Tag Archives: custom model

Busy Summer at the Model Shop

This has been a very busy time at KiwiMill model shop. Many exciting projects have been quoted, awarded, drawn up, fabricated, finished and shipped these past few months. All of our model makers love being busy. It’s what they are trained for – going from one project to the next without a break, crafting pieces that go right out the door as soon as they are complete. It’s easy to take for granted the depth and breadth of models that leave the shop when you work at this level of  artistry, precision and speed.

Sometimes it’s nice to step back for a moment and reflect on the projects that come through the model shop during any given time period. The past few months alone have seen military vehicles, warehouses, satellites, solar arrays, nuclear reactors, rockets, tank skids, servers, radiators, bioreactors an airport hanger and a nose cone. The creative energy of our model makers thrives on this variety. No two custom model projects are the same. Every day something new is learned by our master craftspeople.

There is never enough time to revel in the accomplishments here at KiwiMill; always the next project is waiting for our attention. But I wanted to take a moment to share some casual model shop pictures of the models I have watched go out the door so far this summer.

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Swiss Canton Sign

Occasionally KiwiMill receives a commission for a personal piece of “art” to display in a client’s home. Our latest project of this nature was a Swiss Canton Sign.

You may ask what a Swiss Canton is. The name is derived from the French language word “canton” meaning corner or district. The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the member states of the federal state of Switzerland. Each canton was a fully sovereign state with its own borders, army and currency until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848. 

The sign structure was laser cut and assembled out of ABS plastic. The shields themselves were molded and cast. The images for the cantons were taken off the internet and sent to a sign maker to print on vinyl.

The resulting Swiss Canton Sign is now on personal display in our client’s home in Hawaii, after having shipped safely over the recent holidays.

swiss canton sign swiss canton sign swiss canton sign swiss canton sign

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Thankful for Model Makers

Model Maker

Occasionally I like to take time out to acknowledge the work that model makers do, both here at KiwiMill and elsewhere. I spend most days in a support role at the model shop and I tend to take for granted what takes place every day. Then I talk to someone outside of the profession and realize it’s a pretty unique job.

Custom model makers build something different for each project they take on. In the shop right now, we have a hand-built 1:14 construction vehicle, a display stand with printed coats of armor, an oil well site, heating element models, a bread board design of a toy, a propane tank model and a vapor absorption machine.

Many of the models are for trade show use, sales or development, some for personal display and still others for teaching and instruction. Each one comes with its own unique needs that dictate how the model will be built.

Our model makers figure out the purpose of each model and then decide from there how to go about the build. Sometimes our model makers are given engineering drawings, sometimes simply a photograph. Often our model makers take pictures themselves of the real life object they need to replicate. Recently we had the real life object driven right to our parking lot for pictures!

Model makers need to know enough about each product, process, machine, landscape or structure to replicate what it looks like. Often they need to know what it looks like on the inside, such as with a cutaway model, and sometimes they must make it operate like the real item. That’s a lot of knowledge to accumulate for a 6 week build. Only to start all over again from scratch with the next project.

Getting to know each real word object intimately, in a short amount of time, is just one aspect of the model maker’s job. Engineering the model comes next. It’s not as simple as rebuilding it exactly as it was designed at the manufacturing stage. A model is built using its own unique principles. It is a representation of a real life object, not an exact design.

After the model design stage, materials and fabrication methods need to be chosen. A model maker, again, knows a lot about a wide range of materials and their properties. The same goes for fabrication methods. The tools in our shop are incredibly varied. CNC routers mix with table saws; 3D printers exist alongside a drill press and a lathe.

Knowing how to operate machines and hand tools safely and effectively is important. Being aware of how different materials react to each other – and the solvents used to bond them – is crucial. Once built and assembled, a well stocked paint booth and expert application of pigment allows our model makers to apply the finishing touches to a quality model.

