Model Shop Name Change

KiwiMillA&M Model Makers has been in existence as a scale model shop for half a century. While the owners, craftspeople, techniques, technology and even the company location have changed over time, the name has not.

Originally created from the names of its two founders, the moniker A&M served the company well through its former years on the West coast. Having moved to the East in the last decade, adding staff, square footage, equipment, advanced technology in the field, and absorbing another local scale model company’s talents, we felt it was time for a new identification.

Maybe the biggest reason for a name and logo change is our expansion of services. The company originally built models for the booming Texas oil industry of the time. With its West coast location it eventually focused on the aerospace industry. In recent decades that meant a specialization in satellites, and space craft models, as well as airplanes.

Today’s company looks quite different. Since moving to New York, our company has combined with another firm and expanded to include large numbers of trade show models of all types, military vehicles, architectural designs, museum pieces, topography, medical prototypes and training models.  We have experienced master model makers who specialize in each of these types of scale models.

With the addition of engineers and industrial designers on staff, are services now encompass all of the latest 3D technology. We even have a sister design service for product development and prototyping needs. Our in-house electronics team adds special effects to our models, including automation, lighting and sound.

Fabrication processes have expanded along with our knowledge base and equipment acquisition. Molding & casting, CNC machining, 3D printing, metal bending/punching have all been added to more traditional model making techniques, allowing for more variety, accuracy, speed and detail in our productions. Old world craftsmanship and cutting edge technology have melded beautifully in our shop to provide truly innovative services in the model making industry.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the company. Our current team is well-balanced as far as skill sets, talented in their individual specialties and motivated to do quality work for their clients on every project. It seems like an appropriate time to unveil our new name, logo and company website:

www.KiwiMill.com

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New Fabrication Choices for Model Makers

scale model parts

With the addition of  3D printer technology, new in-house model fabrication options are available to model makers. Decisions need to be made about what fabrication method is best for building each model part. What parts should be printed, molded, CNC milled/laser cut, or created by hand? The use of all available technologies in the correct circumstances makes for an efficient, bustling shop, and quality model production. That’s the goal. Not to replace craftsmanship with machines, or to unnecessarily complicate the model building process with flashy new equipment.

Factors that need to be considered when determining fabrication method include; time, cost, accuracy of part, material being used, model type/usage,and the information available on the item being built.

The time constraints of any given project are a major consideration when determining what fabrication method to use to create a model, or its parts. Deadlines are often very tight and sometimes the initial decision to bid on a project will be influenced by how quickly it is needed and whether or not available fabrication methods (and resources) will get the model done on time. An automated machine like a CNC mill or laser may actually take longer to produce a part than hand building, but will use up less human resources in the process. How much available time needs to be balanced with the number of model makers assigned to the project and the length of time each part will take to be made using a particular method of construction.

Costs are often closely tied into time when determining what fabrication methods will be chosen. Time means money, and the amount of labour put into the job is a large part of any model price. Machines can make up for some of the costs in human labour, provided the money is there to buy and run the machine in the first place. Material costs for particular machines, such as the resin needed in a 3D printer, need to be taken into consideration as well.

Model makers need to determine how accurate a part needs to be on the model when deciding fabrication methods. Computer-programmed machining is more consistent and precise than hand building a part. This may or may not be a consideration in a given project. Sometimes a model is an artistic representation of an object, and extreme fidelity to the original design is unnecessary and unwanted.

The kind of material being used in the model will help drive the fabrication method. A 3D printer uses resin. A CNC mill can carve plastic, foam, steel, brass, wood or machinist board. A hand-made part can be rendered out of just about any material available to the model maker. Usually the type of model determines the material being used, and is determined by the model maker,  but occasionally the client will have a particular material request as well.

The type of model needed is one of the overriding factors when deciding on fabrication methods. What shape, size and quantity the model will be, as well as its purpose – display, trade show, instruction, sales or prototyping – influence the type of material used to create the model, as well as fabrication choices.

