Tag Archives: model maker

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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3D Printer in the Model Shop

We’re getting ready at the model shop for a new 3D printer. This machine will introduce additive processes for model making designed to increase flexibility and productivity.

Model making has traditionally been associated with a subtractive method of fabrication. Meaning, model parts are formed by taking something away from a material through carving, sculpting, cutting, sanding or  chopping.  These extracted parts are then glued together to form the whole model.

Additive methods of model fabrication do the opposite. Instead of sculpting a model out of material by taking away, an object is built up layer by layer. This additive process creates a 3D object from seemingly nothing.  A computer image of the desired part is programmed into the 3D printer.  The machine then creates a solid object by adding successive layers of material in the desired shape and form.

The additive method is fast and efficient, vastly reducing the amount of hand’s on work needed to create a model part. The subtractive method can be sped up as well with the addition of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, making rote shaping and carving tasks more autonomous.

These technological advancements  are welcome additions to the model making shop. They cannot replace craftsmanship, experience and artistry. They’re meant to enhance the fabrication process, freeing up our model makers to put their energy and talents toward more essential and complex tasks.

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Honda Aircraft Site Model

site model

Just Shipped:  A  site model of the Honda Aircraft Headquarters, Research, and Production facility in  Greensboro, North Carolina, located at Piedmont Triad International Airport. This facility is home to the new HondaJet personal aircraft, scheduled for shipment in early 2012.

The site model, along with the aircraft itself, was unveiled this week at the OshKosh AirVenture Show .

The design of this particular site model was driven by our client’s request for exceptional attention to detail. To achieve this, our model makers were given  a multitude of data: aerial views, autoCAD drawings, PDF’s, ground level pictures and exact measurements for items such as:

  • air conditioning ducts
  • generators
  • HVAC units on the roof of the buildings
  • cooling towers

The scale of the model 1″:40′ was very small, which contributed to the over all impact of the finished product.

Take a look:

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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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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.” 

 Brilliant.

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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.

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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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A Big Asphalt Plant Industrial Model

Today when I looked around the shop for the model maker‘s latest project, my eyes scanned the work tables for something small in scale. I couldn’t find anything. Where was the model?

It was staring at me at eye level, not on a table, but sitting on the floor.

It’s a seven foot tall industrial model of an asphalt plant. It will have all working parts. Anything that functions in an asphalt plant will be represented with moving parts on the scale model.

Why so large? Well the client has his can’t-be-divulged reasons for wanting this industrial model and the specific scale it is being built in. It makes for a great project in the shop. Take a look at some pictures of the job in progress:

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Unfinished Scale Models are Interesting?

Sometimes a scale model is more interesting before it is painted and detailed, rather than after. This is a model of a generator, which will be part of a larger model of an ESS (expandable shelter system). Looking at the unfinished model allows the observer to notice the variety of materials used in its construction.

model making

  ABS plastic

Acrylic

Ren board

Evergreen strips

Brass tubing

 

Update:

OK. Maybe the scale model looks better when it IS finished….

generator model

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Topography Model Time

Today in the shop our model makers are carving foam. That can only mean one thing – besides a mess – a topography model!  A topography model depicts the 3D nature of a particular terrain, accurately recording elevation levels and identifying specific land forms.

A topography site plan is used for this project.

topography model

topography model

The site plan is then transferred to a foam block for carving. While in the past topographic models were layered up, using cork, mat board or foam core, modern techniques use the opposite process. Starting with a foam block, the relief is then carved out of the solid piece with a router. The depth that the router plunges into the foam is determined by the scale being used on the map. Different colored lines on the map represent different elevations.  Once the routing is complete the different steps created in the foam are then sanded down to make a smooth transition in elevation levels.

topography model

The foam will then be painted, roads glued down and the remaining surface flocked.

topography model

topography model

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Why Draw a Scale Model on the Computer?

drawing parts for scale model

Our shop has been working on a project that involves extensive use of 3D mechanical drawings. The scale model, an asphalt plant, will be 7 feet tall when completed. The size and structure of the  scale model requires it to support its own weight and traditional model making materials would not be appropriate. Sheet metal will be used instead, and the parts need to be sent out of the shop to be  laser cut and bent.

 Model makers  typically design a project as they build it, problem solving,  adjusting and refining their techniques as they go. As craftspeople, they can transform a rough idea into something both accurate in design and beautiful to behold.  The sheet metal parts are being sent to a laser cutter unfamiliar with the project’s nuances, so more precise, documented dimensions are needed.

Using a program called Autodesk Inventor, our model makers have drawn up the sheet metal parts on the computer to be sent to the laser cutter. Then the parts will be bent next door at Clad Industries. The finished pieces will arrive back to the model shop for assembly and detailing. Check back for pictures of the finished scale model!

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CNC Milling in a Model Shop

The CNC mill is churning out pieces for our latestmodel shop  project. Parts were drawn in AutoCAD or Rhino for a model radar, then processed through VisualMILL. The professional model maker needs to play the role of machinist at times and this program translates rough data about a part, telling the mill how to handle the material. Our vertical mill is digitally automated via computer numerical control (CNC) and while it is capable of 3D cutting, this particular project asked for 2D brass and aluminum parts. This hardier material was used to allow for soldering and screwing parts together, making the model durable enough for repeated trade show use.

 

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