It makes for exciting and varied work. Model makers have a willingness to tackle new projects. They need to be able to apply previous experience, and lessons learned, to a new challenge. Model makers are adaptable and resourceful.

Even as I write this, I can hear two model makers discussing electrical engineering for one of their latest projects that requires remote control movement. Today I am thankful to be in a work atmosphere with so much talent, knowledge and willingness to learn new things.

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Scale Model Specialization – Is It a Good Thing?

scale model

Some scale model shops specialize in particular types of models. Architectural model making is a common type of specialization, as well ship building or airplanes, here in the United States. Model trains would be another example of builders focusing on one specific genre.

KiwiMill, like many of today’s scale model shops, has chosen to market to a variety of industries in need of custom model designs. Custom model requests may come from the military, land developers, manufacturers, advertising agencies, product developers, private collectors, the medical field, museum and exhibit companies. Really, the possible sources for clients are endless.

Along with the variety of industries that require scale models, there are various types of models which are commissioned. Trade show models, cut-aways, display models, working models, training models, product models, prototypes and sales models are a few examples of the types of models requested by clients. The purpose of the model – what it is being used for – drives the type of model required, which then informs the model maker as to how to go about the build.

While specialization in a particular type of scale model building has its advantages – stocking materials, investment in fabrication methods, model maker training – at KiwiMill we believe a broad approach is more advantageous. Part of the allure of model making is its custom nature. Master model makers often thrive on the variety and challenge of each new job. Sameness is the antithesis of what many custom model makers are looking for in their work environment. Our model makers work best when presented with something new to build each project.

Providing the variety of custom model work that our team thrives on can be a challenge. Marketing to such a wide range of potential customers is daunting. Supplying the machines, tools, software and technology to build all types of custom scale models is an investment. Finding and stocking materials for each new job is an ongoing process. One job may require tooling board and brass piping, while the next project requires a source for fabric or tiny plastic footballs. A little bit of waste in regards to material left overs from previous jobs is to be expected.

Assembling a team of model makers who have the talent, training and abilities to make all kinds of models is important. It hasn’t been difficult for our scale model shop to find the combination of attributes that allow for creations of great depth and breadth. Some of our model makers have over 20 years experience with architectural models. Others have experience with prototypes and product development. Still others are engineers by nature and provide the CAD knowledge and mechanical expertise to draw up model parts and add movement, sound or lights.

The toughest part about deciding to build all types of custom models and not specialize in a particular type, is convincing the general public that we know what we’re doing. Our business is fortunate to have a large portfolio of varied work going back decades that we can share with potential clients. Yet, often we are asked to build a model of something that we haven’t done before. That’s the nature of the business – just about any object known to society can be replicated. It’s impossible to have examples to show for every request made. Reassuring customers that we can build a model of a product that we have never encountered before is part of our job.

What that means is that our satellite models are every bit as sophisticated as our museum dioramas. Our model makers can replicate a military all terrain vehicle as readily as they can recreate a piece of industrial equipment in the form of a cutaway. Not only are our model makers capable of making all types of models, representing all types of industry; they thrive on it.

 

 

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How Long Does a Custom Model Job Take?

custom model

Part of quoting custom model work is determining how long the project will take to build. KiwiMill gives an estimated completion time in each quote. The time it takes to complete a custom model is based on a number of factors.

The number one factor influencing project length is client need. Many of our projects have to be finished in the shortest period of time possible. There are deadlines for trade shows, sales presentations, corporate meetings and museum openings. Therefore, one of the first questions we ask our clients, after figuring out the purpose of the model, is when and where they need it delivered.

Meeting the client’s deadline is of the utmost importance. Before a job is accepted it has to be agreed upon that the project can be completed in the given time-frame. No client will be expected to pay for a scale model that fails to meet its deadline.

As each custom job, by nature,  is different from the previous, figuring out how many hours will go into a build is a complex process. KiwiMill does this by estimating the amount of time needed to complete each step of the project – from material acquisition,  design time, fabrication, to assembly and finish – then figuring out how many model makers are available to work on it.

