Pad Printing on the Railroad

Take a close look at a model train car and you will see that it has been “decorated” with graphics that may represent the railroad’s logo, product advertising and railroad data about the car’s length, width, height and weight. You may also see the inventory car number, car builder’s logo and other markings related to volume, fluid capacity and recently serviced date.

How does this information get put on the car? In the “good old days”, stencils were cut out from cardboard and fastened to the car. Then paint was applied and when the stencil was removed – whalla – you had a graphic! Today, a vinyl decal(s) is used for some of the decorating but there are some jobs that are just to big for a decal.

But what about model trains? Well the stencil process is no longer used, and although you can print your own decals, there is still no better technology then putting paint, or in this case ink, on the car body for authentic reproduction of railroad markings. It is a cleaner look and can be accomplished at a much faster rate then applying decals.

You can see a video of a car being printed by clicking here

Here at Mainline Manufacturing, our services include pad printing not only model train cars, but a multitude of other products from coffee mugs to glassware, clothing to golf balls, and just about anything else you can put your logo or data on. And don’t forget that pad printing can be a multi-color process too.

This “zebra” scheme was applied to a plastic hood for a 1:32 scale speeder car.
1:32 scale boxcar
1:32 scale boxcar
1:32 scale boxcar
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Since its coming to the 3D printing scene, PLA (polylactic acid) filament has been a popular choice for users of 3D printers. With its lower melting point, a higher temperature of the build platform is not necessary as it is with ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Labeled as biodegradable and made with renewable resources, one would feel very confident that they are being ecologically sensitive to the pollution revolution. Can that sincerely be achievable? Let’s take a closer look at PLA.

PLA is not a newcomer to the plastics industry. Developed in the early 20th century by E.I. duPont, it was deemed to expensive to produce commercially, as other resins were made using the plentiful petroleum resources of that time. Later in the 20th century (after the oil embargo) was when PLA rose to a commercially manufactured product through the use of corn kernels, although any starch based plant such as sugar cane can be used. That solves the renewable resource question, but what about being biodegradable?

Like every other petroleum based plastic, PLA will take hundreds of years to degrade on its own when buried in a landfill. The conditions are not suitable to begin the reaction to convert it back to lactic acid. PLA will biodegrade however, in a commercial composting facility in under 6 months, but most likely will not biodegrade in a residential composting pile for a long, long time if at all. So, PLA is biodegradable, but not when tossed into your municipal recycle bin!

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Smart Materials and 4D Printing

Even though 3D printing has been in the mix for over 30 years, only in recent times has it been made more affordable and user friendly enough for the consumer. I mean it was not breakthrough technology to combine standard printing software, which has been around for decades, with an extruder head to place molten plastic down versus ink.

The real technological work has been creating materials that change properties after being printed with 3D printers. Let’s call it 4D printing.


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