Link via Wired
In the Wired article “In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits” Solidworks is mentioned as the 3D tool used by the creator of BrickArms.
For a final example of that, swing to the Seattle suburbs to meet Will Chapman of BrickArms. Out of a small industrial space, BrickArms fills gaps in the Lego product line, going where the Danish toy giant fears to tread: hardcore weaponry, from Lego-scale AK-47s to frag grenades that look like they came straight out of Halo 3. The parts are more complex than the average Lego component, but they’re manufactured to an equal quality and sold online to thousands of Lego fans, kids and adults, who want to create cooler scenes than the standard kits allow.
Lego operates on an industrial scale, with a team of designers working in a highly secure campus in Billund, Denmark. Engineers model prototypes and have them fabricated in dedicated machine shops. Then, once they meet approval, they’re manufactured in large injection molding plants. Parts are created for kits, and those kits have to be play-tested, priced for mass retail, and shipped and inventoried months in advance of their sale at Target or Walmart. The only parts that make it out of this process are those that will sell in the millions.
Chapman works at a different scale. He designs parts using SolidWorks 3-D software, which can create a reverse image that’s used to produce a mold. He sends the file to his desktop CNC router, a Taig 2018 mill that costs less than $1,000, which grinds the mold halves out of aircraft-grade aluminum blocks. Then he puts them in his hand-pressed injection molding machine, melts some resin beads, and pumps them through. A few minutes later, he’s got a prototype to show to fans. If they like it, he gets a local toolmaker to reproduce the mold out of steel and a US-based injection molding company to make batches of a few thousand.