Once we make the commitment to a project deadline, everything possible is done to make it happen. Often this involves long days, over time and weekends. Sometimes it means a model will have expedited shipping (agreed upon ahead of time with the client). Whatever it takes to get the job done on time, and with high standards of quality, is the goal.

When there is not a hard deadline to work toward, the length of a project is still determined by estimating the number of hours each part of the project will take, divided by the number of model makers available under “normal” working conditions. The project length is usually quoted in weeks. It typically does not start until the information needed for the build are supplied by the client, along with a deposit where applicable.

When a quote is given, the completion time is based on the current work load in the shop. Our production supervisor schedules simultaneous jobs, and assigns project managers to each one. If you happen to need a model when there are fewer jobs currently scheduled, then the completion time will be shorter. Likewise, if you choose to have a model made during a very busy time period, the build time will be longer. By sharing this information upfront with the client, before a project is agreed upon, there are no surprises or disappointment.

Most clients understand that the building of a custom model is an artistic endeavor which does not follow fixed steps found in many other manufacturing processes. Each model is unique, as are the materials and fabrication methods that go into a build. In spite of its unique nature, model makers understand the expectation that the final product needs to be finished on time, every time. It’s the nature of the profession that most custom model projects will have tight deadlines, sometimes even highly unrealistic ones.

 

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Trade Show Season 2012

The 2012 Trade Show Season is in full swing. Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to generate new leads, launch a new product design and strengthen relationships with existing clients. It’s not too late to plan new ways of meeting these goals by bringing more prospects in to your booth, and creating excitement about what you have to offer once they are there.

More industries are turning to scale model makers to build the center piece for their trade show booth. There are numerous reasons for turning to custom models to sell products. The actual item may be too cumbersome, over-sized, tiny or delicate to display at multiple trade shows. It might lack the visual impact that is called for in the highly charged atmosphere of trade show exhibitors. Emphasizing particular product features may be necessary to stand out from the competition.

While in recent years various multi media has been added to showcase a product’s potential, nothing quite matches the impact that a 3D replica provides. Prospects want to see and touch the product. They want to walk around it and view it from various angles; examine up close how it functions. Custom scale models give a tangible understanding of what is being offered in a format that everyone can easily understand.

Utilizing the newest techniques,  model makers can add features that help a product sell itself. Cut away designs, LED lighting, clear bodies that show interior components all add interest and perspective that allow the product to tell its own story. A working model can even show a product in action. Using electronics, the model can be made to function like the real thing. These special features make for an extra engaging display, making it easier for the sales team to demonstrate the product’s advantages.

A scale model display, complimented by multi media ( pictures,music, animation or videos) makes for a powerful impact. Trade Show participation is a big investment that needs to pay off in terms of exposure and ultimately, sales. It makes sense to use the most powerful tools possible to attract and focus potential clients on your product in a way that leaves a lasting impression.

photo credit: EDubya

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Can a Model Maker use Mass-Produced Parts?

Professional model makers are in the business of building (and sometimes designing) one-of-a-kind creations. Very occasionally, though, a model maker decides that fabricating a particular part from scratch is not in the best interest of the project. In these instances, an existing product might be bought and deconstructed to extract a commodity out (sometimes referred to as “kit bashing”).

 

 

 

 

 

These plastic wheels have been removed and reassembled from off-the-shelf toy trucks. They will be added to built-from-scratch trucks. The trucks themselves are not the main focus of the finished model. Ultimately this project will be a training model for a shipping company that would like to have table top practice at the real life task of loading and unloading pallets.

It’s uncommon to find preexisting parts, particularly in the right scale, for a custom model project. Internet searching has made it a bit easier to find a usable commodity. Sometimes it’s a smart choice for a project, and ultimately for the client’s budget, to include ready-made pieces in the construction.

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