Tag Archives: model makers

We Build All Types of Custom Models – Here’s Why.

 

custom model

Some scale model shops specialize in particular types of models. Architectural model making is a common type of specialization, as well as ship building or airplane replicas. Model trains would be another example of model maker focus.

KiwiMill has chosen to market to a variety of industries in need of custom models. Our team has the broad experience to make a replica of just about any object out there. Model requests come from all over:  the military, land developers, manufacturers, advertising agencies, product developers, private collectors, the medical field, museum and exhibit companies.

There are various types of models which can be built for each industry as well. Trade show models, cutaways, display models, site models, working models, training models, product models, historical models, prototypes and sales models are examples of the types of requests we receive.

At KiwiMill, we believe a broad approach is more advantageous. Part of the allure of model making is its custom nature. Master model makers are curious, creative people and thrive on the variety of each new job. Sameness is the antithesis of what many custom model makers are looking for in their work. Our team works best when presented with new challenges on each project.

Marketing to such a wide range of potential customers is daunting. Maintaining the machines, tools, software and technology to build all types of custom 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 synthetic fur or tiny plastic footballs.

Assembling a team of model makers who have the talent, training and abilities to make all kinds of models is key to our success. Some of our model makers have over 20 years experience with architectural models. Others have experience with design, 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. Together they can tackle a wide variety of projects.

The toughest part about building all types of custom models and choosing not to 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 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 found in society can be replicated. It’s impossible to have an example for each to show potential clients. Part of our job is reassuring customers that we can build a model of a product that we have never encountered before.

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. Our model makers are not only capable of making all types of models, representing all types of industry, they thrive on it.

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Model Makers & Painting

model making

Painting is Essential to Model Making

One of the more obvious features that sets great models apart from mediocre ones is the paint job. Everyone notices it. A model makers expertly applied paint job doesn’t automatically make a model high quality, but you won’t achieve model perfection without one.

A lot goes into the painting process. Even though it is often thought of as a finishing touch, it’s actually given a good deal of thought early on in a model build. Right at the beginning, during the brainstorming and design phase, consideration is given to the paint colors that will be needed for the different parts. It helps determine the order that the model will be assembled in. Parts are generally painted before being assembled, not after. So it’s not a final step in the process after all.

What Kind of Paint Is Used?

There are different types of  paints for different projects. Our model makers use enamel, lacquer, epoxy, automotive and model paint. Models need paint that looks good, stays on and  is quick drying. Less consideration is given to the hardness of the paint as most models are not subjected to outdoor elements, or scrubbed clean on a regular basis. Paint has two, sometimes three, characteristics that determine how it will perform: pigment, binder and solvent. The pigment will determine the color hue, the binder is the vehicle that sticks the color to the model and the solvent affects the flow or spread-ability.

model making

Once a particular paint is chosen, the model is first given a coat of primer. Primer is a grey, sand-able substance that helps the paint stick to the model. It is flat rather than glossy in texture in order to show all the details of the model, and point out any scratches or  blemishes that may need to be filled or sanded out. Sometimes the primer itself will smooth out light scratches, other times a spot putty is applied to deeper flaws in the surface. When primer has been applied, filled in and sanded the model is perfectly smooth and ready for a coat of paint.

How Is The Paint Applied?

The delivery method of the paint is most often an air brush,  HVLP (high volume, low pressure gun), or spray can. Most paint is applied in some kind of mist form. Rarely is a brush used, except for the tiniest details.  Masking is used to cover parts of the model that are not ready for painting. Special tape is used for this purpose. While applying paint, it’s also important to know how different paints will interact. Some types of  paint will have a volatile reaction with each other depending on the type of solvent that is used in them.

model maker

Once the paint has been applied with an expert hand and eye, it needs to dry properly. While some paint will be dry to the touch almost immediately, the surface underneath may still be damp. A model may seem dry when the solvent in it hits the air and evaporates, but curing is the polymerization of the paint binder (a chemical process that may take much longer). Ideally a freshly painted model should sit for a couple of days before packing or wrapping for shipment.

