to transition to the 1x16 straight rail piece that has smooth ends? This would allow builders to work without the restrictions of the cross ties when designing bridges or any scenario where they might not want them. 

    This is the part I am talking about: http://brickset.com/parts/design-3228
    gmonkey76
  • Russell844Russell844 California, USAMember Posts: 1,771
    Here is another suggestion. What about monorail track at only half the height or thickness? I would love to run my monorail down the middle of the street but the old track makes it look to high.
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    ^ See 2 pages ago. :)
    MattDawson
  • Russell844Russell844 California, USAMember Posts: 1,771
    Thanks. I'll reread the thread. :D
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 1,202
    @Lowa
    I hate to be an annoyance, but you mentioned 1/2 length diagonals and Y turnouts in a post in December - have these been shelved while you work on the modular track project?
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114


    @Lowa
    I hate to be an annoyance, but you mentioned 1/2 length diagonals and Y turnouts in a post in December - have these been shelved while you work on the modular track project?


    Hi Matt, the automation systems and track switches have been quite time consuming. The monorail switches are still on the to do list but but it hard to give a precise timing.

  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114

    A 4DBrix user testing out his automation system on a monorail layout... 




  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114


    @Lowa
    I hate to be an annoyance, but you mentioned 1/2 length diagonals and Y turnouts in a post in December - have these been shelved while you work on the modular track project?


    Hi Matt,

    Here's some additional insight why we haven't worked the Y switch and 1/2 diagonal:
    - we cannot 3D print the 'autoswitch' mechanism the LEGO monorail switches have, but we can prevent derailing using our automation system.  From that perspective it made more sense to first get the automation fully operational (switch motors and sensors) and then start working on the switches.
    - one of the main applications that I see for the 1/2 diagonal is to build T-intersections with a left-turn, right-turn and Y-switch.  From that point of view, the 1/2 diagonal is almost an add-on to the Y-switch.

    I now remember that you talked about making an extend platform with 1/2 diagonals.  In case you really want the 1/2 diagonal, that's something we could speed up and do fairly quickly... just let me know.

    We have been working on the monorail automation, see video above.  We also have been collaborating with MOC artist Lego Outlaw who builds monorail based trains. We have developed a 20 stud extension car, a 20 stud monorail base and a 20 stud rounded nose monorail base for his trains.  His trains are amazing, you can check them out here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/
    gmonkey76MattDawson
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114

    This video shows the possibilities of our automation system! We have two monorail trains running on two loops that cross each other.  Each loop has a sensor to detect the trains.  The sensor flips the cross switch in the correct position for the oncoming train.  When two trains approach at the same time, one of the trains is stopped.  The automation process also keeps the traffic lights in sync.  Let us know what you think!


    If you are wondering where we got the monorail trains from, they were designed and built by Brick Loco (formerly known as LEGO Outlaw).  You can find all his trains here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/



  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    Very nice! I guess the software is Windows-only?
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 1,202
    @Lowa

    I don't know how I missed the post, but yes I'd still be interested. I'm considering doing two stations so I'd probably require 4 in total...
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    sid3windr said:
    Very nice! I guess the software is Windows-only?
    Actually not, beside windows we also support macOS and Raspbian (Official Linux for Raspberry Pi).
    sid3windrdrdavewatford
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @Lowa

    I don't know how I missed the post, but yes I'd still be interested. I'm considering doing two stations so I'd probably require 4 in total...
    Ok, I'll modify the model and make a test print!
    MattDawson
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    Raspbian, awesomesauce. :)
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 1,202
    Actually, supporting Raspbian is actually a neat trick - it could be used for a very minimalistic switch control system - and if you wanted to go whole hog, a touchscreen would probably go very nicely with it :) 
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @sid3windr, @MattDawson

    Indeed, running nControl on the Raspberry Pi is pretty neat.  The Raspberry Pi version is fully compatible with the Windows / macOS version.  So you can prepare your project on standard computer if you want to.

    The Raspberry Pi version can be downloaded for free from our website: https://www.4dbrix.com/downloads  


    4dbrix-ncontrol-raspberry-pipng

    Adding a touch screen could indeed be handy, but you could also use a tablet instead of a screen.  You can either use the tablet to log in using a remote desktop or use a custom webpage to interface with your layout (we're working on a new feature that will enable nControl to generate such webpages from your project).  

