Tag Archives: model maker

Naked Scale Models

Sometimes I like to look at scale models before they are primed and painted. A naked scale model reveals the variety of materials and fabrication methods used in the model build.

Some model parts are 3D printed. Others are hand built out of various types of plastic material, foam or molding compound. Still others are cut out of metal using CNC machines. (For more info on model making materials check out this previous blog post. ) The parts are fastened together to create the body of each custom model.

Right before the scale model is sent to the paint booth for a coat of primer, I like to take a picture of it “naked”. The raw beauty of a hand built item is powerful. Once it is covered in paint a person can easily forget the intricate work involved in creating a 3 dimensional object from scratch.

Check out these projects in their uncovered form versus how they look after painting and finishing. See if you agree with me that naked scale models have beauty to them.

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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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These Models Make Great Sales Tools

sales tool model

Here at KiwiMill we strive to produce quality models that communicate, travel well and are easy to use, all within a reasonable budget and time frame. It’s a tall order. Sometimes we hit upon a model design that is so successful our client keeps coming back for more.

This computer product model is a great example of this kind of repeat business. Sales people took our model out into the field, enjoyed using it, and found it to be an excellent sales tool. More and more salespeople within the company want one, and the client keeps returning for additional orders.

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While many scale models are one time only builds, we welcome this type of repeat business, building multiple copies of a particular model. It means the sales tools has been a great success.  These types of projects turn the model shop into a temporary production facility of sorts. Fabrication processes are streamlined in order to create a consistent product, over and over, in a reasonable time-frame.

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The actual computer product being modeled in this instance is an extremely expensive piece of equipment weighing 70 pounds. It would be impossible for the entire sales force to carry these around to their clients.  Our model makers have designed a replica of this product that is smaller, lighter and much less delicate. It’s a convenient sales tool that can be carried in a briefcase.

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Brainstorming a New Project – How does a model maker get started?

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One of the more appealing characteristics of model making is the excitement generated around each new project. Most model makers  appreciate the fact that their work is varied. Each assignment brings with it research, skills, materials and building techniques that were not necessarily used on the last job. Each time a model shop moves on to the next project, it’s a fresh start.

So exactly how does a model maker approach an assignment once the sales staff brings in a new job? First, as much information as possible is gathered about the model. Most importantly, what is the purpose of the model? What will it be used for? Sales tool, developer’s presentation, instructional or educational purposes, visual impact? How many models are needed? How big or tiny will the models be? (Scale).What level of detail does the client want shown on the model?

This beginning stage of the project also means gathering up as much information as possible about the physical details of the item being modeled. This can include photographs, sketches, blueprints, 3D drawings, or the real object itself. It often involves internet research, interpretation and forensic-like piecing together of missing details.

As this information gathering stage is being completed, the model maker begins to visualize the finished product in his head as a whole. What will it look like when completed? Then he mentally takes the model apart piece by piece and begins to imagine what materials will be used to make each part. Reversing the process, the model maker reassembles the project in his head, determining how each piece will be fastened together – glue, rivets, solder. Brainstorming meetings, sketches or detailed CAD drawings might be used to aid this pre-assembly/reassembly stage.

Then the model maker has to think about the order the parts should be made in. What sub-assemblies need to be built? How will the parts be grouped for  painting? Once the individual assembly jobs are assigned to different model makers, it’s time to get started on the actual building of the model. Active construction is what model makers are best at, but throughout the process, a well trained mind for research, 3D visualizations, and problem solving skills is essential.

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Summer Intern at the Model Shop

Summer is winding down and KiwiMill model shop does not want to say goodbye to its intern, Devin. One of the projects in the shop the past couple of months has involved the construction of a 9 ft long Longhouse Model. Devin has been an integral part of this project.

A longhouse is a type of long, narrow, single-room dwelling used by groups of people in various parts of the world. The particular design currently being constructed at our model shop is a Seneca Bark Longhouse developed by the Haudenosaunee people of Northeast America.

Devin has been working under the instruction of the KiwiMill team, collecting materials, fabricating these pieces and assembling them into Longhouse walls. Eventually this fully constructed model will end up in a museum opening in October, 2015.

This hands on experience at the model shop will help Devin with his long term goals in the fields of engineering and design. KiwiMill has been very excited to be a part of this internship and hope to continue this relationship into the school year.

