Heavy Equipment Sales Model

If you have a large piece of machinery, heavy equipment vehicle or industrial process that you need to sell to customers you have to make choices about your marketing approach. Phone calls, email,  or face-to-face contact? Probably a combination of all three. A good website – interactive and informative – is imperative. Video testimonial, a detailed brochure and participation at trade shows might be useful.

One approach that is almost out of the question is hauling a huge, bulky piece of equipment to the prospective buyer and saying, “Look, here it is, and let me show you all of its outstanding features.”  It would be effective, but impractical when dealing with oversized products.

A sales model would provide that impact without the cost and logistical impossibility of the real product. Imagine having a detailed sales model of an excavator, a cooling system or a jet engine that travels with the sales team and can be displayed with ease in a variety of settings. A model reproduction of your over-sized product  will inform, impress and engage potential customers, giving a worthy return for your investment.

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Building a Model from Scratch – A Model Maker’s Perspective

model maker

Most people’s perception of a model maker is someone opening up a box and gluing parts together.  This isn’t what we do here, there are no kits for what we make.  Building a model from scratch; that’s what we do, art in a three-dimensional form.  If an object is made of metal, we might make the model out of plastic; sometimes an object is made of plastic, but we might make the model out of metal.  The end result is the look of the model, and with paint generally covering the material, what’s underneath isn’t important.  The reason we use different material is either for strength or for ease of workability.  Plastic is much easier to shape and attach together than metal, but it can be weak; metal is stronger and more durable, but harder to work with.  All of these decisions are made based on the end use of the model.  If it is going to be displayed in a showcase in a corporate lobby, the finished piece can be more fragile, as the model won’t be handled.  If the model  is for a trade show, it will frequently be packed and unpacked, set up and handled.  Both of these uses steer us toward different assembly methods and materials.

The advent of three-dimensional computer graphics has definitely changed model making.  When we are fortunate enough to receive 3D CAD files from a customer, this definitely makes our processes easier, especially when complex shapes are involved.  Working from two-dimensional drawings is still common, many times full size devices are still constructed using them, and this all that is available to us. And, there are times when all we receive is a few photographs and basic measurements.

Just because a device is made from a thousand parts, a model might only be made from ten parts.  Here is where we look at the drawings and photographs to determine how we are going to construct the model.  The model makers here usually have different ideas of how to proceed at this point.  Often we get together and discuss the project with all kinds of ideas presented.

Although we do occasionally work with steel or aluminum, brass is the metal most often used in model making.  It is relatively strong, but is soft enough to machine easily and can be attached by mechanical means, soldering or brazing (similar to welding).  Plastic comes in many forms. The softer plastics, like styrene, are easy to work with, but don’t machine well (on the laser cutter it melts instead of cutting). ABS and PVC machine better but can’t be cut with the laser.  Acrylic is our preferred plastic for laser cutting. The laser allows complex shapes to be etched and cut easily and quickly.  Most models end up with at least some parts made this way, many architectural models are completely laser cut.  Occasionally we are requested to make multiples of a model, for this resin castings are often utilized. A master is made using various materials, and then a rubber mold is made to cast the resin in.

Yes, we do use glue.  But glue by itself often isn’t enough. Wherever possible we use mechanical fasteners, usually machine screws, to attach parts together. Both methods used together ensure a strong bond.

There are so many ways to make models, this is only a short overview of what we go through.  More insight can be gleaned from reading our blog as we endeavor to show you what we do here at KiwiMill Model Makers.

– Jim Otto, Model Maker

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Making a Model With Working Parts

scale model working parts

working parts scale model

In the shop right now is a 7 ft asphalt plant model with working parts. Anything that moves in a real asphalt plant will be replicated on the model as well. It won’t actually function as in turning tar & stones into asphalt, but it will be nearly capable of doing so in miniature.

The client wants to demonstrate how the machine operates or how it is controlled. Doors and chutes that are moved primarily by hydraulic cylinders in a real asphalt plant will be demonstrated with 12 volt electric linear actuators on the model. Those parts in a real asphalt plant that move with gear motors – like augers and buckets – will have miniature gear motors on the model.

Our model makers create drawings in AutoCAD of the doors and chutes, in an open position and closed. That way the “throw” can be calculated, which is the amount of swing needed to open them fully. Then it needs to be determined what length actuators will best represent that throw. The working parts on the model need to be built and the actuators installed on them and tested for accuracy. An important factor to consider is whether or not the actuators can show on the finished model design, or need to be imbedded or disguised. In this particular industrial model, the actuators will be part of the visual presentation.

The gear motors are chosen for the model based on the scale speed necessary to make the parts turn. How much torque is needed? – what sort of load does the gear have to move? This will determine how powerful the motor needs to be. Generally if the part needs to move fast, less torque is required and if the part turns slower, more torque is called for. This particular model has a 218:1 gear ratio as the miniature motor needs to move quite a bit of mechanics.

Finally you have to tie together the different voltage strengths of the various actuators and gear motors into a controller that sits in the base of the model. This programmable code (located in a circuit board) will be the power source, or “the brain” of the working model parts. It will control when power is needed and where in the model to send it.

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Description of a Model Maker

 model maker

David Neat,  master model maker, teacher and author in the UK, describes the essence of model making:

A model maker needs “a rigorous command of scale and knowledge of the varied materials and methods which will assist in achieving it.”

 Ok. A fairly ordinary description so far, but then he finds that elusive bit that elevates the craft into the realm of art:

A person invested fully in “the magic of simulation: recognizing the essential or fundamental in the appearance of things and reproducing it in the most effective and economical way.” 


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What Backgrounds Do Model Makers Have?

model making

How does a person become a model maker? There are a variety of ways that today’s model makers started out before becoming professionals in the business. While most model makers will tell you that they enjoyed working on hobby model kits in their youth, some found their way to the craft later in life. All model makers have advanced dexterity, a keen eye for detail and artistic sensibilities. Another prerequisite is the ability to visualize in 3D. And no amount of model building skills will parlay themselves into a career unless the work can be done in a timely manner. In other words, there are people who can build a decent model if given enough time, but professional model makers always work within particular time constraints.

College degrees specifically in model making do exist. A quick search on the internet brings up BA’s in Model Making, Model Making for Design and Media, Model Making for Film and Television and Model Design and Model Effects. There are Bachelor of Science Degrees in Industrial Technology – Model Making, as well as Associates Degrees in Applied Sciences in Model Making and Design Model Making and Rapid Prototyping. Plenty of model makers hold degrees in Industrial Design, or come from Engineering or Fine Arts backgrounds as well.

Of course, formal education is not a prerequisite to model making. Some model makers learned through apprenticeship or come from backgrounds in crafts or other skilled trades.

Increasingly model makers are expected to  be proficient in computer programs. Plans and designs are frequently sent through AutoCAD, Rhino or Adobe Illustrator. More model parts are being drawn on the computer before assembly. Computers are used to make parts as well, with CNC mills, lasers and 3D printers.

Model making remains an intriguing mix of talents that require mental focus, creative problem solving skills, design appreciation, fine motor skills and willingness to embrace new technology as it presents itself. In spite of some pessimistic predictions about the future of model making, it’s still a thriving profession. It turns out the demand for concrete objects will never go out of style.


Here is an interesting UK article about the qualifications and background needed for Junior Model Makers in the Stop Motion Industry: http://www.skillset.org/animation/careers/stop/article_4638_1.asp

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