The paint job on a model has a huge impact on its appearance and like-ability. It makes sense that it is given important consideration from the onset of a project, all the way to its finish.

sales model

Check out these Before / After Pictures:

model makersmodel makersmodel makersgene sequencing modelmodel makers

model makers

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Pending Model Shop Move

model shop

Next month KiwiMill will be moving to a new model shop. Our model makers are very excited to have this building designed and renovated to their specifications. The new building is self standing, and will include everything necessary to continue producing world class scale models. There will be several individual computer work stations and work benches, a clean room, assembly area, staging and packing space, paint booth, large machinery room, cast and mold station, 3D printing area, offices and reception area.

KiwiMill’s owner has been looking for the perfect space to purchase for some time. The staff has toured the new model shop and helped design the flow of the space so that it maximizes efficiency and production. Currently the interior rooms are being gutted, rewired, dry walled and painted along with new lighting, flooring and windows. We will continue updating our blog with the progress as the moving date gets closer.

model shop

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KiwiMill Helicopter Model Build

 

A year ago, KiwiMill documented a 1/10 scale multiple helicopter model build, to be used as a reference in future, similar projects.

It began with brainstorming sessions to determine the materials and methods used in the process. Various approaches were suggested for going about the construction. Ultimately a design was settled upon using the same criteria as our other projects: consideration was given to the purpose of the helicopters (multiple trade show use), the scale, the amount of desired detail and a very challenging time frame of 8 weeks.

Once the over all fabrication methods were decided upon, our project manager, Dean, created a spread sheet time-line of our mission. This master schedule would be referred to throughout the project in order to maximize the time spent on each process, and to check that progress was staying on target for the due date.

model maker spread sheet

Drawings were made in Autodesk Inventor for the parts that were scheduled for machining. The helicopter bodies were CNC milled in-house, starting with foam blocks. Each shape was roughly carved on the CNC router and then coated in resin and re-machined for a finer finish.

The helicopter blades were CNC machined as well. A master was created out of ren board, then molded and cast into multiples and painted.

More detailed appendages were created with our 3D printer. These included the blade hubs, rear props, camera turrets and missiles:

The helicopter model parts were then assembled using a variety of techniques. Because the helicopters needed mounting points for display, a sheet metal skeleton was designed for each body to form around. This gave our model makers  a secure place to attach aluminum block mounts with brass sleeves, using bolts. Other parts were assembled using resin and solvent.

 

A special fastening method was used for the helicopters involving magnets. Magnets allowed for parts to be assembled and disassembled with ease by the client, and were used in the rotor blades, props & mounts.

In the final days of the project the helicopters were painted. The process required a look back at the original files that were provided in order to determine the exact location of the windows. Measurements were taken off the drawings to be used as reference points, but the final placement was done by eye. The helicopters were masked off and brought into the spray booth for application.

The last, yet very important, consideration that went into this project was the design of each case that would house and transport the helicopter models to various trade shows.  These road cases were custom created to fit each helicopter model  and its particular appendages. Padded jigging was built for the bodies to nestle into, along with designated locations for each removable part.

model maker

A couple of the finished products:

helicopter model

helicopter model

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A Different Approach to the Same Truck Model

Nearly two years ago, KiwiMill built a model of a five ton FMTV armored cab truck model with a specialized medical hospital payload. The model was 1/10th scale with the truck about 36″ long. It was completely hand-built for trade show use, with a brass frame and numerous brass details. The cab had separately applied bolt head and hinge details on laser etched acrylic armor panels.

military truck scale modelmilitary truck scale modelmilitary truck scale model

Recently the model shop was asked to make a second FMTV truck, in 1/20th scale. Having acquired a 3D printer during the interim, KiwiMill approached the build somewhat differently the second time around. Many detailed parts that were built by hand originally, were drawn on the computer and made with the Objet 3D printer, precisely and quickly. Soldered brass was still used for strength and longevity. The fabric tent design was altered a bit as well.

military truck scale modelmilitary truck scale modelmilitary truck scale model

There is no one right way to make a scale model. Approaches vary depending on the materials and fabrication methods available, as well as the particular preferences of the model maker. Specific client requests may factor in, and of course, budget and time constraints. Skilled model makers adapt and adjust to new technology, continuously honing and  improving on their techniques.