Here is some of Devin’s work:

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So You Want to Be a Model Maker?

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A Model Maker is someone that most people don’t know a lot about. People tend to think of model making as either as a layman’s hobby or a skill that has been replaced by computers. Neither view is quite accurate. Model Makers are a group of professionals that find viable work in industries such as trade show, product design & development, sales and marketing, entertainment, military, architectural and museum – to name a few.

Model makers often start out as hobbyists, particularly in their youth.  Plenty have found their initial love of taking things apart and re-assembling them, often in new, creative ways, as a gateway to model making. One of the main differences between the model making hobbyist and the professional model maker, is deadlines. While hobbyists may have advanced skill sets, and even generate income from their craft, typically they do not have the same strict deadlines as professionals do.

Modern model makers often work under tight time constraints. They might be creating a model of a product to ensure its integrity before it goes to production. A scale model might be used in an upcoming trade show to sell a new idea. An architectural model might be needed for the opening of a developer’s sales office. Or a museum may be looking for a showpiece for an upcoming exhibit installation. In most of these instances, there is a sense of urgency, and professional model makers are used to putting in extra hours to meet strict deadlines.

While technological advances, particularly in the area of 3D drafting, CNC machining and rapid prototyping have changed the modern model shop, they have not replaced the need or desire for 3D physical representations. Rather, computers have enhanced the profession in surprising ways.  With the advent of new technological tools, scale models are becoming more accurate, detailed and economical than ever before.

Of course that has some people wondering if the artistry and craftsmanship of a master model maker still exists, or is even necessary. Increasingly, it is the combination of Old World techniques and modern advances that set great scale models apart from the competition. Model shops that are producing exceptional models have found that perfect blend of old and new processes.

Successful model makers have a somewhat contradictory set of abilities. They need a creative mind to envision/design the finished model, but also be a logical thinker who can work through the challenges of each build. They are mentally focused on construction, while remaining very flexible in their approach when it needs to be altered midway. Model maker’s artistic sensibilities help give a model visual appeal, capturing the essence of an object, not merely replicating its structure. On the other hand, the engineering/logical side of a model maker understands and solves technical issues that come up. Part analytical and part fanciful makes for an interesting mix.

Besides being of a certain mind-set, a person wanting to become a model maker needs experience working with his or her hands. Model makers use a wide variety of materials such as plastic, wood, metal, glass, rubber, plaster and foam. The developing model maker learns the properties of these materials and how they interact with each other through direct contact, while also honing dexterity and attention to detail.  Nothing replaces the knowledge and skills gained from building objects from scratch.

In addition to these skills, the modern model maker should have a working knowledge of CAD, as well as free hand drawing ability. CNC machines are great additions to a model shop, as well as 3D printers. These require the computer skills necessary to read, draw, translate and transmit information to machines that can print, route, mill, etch or carve parts to supplement what  a model maker hand builds. Use of these machines increases the accuracy and speed in which a model is produced.

Experience using tools associated with model making is also helpful. Tools like a table saw, welding equipment, paint gun, sanders, lathe, mill, band saw, sand blaster, drill press and shear might all be used by model makers. This is in addition to hand tools like calipers, X-Acto knives, sand paper, files, dental picks and paint brushes.  Not only responsible for fabricating various designs, it’s worth noting that model makers build the furniture-quality bases for models to sit on or in, as well as the crates the models are shipped in.

It’s easy to see that there is no one path toward a career in model making. While advanced degrees and certificates in model making are not all that common in the U.S., they do exist. Other model makers have degrees in Industrial Design, or Fine Arts. Some model makers have engineering or electronics backgrounds that help particularly with models that have special effects like movement, lights or sound. Still other model makers found their way to the profession through crafts backgrounds or carpentry. With any background, it helps to work under a Master Model Maker to absorb their experience – the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to tackle the wide variety of modeling techniques that exist.

It takes a special someone who can visualize an idea or 2D representation and transform it into a fully realized three-dimensional object. While there are not a huge amount of  career opportunities in model making,  job satisfaction in the industry is high. The work is varied, challenging and satisfying. It’s a great fit for a mind that is creative yet logical, and for people who simply must do something with their hands.

