Tag Archives: model making

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

model maker

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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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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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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Is a 3D Printer Like Having an Extra Model Maker?

3D printer for model making shop

The model maker team here at KiwiMill is definitely pleased with the addition of our newest Objet 3D printer. While we jokingly refer to it as our extra employee – it is quite a miraculous technology – it’s worth noting the support systems needed to make it run, as well as its inherent limitations.

First comes the training necessary to operate, clean and maintain the printer itself. An initial inservice with the sales tech after purchase is a good starting point. Ongoing tech support provided by the manufacturer keeps things running smoothly in the long-term.

Material to run the 3D printer is a regular investment as well. The resin itself  is expensive, and to a lesser degree, the support material used to print each item. The resin is the actual plastic that a part is made out of, the support material is what fills in the empty spaces in the design as it prints layer by layer on the tray.

The human labor involved in 3D printing is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this particular fabrication technique. Three dimensional printers can give the impression that they take the place of  a model maker. After all, they are touted as machines capable of  growing parts overnight, sometimes even whole models. How true is this exactly?

Traditionally model makers have sat at work benches, or run machinery, cutting, carving and shaping materials to the specifications needed for a model part. This method is considered subtractive – the model maker must extract from a whole piece of material the parts necessary to assemble the model. This certainly takes time and a considerable amount of skill, rightfully earning the model maker’s status of master crafts person.

Innovations in the field of model making have introduced automated machines that will do the extracting for you. CNC (computer numerical control) machines guide a router, lathe or mill to carve out parts automatically. Three dimensional drawings have been programmed into the machine by a computer, to provide coordinates for the subtracting device. X and Y coordinates guide the machine back and forth and the Z coordinate tells the machine what up and down motions to make, thus creating a 3 dimensional part.

The 3D printer works a bit differently;  it takes a 3D drawing and prints it out in 2D layers. What the model maker must first do is take a CAD engineered drawing from the client and make it “water tight”. This means that all lines in the drawing need to be connected, or closed off. If only a 2D drawing is available, the mode maker must be able to draw it up in 3D. If only the original object exists, with no drawing, it can be scanned and made into a 3D drawing.

3D drawing scale model part3D printed part for scale model

Why does the printer need a 3D drawings when ultimately it will be printing it in 2D? How the 3D printer works is that it takes a 3D drawing from any drafting program and slices it into 2D cross-sections, printing each slice out, layer by layer and stacking them up into a three-dimensional object. The unique aspect of this method is that it is additive, not subtractive. The part is built up out of nothing, not extracted from an existing piece of material.

3D printed scale model part

Afer the original 3D draft has been prepared by the model maker and sent to the printer, it is true that the machine then grows the parts itself. This is the magical aspect of the process. A model maker can go home for the night while a part is being created. However, once the part is removed from the printer, it is not exactly ready to use. This is where additional labor is necessary to clean the part.

3D printed model part

Support material is the substance that takes the place of empty space in a 3D object, where it is needed to hold up the design as it builds upward. It acts as scaffolding for the object being printed. A layer of support material is laid down on the print tray as well, as a foundation, before any part of the actual object starts printing.

When an object is removed from the 3D printer, it is this support material that needs to be cleaned off the part. Depending on the shape or design of a part, it is the removal of support material that takes the majority of labor in the 3D printing process. Water jet spraying, chemical soaking, scraping and digging out support material from intricate pieces takes time and effort.  Sometimes there is so much support material covering a part, that it needs to be extracted out of it as if it were a piece of gold embedded in rock. Thus making 3D printing a bit of a subtractive method as well!

3D printed part for model maker

Once the part is cleaned, it needs to be primed, painted, and usually assembled with other parts to make a whole model.  We don’t often – if ever – print a model in its entirety.  The over all complexity and sophistication of most of our scale models demands greater levels of detail. They are nice supplemental parts to have, and free our model makers up to add the human artistry that gives our models their custom look.

3D printed parts for model maker

A 3D printer does not replace a model maker, as fun as it is to joke around with the notion.  The added technology requires our model makers to be better trained in 3D drafting: drawing, reading and fixing 3D computer files. It ‘s another fabrication choice, and hones the critical thinking skills that determine what parts will be printed, CNC machined, hand-built or crafted in yet another method. This blend of artistry, engineering and technology is making the model making field such an exciting place to be right now.

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Non-Disclosure Agreements in Model Making

NDA form - model making

Often times in the model making business we are asked to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with a client. NDA’s are legal agreements that give protection and reassurance that the information exchanged during a model build will not be shared, or disclosed, with a third-party. The document is usually initiated, or provided by the client (although we have our own generic version we offer) and is often the first step in the quote solicitation process.