Something that doesn’t change in the profession: the purpose of the scale model will always drive the fabrication method and materials used, while the quality of the finished product will determine if the chosen methods were successful.

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Cutaway Scale Model for Training

cutaway model

Our client, FMC Technologies, requested a working model of a gate valve that would assist with maintenance training. Talking with model maker, Scott, it was determined that the best way to serve this purpose would be with a 1/2 scale cutaway model that would pull apart and reveal interior components that could be manipulated. Once the general concept was agreed upon, our team discussed the build in general, and the associated costs and time frame, and a detailed quote was written up.

cutaway model

Once the job was awarded, model makers Mike, Dean and Scott came up with a plan of action including a list of materials, fabrication techniques and assemblies, along with a break down of each task and its associated steps. The over all design of the model would include an exterior shell opening and closing with the use of magnets, a working wheel that would move the gate up and down, and numerous interior pieces that could be assembled and reassembled.

cutaway model

FMC provided 3D geometry which was used to create the various parts of the model. Some parts were 3D printed.

3D printed model part

Others were formed from  machined  tooling board. An aluminum rod with threads was created on the CNC lathe. Metal gate sleeves were formed on a press brake, and some off-the-shelf hardware was added as well. As parts were formed, they were attached to each other as required. Magnets were imbedded in the outer shell.

model making

model maker

Most of the parts were then primed and painted. Various bright colors were used for the individual parts to enhance the training process.

scale model

The whole model was assembled and disassembled multiple times to assure its functionality and durability. The wheel was tested to make sure it moved the gate up and down on the rod correctly. The model was taken for professional photography, then carefully packed and shipped to Canada to our esteemed client.

Click Here for a slideshow of the model build on YouTube.cutaway model

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Model Maker’s How-to: Casting Cars

KiwiMill model makers recently designed a car model to be used for a sales display. The models will be used to showcase automotive paints for Hyundai. We chose to cast these from a carved resin master made from our original computer drawings.

A generic car body was created in Rhino 3D by one of our designers.

A  CNC milled resin master was created from this drawing.

CNC router model car

A negative mold  of the core was made from the master.

mold for casting car model

 

 This core was inserted in the mold to create a hollow space in the cars when cast.

mold for casting car model

 Three molds were made to cast the cars.

mold for casting model cars

pressure pot for casting model cars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                The molds were put in a pressure pot for a smooth cast.

pressure pot for casting model cars

 

130 castings were created.

casr model cars

The bottoms of the casts were sanded smooth.

grinding car model

 The resulting cars will be painted various colors by our client, but here is one we painted.

 cast model car

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Product Design Case Study

KiwiMill and its product design division, kiwiseed, worked together to make a medical device used for thyroid analysis.

Our industrial design department worked on concept sketches, form studies, user testing and 3D CAD drawings for prototyping and manufacturing.

Our model makers  created the prototypes, 3D printed the design and then molded and cast this low volume production line. Metal work detail was done with the help of CLAD, an in-house partner company. KiwiMill’s electronics team applied the finishing touches.

This truly was a “one stop” product design service provided for our client, Dhurjaty Electronics.

 

 

 

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Meet Our KiwiMill Model Making Team

Recently we took the time to track down our amazing KiwiMill staff, take their pictures and write a little something about each of them. It’s a peek behind the men and women who live scale models every day.

Derek will tell you “I do stuff”. He’s being a tad modest. HTML code. Electro-mechanics. CAD drawing. Reverse engineering. IT stuff. He’s one of those people who doesn’t need to read directions on how to do something. He just does it. Is it any wonder that he’s the most sought after person at KiwiMill?

He also gives us our Long Term Vision. All while owning a second company and playing with his sons’ Legos®

 

Mike is our Industrial Designer. He understands how things function and has a keen eye for visual aesthetics. He’s a professor, and it shows in his patient ability to share his knowledge with others. An expert 3D designer, head of our 3D printing department, and lead developer at kiwiseed, Mike can take an idea from concept to reality with ease and style.