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Not Sure What You’re Looking For in a Scale Model?

scale model

Are you entertaining the idea of a scale model for your sales office, trade show display or company training, but are unsure of exactly what you’re looking for? While there are customers who come to us with exactly what they desire – right down to the scale, level of detail and finish – it’s not unusual to have lots of questions about scale models in general, and the process of purchasing one.

Our team at KiwiMill  can help guide you in the process of choosing a model; determining what your goals are and how best to achieve them through a scale model presentation. There are endless options for portraying a product, place or concept via modeling. Narrowing your options down to the choices that will work best for your particular situation, is something we have lots of experience in. With model makers on staff that have 20+ years in the profession, we feel confident in our ability to present you with an idea that will fit your particular situation.

You may have a product that would be best displayed in a particular scale, as a cut away, or with lighting and movement to highlight particular attributes or abilities. It might make sense to have multiple models to show various design options, or just one model that transforms into different configurations.

Size or scale is a consideration that often requires additional clarification or guidance. Some features will not display correctly in a scale that is too small, for example. Larger scales have their own considerations, such as the need for very realistic detail in order to have the impact necessary for a quality display.

The amount of detail to put on a model is another area we can offer guidance with. While it might make sense in many instances to have as much realistic detail as your budget allows, there are circumstances where it might be unnecessary and even visually distracting to go that route. This is where our model maker’s artistic eye and vast experience might help steer the direction of the project towards a mutually satisfying outcome that otherwise would not have happened if our input wasn’t offered.

There may be questions about a model that do not involve artistic interpretation,  but are more practical in nature. A client may be interested in learning about how a model can help train personnel on procedures, logistics or safety issues. We can come up with a model design that helps simplify or clarify a process, cutting down training costs and increasing efficiency.

If you have entertained the idea of a model but aren’t sure what it can do for you, or you aren’t sure what your options are in terms of types of models and their uses, give us a call. (866.783.8612). Our model makers like to talk about models, and your project or concept, matters to us. Finding the right fit between a client and a scale model that communicates its message correctly, is part of the service we offer. You don’t need to know exactly what you want in order to start the conversation.

 

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Model Makers and Repeat Business

KiwiMill has built a reputation for making accurate, visually appealing scale models on time and within budget. When new clients realize the value of the product we give them, they often become repeat customers. Repeat business allows a relationship to develop between client and model maker, which ends up benefiting both parties.

Scale models are often a mix of artistic vision and cut-and-dry accuracy. A product model may be an exact replica of the real thing, right down to each nut and bolt. Most custom models, though, are artistic interpretations that represent the overall  feel of the real thing. They convey the essence of the object being modeled.

This interpretation is what creates a successful model maker. A keen artistic eye, experience with the properties of the materials being used in the build, and expert fabrication techniques are what set apart master builders. It’s also the reason to establish a long-term relationship between model maker and client. Ideally there should be a good fit between client’s expectations and the style of the model they are given. A good match means an outcome that everyone is satisfied with.

It is not always easy starting a new relationship with a model maker. Custom work is exactly that. There is often no previous example in a portfolio of exactly what the outcome will be. There is an element of risk involved. That’s another reason why once a client finds a reliable, skillful and ethical model builder, it pays to stick with them over time. KiwiMill strives to be that “go to” model shop; a company you can come back to for the same quality execution each and every project.

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Quick Scale Model Build

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Our most recent scale model build went from zero to 100 in 2 weeks. It’s not the usual time frame for a large-scale model such as this, but sometimes we are able to accommodate a special client request.

Materials were ordered (some of them overnight delivery) and 3D plans were drawn up for many of the parts. Then machines were programmed to start fabricating parts. This included our CNC router, CNC mill, laser cutter and 3D printer. A large metal box was cut, bent and welded at a partner shop down the street from KiwiMill.

While the machines were spitting out scale model parts, our model makers got to work hand crafting the rest of the components, using acrylic and modeling board. A base was hand-built out of plywood and laminated black, as well as a shipping crate.

As parts came off the mill, laser, router and printer, they needed to be finished, primed and painted. On the final day these parts were assembled into a scale model of a skid machine. The model was attached to the base, crated and out the door on day 10. Phew!

