By Aaron Waldron
Like any enthusiast consumer market, the world of RC car racing is always looking for the “next big thing.” Rather than simply an incremental change, these breakthroughs often break category-defining molds or are the result of a notable leap in technology, providing a huge spark for the entire industry. Once a manufacturer stumbles across a “big thing,” competing brands rush to adapt - or risk failing completely. Racers and hobbyists flock to hobby shops, tracks are flooded with new products, and our whole community moves forward to a new, different future. Notable recent “big things” include mid-motor 2WD buggies with lay-down transmissions, GT on-road cars, short course trucks, rock crawlers 2.4 GHz radios, brushless power systems, and LiPo batteries, while older “big things” include buggies, electric motors, foam tire inserts, Nickel battery discharge trays and AMB timing systems.
The next big thing to affect the RC car industry for a wide variety of consumers, though, will largely take place behind the scenes: I’m talking about additive manufacturing - more commonly known as 3D printing, rapid prototyping, or stereolithography. The concept of additive manufacturing first emerged in the 1970s, and has increasingly changed how new products are created in a variety of industries.
I know, I know - people have been using 3D printers to make RC car parts for a while now. In fact, additive manufacturing has made it easier than ever to create your own items and option parts brand - JConcepts founder Jason Ruona is one of hundreds of designers actively selling items through a Shapeways store, which doesn’t even require someone to personally own a 3D printer. As additive manufacturing technology improves, the items will become stronger, tolerances will tighten, and 3D-printed parts will be more usable in a wider variety of applications besides just scale accessories and non-load-bearing components.
JConcepts introduced two new 3D-printed accessories for the B6 today.
Perhaps most profoundly, though, is how these additive manufacturing processes can help established brands in RC - those most likely to find the next “next big thing” - try new things. Creating new products can be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor, creating prototype products by modifying existing items, hacking together parts of different vehicles, and finding ways to test unproven concepts before dumping tens of thousands of dollars into creating molds for production pieces. Everyone drooled over the photos of Team Associated B6 prototypes made by a process called “stereolithography,” or SLA, but it’s difficult to understand just how important of a tool SLA printers can be to engineers who know that what happens on their computer screen needs to provide real-world results.
We may never get translucent kits to build and run ourselves, but man...I want this thing badly.
Though there’s really no way to tell what the next big thing may be, you can bet the time period between potential game-changers will continue to shrink. Back in the 1980s, Roger Curtis and his small staff physically hammered plates of flat aluminum over molds to build the chassis for the RC10. We’re not far away from being able to create the same component - with more intricate design work expertly engineered on computer-aided programs, ready to package and ship to customers around the world - by simply clicking “print.”