    But I agree, having a screen on the Raspberry Pi can always be handy.  We're looking into encasing them in a 3D print to make a sort of nControl server.  


  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    I was planning to do most of that stuff by myself indeed. If you can add a way to control the Pi's GPIO pins (or run a shellscript) then I'll just use nControl instead :>
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    sid3windr said:
    I was planning to do most of that stuff by myself indeed. If you can add a way to control the Pi's GPIO pins (or run a shellscript) then I'll just use nControl instead :>
    We're working on an add-on that allows to use you own hardware with nControl.  Adding support of the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi fits right in... The subscription for the add-on will be $12/year.  I'm happy to give free trails so you can test whether it works for what you had in mind or not.
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    Sweet. I was going to write something myself (combining GPIO + IR sensors + Buwizz + SBrick support) into a web interface for a tablet. Have not started (and don't have the layout and hardware for it either). Looks like you pretty much did it for me already mostly. ;-)

    I'll be in touch once I'm at a stage that actually has hardware to combine with nControl!
    MattDawson
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    sid3windr said:
    Sweet. I was going to write something myself (combining GPIO + IR sensors + Buwizz + SBrick support) into a web interface for a tablet. Have not started (and don't have the layout and hardware for it either). Looks like you pretty much did it for me already mostly. ;-)

    I'll be in touch once I'm at a stage that actually has hardware to combine with nControl!
    Yes, we're getting close to having all that covered!

    About the web interface.  That's one of the things we have been experimenting with and my experience was very positive.  The wireless capabilities of nControl are based on MQTT (open source internet of things protocol).  We have managed to build webpages that allow to send and receive MQTT messages, and thus remote control all our automation products.  We will provide the required libraries (and documentation) so you can easily make your own web-based interface to control your layout.  Alternatively, we'll add an export feature in nControl to export the tile layout to a webpage.  

    sid3windr
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @Lowa

    I don't know how I missed the post, but yes I'd still be interested. I'm considering doing two stations so I'd probably require 4 in total...
    Hi Matt, I modified the model of the diagonal to make a short version and managed to make the first good print today!  I'll post a picture tomorrow and start running some test to see if it works fine.
    MattDawson
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    edited June 2017
    Actually, supporting Raspbian is actually a neat trick - it could be used for a very minimalistic switch control system - and if you wanted to go whole hog, a touchscreen would probably go very nicely with it :) 
    I had ordered a 3.5" touch screen for the Raspberry Pi and it arrived today.  I still need to figure out the drivers for the touch function but the screen is working.  It's very interesting...

    3.5" is small, but it's the same size as the Raspberry Pi.  If we put that in a LEGO compatible casing it gives a very compact train/monorail layout control server.  
    MattDawsonstluxsid3windr
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    MQTT as protocol? Damn, I love you more and more each day.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    sid3windr said:
    MQTT as protocol? Damn, I love you more and more each day.
    I'm happy to hear that!

    Yes, all our wireless applications are based on MQTT.  nControl now has it's own internal MQTT broker (server) so you don't even need any additional software.  

    I see a lot of potential with MQTT.  I just finalized a WiFi controller for LEGO trains:

    You can control it with this tile from our nControl software, it sends the instructions to the train as MQTT messages.  The train sends messages back so you can monitor the state of the battery power.



    To goal is to make something similar for the monorail.  I see two options:
    • a 4 stud wide controller (I cannot make it narrower...) with studs on the sides so you can hide it with tiles in a 4 stud wide train.  The power connector could be a standard 9V battery connector so you can hide the 9V batter inside the train.
    • my ideal solution would be to integrate the WiFi controller into the motor.  I have been experimenting with 9V motors to build a 3D printed monorail motor.  I have a very early stage prototype but it actually works...  At first sight it seems to be possible to integrate the WiFi controller into the motor.  That would be a great solution to turn your monorail in at WiFi (MQTT) controlled train as you wouldn't have to make any modifications to the actual train, you would just have to change the motor.