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Model Makers and Versatility

Sometimes I like to highlight an example of what makes professional model makers such a versatile group of crafts people.

At KiwiMill, we don’t specialize in a particular type of scale model. Many of our models are found at trade shows – representing such a diverse range of products and industries that it would be nearly impossible to list them all. Our model makers build stunning architectural pieces for sales offices. Our shop produces museum dioramas, many of which are meticulously researched historical models. Product models are built, accurate enough to be used in print ads when the real product has yet to come off the production line. Our model makers craft medical models that are used for sales and educational purposes. We also have made our fair share of hands on training models which are known for their ability to withstand repeated demonstrations and handling.

There is a saying around the shop that there is no object that cannot be modeled, given enough information, time, financial resources and materials. And, no, our model makers don’t need to have experience making a particular object. Once you master the underlying principles of model making, the knowledge can be applied in any situation, with any object that needs to be replicated.

Being able to model any object known to man is an impressive display of versatility. But hanging around our model shop the past few days would have offered yet another example of the breadth of talent necessary to succeed as a custom model maker. Any guesses on what was being built?

Crates. Massive sized wood crates. I’ve mentioned it before that many of our larger models have custom-made crates built to transport them to customers and to trade shows. While smaller models are often nestled in Pelican cases that can be wheeled or carried on planes with ease, larger ones require crates. Occasionally we have larger metal and wood crates custom crafted for clients that still want the ease of a road case, but their model is too odd sized for off the shelf cases. Most times, though, an over-sized model requires a custom wood crate. Our model makers build these, and then “jig” the insides with foam inserts that house the model safely.

Take a look at the huge crate being built this week:

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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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The Difference Between Professional Model Makers and Hobbyists

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The main difference between professional model makers and hobbyists?

It’s not necessarily talent. Many model maker hobbyists make BEAUTIFUL models.

It’s not access to specialized, expensive equipment and tools. A hand-built model, when done right, can be very polished looking and precise.

It’s not the materials used either – anyone has access on the internet to quality supplies.

It’s not even that professional model makers get a pay check. Hobbyists have been known to make money from their projects.

The biggest division is time. Professional model makers always work under deadlines – often very tight deadlines in the corporate world. The pressure can be fairly intense. A high quality replica needs to be built accurately and quickly to meet a client’s expectations and then it’s on to the next one.

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Professional Model Making Skills

Professional Model Making

    • Visualize in three dimensions.
    • Attention to minute detail.
    • Curiosity about how things work.
    • Thorough researcher.
    • Problem solving on the fly.
    • Precise measurements.
    • Understanding of mechanics.
    • Hand-eye coordination.
    • Advanced fine motor skill.
    • Knowledge of materials and their properties.
    • Artistic sensibility.
    • Focus under pressure.
    • Computer drawing ability.
    • Patience.
    • Experience with machine operations.

 

 

 

 

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Model Maker Teamwork

Kiwimill Model Maker Shop

There’s nothing like a fast turn around, high stress project to showcase the model maker teamwork that KiwiMill has developed into a  unique style of doing business.

With less than two weeks to produce two 1:10 scale helicopter models, KiwiMill model makers have relied heavily on their well-balanced skill sets and even keeled approach to working together. Everyone has come together with their individual talents – CAD drawing, CNC programming, 3D printing, molding and casting, hand finishing, spray booth application and masking.

Beyond the tight time frame there has been a long anticipated, but still disruptive, employee exit, multiple machinery break downs and the usual minor shop mishaps and supplier logistics. Our model makers have dug deep into their skill sets, overcome the set backs and expanded their abilities as a team.

We are nearing our deadline, and every model maker and programmable machine are cranking out parts and assembling and finishing them. The CNC mill is cutting tails and fins. The 3D printer is growing rotor parts. The CNC router is finishing up the final body half.

Meanwhile model makers are casting rotor blades, sanding tooling board and ABS, custom jigging the shipping crates and gluing together model parts. Everyone is looking for where they can help – all with the singular goal to produce 2 world-class models for an upcoming trade show.

Yes, there have been long nights, and a weekend full of overtime coming up. But everyone is committed to the project and highlighting the teamwork that makes these miracle jobs a reality at KiwiMill. Best of all, they do it without even realizing it. I’ve noticed, though, and I’m proud to work here with them.

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