He’ll find the time to show you pictures of his adorable twin babies, too – just ask.

Joe has a degree in model making and has spent the last 20 years honing his skills in the field. His exacting precision, dedicated focus and ability to finish a job under duress make him indispensable. Ample knowledge of the various machines & tools of the trade give him breadth, but when it comes to creating and casting molds, this is the man to turn to.

He also makes the best lunch buddy in the shop, hand’s down.

Scott manages production, while remaining immersed in model construction itself. He brings an artist’s sensibility to the more technical aspects of model making, blending the ability to think in 3D with an intuitive feel for shape, form & texture. The resulting projects that leave the shop under his guidance have that elusive “something” that master model makers strive for: realistic detail that captures the essence of the subject matter.

If you come here to visit Scott, be sure to bring up politics. It’s his second favorite subject after model making.

 

Pam is awesome! Quite often, we give her a rough idea of what we want to see done and she figures out how to make it happen.

Not only does she make all the content for our outstanding website, she keeps our blog and Facebook pages updated with all of the excitement that goes on throughout the day at KiwiMill.

Checkout the blog she has made and you’ll see why we can’t do what we do without her. Everything there has been written, produced and directed exclusively by her.

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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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Young Person’s Visit to the Model Shop

young model maker

 As a visitor, you never know what to expect when you’re planning to enter a model shop facility. My first visit to KiwiMill I had no clue what to be ready for. I predicted there would be a couple of machines around, surrounded by workers wearing goggles sawing away at pieces of wood. Maybe you imagine an assembly line of drone-like workers painfully going through the motions of a day’s work. What I saw was much different from what I expected.

I attended one of the group meetings, where the crew discussed things like job offers, budget, deadline, and the tools that might be required for future jobs. Even though you might not understand all the words that these model makers use during meetings, you can see that they get down to every last detail, and that it’s fundamental for this crew to go over every detail, because they know that it’s all important.

I got to participate in packing up some of the models that the crew had created. Wrapping things in bubble wrap, gluing foam into boxes, and then taping them up doesn’t seem like a very hard job to do. Even though it may not be, you can see that the crew puts effort into making even their packages look presentable for their customers.

Every model maker is different: All model makers specialize in something. Something that they are the best at. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that they can’t do things that others can do, because they can. It just means that when there’s a job that focuses on a specific specialty, the boss will call on the expert to help by teaching others.

Overall, I learned a lot of things about model makers. I learned about their business world. I learned that they are very precise with their work, and do everything in their power to please their customers.

From what I’ve seen I think that all model making companies could take some tips from KiwiMill.

– Sam Symes, age 13.

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Scale Model of Innovative Shelter for Rapid Response

When response is needed quickly, SAIC’s Expandable Shelter System  (ESS) is the solution for military, homeland security, law enforcement and commercial use. It’s a self-standing, self-contained, rugged and secure entry shelter that transports readily by rail, ship, aircraft or vehicle. Shippable and stackable at 8×20 ft, it expands to 20×24 ft, with approximately 400 square feet of space inside. It’s a space that can adapt and reconfigure to multiple uses such as communications center, field kitchen, medical facility or sleeping quarters. Each unit allows for self-sufficient electrical power, climate control and satellite communications. Multiple units can be strung together.

KiwiMill was given the task of building the scale model for this superior-designed shelter system. The scale model was built in  1/8 scale using sheet metal, acrylic and brass hinges for the main body with the addition of ren board, ABS plastic, brass tubing and evergreen strips for the generator. The key feature of this model is its functionality. It operates much like the real thing, doors opening and the shelter expanding in the same fashion as the actual shelter.

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Model with Working Parts

Our model makers have shipped out the asphalt plant model with working parts. Seven feet tall, with functionality, this model simulates the movements of an asphalt plant. Doors and chutes that operate in the real plant with hydraulic cylinders have been mimicked using 12v electric linear actuators. Augers and buckets in a real plant that run on gear motors have been simulated using miniature gear motors.

 

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