3D Laser Scanning – or – We Get to Play With Some Cool Toys!

Scanning the FPA4

This past Monday, November 7, 2011 Rapido made model railroad history by commissioning from Creaform to perform the first-ever 3D scan of a real MLW/ALCO FA locomotive: FPA4 #6765 at Exporail, Canada’s national railway museum in Montreal, Quebec. Jason, Dan and I all were in attendance as were about 30 of our customers who came up to join in the day’s events.
Exporail is home to the largest collection of heritage railway equipment in Canada, and many of their gems are housed in the new Angus Pavilion, a state-of-the-art railroad artifact exhibition centre. Long time followers of Rapido will remember that we were here a while back to record the shuttlecraft….errr…. LRC locomotive. Now, thanks to the generosity of the Exporail staff we once again invaded the museum.

Alco/MLW cab locos have almost a cult following, and in the past many manufacturers have tried their hands at the Alco FA-series locomotives. After every release the common complaint is that they didn’t get the nose or the roof contour right. Recent advances in 3D laser scanning now make it possible to accurately record complex contours of full size objects, and Jason made contact with the crew at Creaform who agreed to do a scan of the museum’s FPA4 locomotive. This will take all of the guesswork out of the design process. I wish that we’d had this technology available to us when we did the FP9A nose!

3D Scanning – How it Works

Scanning the pilot

The 3D scanning was done by Justin of Creaform using his amazing 3D laser scanner and one pretty serious tripod! By setting up a series of reference targets both on the locomotive and in the surrounding area Justin was able to move his scanner to any location around the FPA4 and the unit would be able to identify exactly where it was. The scanner emits a narrow laser beam that moves back and forth over the area to be scanned, measuring precisely the sizes and shapes of any object that it encounters. This information is then stored and processed by Creaform to create an accurate 3D digital model of the locomotive. This model will then be used by our engineers to design your HO scan model, complete in every detail. Justin scanned the entire locomotive, from trucks to roof, and all of the way around. Nothing is being left to chance.

The entire process took almost six hours. While Justin worked away feverishly our guests enjoyed a lunch buffet, toured the museum (including touring through some exhibits normally not open to the public) and enjoyed a special 15-minute preview of Stephen Low’s Imax movie, Rocky Mountain Express. Gilles and the crew at the model railroad even opened and operated their layout. This was a special treat for Jason’s son, Boaz, as it gave him a chance to run his much prized VIA Rail club car sample! The rest of you will have to wait for the production cars to arrive!

As I mentioned, more than 30 of our customers and fans joined us for the day’s events and lunch. It was great to meet all of you, and we appreciate those who came up to join in!
For those of you who could not make it, here’s just a little sampling of what you missed.
– Bill

Exporai'sl model railroad

The guys from the Exporail club get the layout ready for Boaz Shron’s test run.

Scanning in proegress

Justin gives me a quick course in 3D scanning while Dahlia and Boaz Shron explore the museum.

The buffet takes shape

We eat well! Jason and I prepare the buffet. (Well, OK, I’m preparing, Jason is…. supervising).

Scanning in proegress

Meanwhile Justin works away on the pilot area.


Break out the popcorn! Waiting for the start of the Rocky Mountain Express movie preview.

Scanning the roof

Justin completes the scan up on the roof of the FPA4.