    MattDawsonsid3windrsklamb
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    Nice! I was planning (but have not bought) to put a BuWizz in my monorail. Has bluetooth, built in battery and can drive the motor. Something more compact would be better though! (I converted the #60097 tram to monorail)

    I did want to connect lights to the controller as well, changing depending on its direction... :)
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 1,202
    Out of curiosity, @Lowa, are you looking into doing a second, larger radius?

    I'd imagine you'd split it into two halves, dividing at 45 degrees to allow use of diagonal pieces.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    sid3windr said:
    Nice! I was planning (but have not bought) to put a BuWizz in my monorail. Has bluetooth, built in battery and can drive the motor. Something more compact would be better though! (I converted the #60097 tram to monorail)

    I did want to connect lights to the controller as well, changing depending on its direction... :)
    Actually the train controller shown above has 2 pins for LEDs as well.  (3 pins in total: GND, LED-1, LED-2)  You could use them for one set of LEDs at the front and one set at the back.  They are PWM pins so you can control the intensity of the LEDs.   I'm not sure if I would find the space to put those pins in the Mororail motor.  But if I can I will.

    Now, if you use the 60097 your train is 6 studs wide, so you could hide the WiFi train controller inside your train and use a PF cable to connect it to a genuine LEGO monorail motor.
    sid3windr
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    Out of curiosity, @Lowa, are you looking into doing a second, larger radius?

    I'd imagine you'd split it into two halves, dividing at 45 degrees to allow use of diagonal pieces.
    Yes, I have looked at it but I never mad any prints.

    The most logical radius seems to be 44 studs; that's compatible with a turnout using a left of right switch.  I don't think I can print a 90 degree 44 stud turn in 2 parts, that would give segments longer than our long ramp extension and I don't think I can go longer than that without starting to have warping issue especially with curved track.

    Printing it in 3 segments should work but then you can't use the diagonal track so that's not a great option.  In the end I designed the track to be printed in 4 segments, see below.  It's still tricky because I want the joints to be compatible with the LEGO grid.  LEGO came up with a trick (adding a short straight section in the beginning and end of the curves) to get the support at 45 degrees to line up with the grid.  I use the same trick for the 44 stud turns and go that support lined up.  But that trick doesn't work for the 2 other supports...  However, I manged to split them up in a way that the 1st and 3rd support lines up with the grid, they are just not perfectly in the middle of the rail, that's impossible.  The plot below is in the correct scale, so you can see the support are very close tot the center.  We would also need a new 'zig-zag' joint for the connections at 22 degrees, but that would actually help in making sure you assemble the track correctly.

    MattDawson
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 1,319
    Lowa said:
    Actually the train controller shown above has 2 pins for LEDs as well.  (3 pins in total: GND, LED-1, LED-2)  You could use them for one set of LEDs at the front and one set at the back.  They are PWM pins so you can control the intensity of the LEDs.   I'm not sure if I would find the space to put those pins in the Mororail motor.  But if I can I will.

    Now, if you use the 60097 your train is 6 studs wide, so you could hide the WiFi train controller inside your train and use a PF cable to connect it to a genuine LEGO monorail motor.
    6-wide indeed.

    I have run out of things to say that I want - you seem to have already catered for all of it.

    How long would a monorail-powered train with wifi controller run on a 9V battery though? I realize the monorails are in fact already powered by one, so it might be fine....

    Regarding the LEDs, do you also supply leds? I was thinking pico leds from Brickstuff, but they run at 5V and not 9V I believe...
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    Regarding the LEDs, do you also supply leds? I was thinking pico leds from Brickstuff, but they run at 5V and not 9V I believe...
    Yes, I'm indeed looking into making the LED for the train.  I would use the same LEDs as for our traffic lights: ultra bright white  3mm LEDs.  The controller is based on the ESP8266 chip that runs on 3.3V, so the LED pin outputs are 3.3V.
    sid3windrMattDawson
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 1,202
    Would it be worth making your custom motor longer than the original if you need to fit more in? Maybe 6 studs instead of 4?
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    Would it be worth making your custom motor longer than the original if you need to fit more in? Maybe 6 studs instead of 4?
    Yeah, that could be an option.  I'll first see how it goes with 4 studs...
  • PapaBearPapaBear East CoastMember Posts: 395
    Glad I found this thread.  I look forward to reading it in detail.  That Umbrella train looks really cool!
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