Depending on its shape, a model might be made through a subtractive method of taking away material such as a CNC mill,  while other shapes are more suited for an additive method of “growing” a part on a 3D printer. A milled part on the CNC machine needs to be flat on the bottom, no shape can be created underneath the part. This is not a problem with the 3D printer.  A completely flat part with an intricate design can be  cut on a CNC laser.

The over all scale, or size, of the model may rule out certain fabrication methods. Large parts need to be able to fit on the particular machine being utilized. The quantity of models required influences the construction. Multiple models of the same object can be well suited for mold making. A master model part is made and molded, then multiples are cast from the mold. Automated (CNC) machines in general are helpful for multiples due to their consistency over a hand-built part.

Intended model use will help establish what construction methods are used as well. If a model is going to be moved around frequently, such as trade show use,  durability and strength become important factors. This will affect materials used, fabrication, and even assembly methods to ensure a model that will stand up to repeated transport and handling. While a display model permanently housed in a protective glass case can be made of more delicate materials and finer fabrication methods, such as hand-building.

Finally, the information available to build the model will help ascertain the best fabrication method to use. If 3D files are available of the item to be built, that will lend itself better to CNC or 3D printing processes. If the model maker has only a picture or photograph to go by, it will likely be more efficient to build the model by hand, using a well-trained eye, than to try to draw the parts first in a computer program.

A well equipped model shop with a full complement of fabrication methods makes a model maker’s job more effective. Multiple factors are taken into consideration when determining which construction methods to use on any given project. Time constraints, costs, accuracy required, materials used, type of model, and information available about the item to be built all can influence this decision. Many of these factors are intertwined. Ultimately it is a model maker’s job to assess these options early on in the project and plan fabrication methods accordingly.

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Mistakes in Model Making

model makerModel making involves as much pre-planning as possible for each project to avoid mistakes later on. First, by determining exactly what the client’s needs are and determining the model’s over-all purpose. Where will it be used, how often and with what desired impact? Then, by brainstorming  ideas for the construction – materials and fabrication methods – model makers determine the best way to go about the actual build. Data about the model is also collected from the client and/or researched, including dimensions, structural details, colors and textures, in order to completely understand what is to be built.

All of this pre-work is designed to minimize problems further along in the model making process. Misinterpreting a client’s expectations can be a disappointing and expensive realization further into the project. Using the wrong materials for a part of the model can threaten its structural integrity. Utilizing a particularly complex fabrication process might cause the project to run over its deadline. Not clarifying conflicting measurements on a drawing might result in a less than accurate replica. Even something as simple as a slightly off paint color can derail a project during the important crunch time before a due date.

No matter how much careful planning takes place up front in a model build, there is always the possibility of mistakes along the way. Model makers don’t necessarily expect them, but they do plan for them and are trained at quickly fixing problems on the fly. Trouble shooting skills are essential in the profession.

Sometimes changes are made by the client during the project. Something on the model needs to be fixed because new information is replacing the original data. This might mean a return to the 3D drawing stage to redesign a part, or simply the integration of a new file sent by the client.

Other times, inconsistencies in materials can make for mistakes in the modeling process. Model makers are prepared for the occasional odd performance of resin, plastic or paint.

More commonly there will be a mistake in fabrication. A model maker spends a good deal of time on the actual build – molding, sawing, drilling, routing, welding, cutting, gluing, painting, sanding or milling. Even the most experienced model maker will occasionally mess up during one of these processes.

Fixing mistakes and making adjustments are part of the model making routine, and generally do not get in the way of a project’s successful completion. Model makers put a lot of effort in the planning stages to avoid costly mistakes later on. However, being  gifted with their hands, as well as analytic thinkers, they are well prepared for the challenge of when things do go wrong.

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60K Tunner Scale Model

In the shop right now is a project involving a 60K Tunner scale model. KiiwMill has built one in the past and is being asked to make another. Utilizing the shop of one of our associates, CLAD Industries, sheet metal is being formed for some of the parts of this aircraft loader.

The  loader is named in honor of William Henry Tunner (1906-1983), Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force. Known for his expertise in large-scale airlift operations such as the Berlin Airlift, his name was chosen for this piece of equipment in a 1997 industry naming contest.

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