Detailed diagrams, CAD drawings, measurements, blue prints, photographs, descriptions and other data are being given to our model makers in order to facilitate the fabrication of a highly accurate and realistic replication of a product or idea. It is important that our clients feel certain that the exchange of information be used for the sole purpose of providing a quality model that meets or exceeds their specific requirements.

Non-disclosure agreements, sometimes referred to as confidentiality agreements, can cover a wide variety of items that are to be kept confidential and may include such things as customer lists, business practices and financial information, along with the more typical documents that are shared with model shops in order to complete a scale model project. The document also specifies the disclosure period to be covered, the length of time the agreement is binding and the exclusions to what needs to be kept confidential. Exclusions usually refer to information that is publicly available and that which has been obtained through other sources.

Another common portion of an NDA is the need to exercise reasonable efforts to keep the shared information secure and to limit its exposure only to those people who need to know it in order to complete the job.

The reasons for NDA’s are as varied as the terms covered in their pages. An  obvious circumstance is when we make a prototype of someone’s patented idea. Often we suggest the NDA ourselves with inventors, knowing that this is an important first step in the process of discussing their innovation.

Frequently our model shop deals with military clients who require additional levels of security. ITAR is a group of government regulations pertaining to defense-related information, services and material. For national security purposes ITAR controlled projects cannot be shared with non-U.S. citizens. Sometimes the engineering information of the project is ITAR controlled, but the end product is not, which means we can share, for instance, a picture of the finished model on our website.

Beyond NDA’s and ITAR controlled projects, there are clients who simply ask us not to share the finished model or the fabrication process on our website, blog or other promotional materials. Often it is simply a matter of timing. Some client wants to keep a new product private until it is officially unveiled at a particular sales event. Another example would be a prop or scale model that we have provided for an exhibit firm, where the design rights reside with them.

In lieu of a formal agreement, KiwiMill has a general policy of not sharing a finished product until it has been shipped and received by our client. Also, if the model is to be unveiled at a trade show, or introduced at a particular sales event, we wait until that event has passed before we publicly post it. While many clients welcome the publicity, and understand the need for self-promotion, we understand that there are a myriad of reasons we may be asked not to divulge finished work.

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A Model Maker’s Approach To Mechanization In Models

scale model with moving parts

Recently I took a few minutes to ask one of our model makers about his approach to building scale models. I was particularly interested in models that require mechanics – movement or lighting. Our resident engineer, Dean, seemed like a good candidate for my questions.

Like many of his fellow model makers, Dean starts with an image in his head of the finished model, focusing particularly on placement of seams. He then visually breaks apart the model at these seam lines, and begins concentrating on each individual part that makes up the model. How will he construct each part? What materials will he use to build the part, and with what equipment?

After Dean breaks down the model into parts, he will make a list of materials and fixtures needed for fabrication.  He might even draw up a specific part in 3D using Solid Works, and  have it printed out full-scale so he can assemble it over top the drawing.

When it comes to models with moving parts, Dean prefers to design the housing that goes around the mechanics first. Creating the structure which frames the mechanical parts helps Dean understand how he will lay out the inner workings.

Motion in a model can take on many forms. Dean determines whether the movement needs to be circular,  linear or lever-like, at what speed and whether it needs to be continuous or intermittent. He then chooses the mechanics that will most accurately produce that movement. Will it be pulleys, actuators, motors or gears?

Sometimes the mechanics can closely mimic the original object that is being modelled. This means that the model will be run the same way, albeit in a miniaturized fashion. Most times the motion needs to be represented in a unique way that the model maker must figure out, design and implement.

Off-the-shelf mechanical parts will be ordered in the size and design required for the model project, though usually modifications are necessary. Adaptations need to be fabricated and added on to the stock mechanical parts. Safety is always an issue when working with mechanics, particularly when they are altered in some way. Knowledge of the properties of the mechanical devices and careful placement of the power supply is necessary.

Electrical engineering may come into play with particular special effects in scale models. Lighting or movement can be controlled by switch or circuit board. Dean might be tasked with programming  lights or motion to occur at specific times and in a specific order. In these instances he uses a 2D wiring diagram to program the circuit board, which then guides the micro controllers to perform specific actions.

When it comes time to test the motion or lighting of a scale model, Dean is 95% sure it will do what it is supposed to do.  Still, there may be some trouble shooting involved at this stage, or minor tweaking. The model’s mechanics will be run for several hours continuously to confirm the integrity of the design. Only then is Dean satisfied that the model is going to perform as expected for his clients.

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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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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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Production Processes for Multiple Scale Models

Custom scale models are often one time only builds. Model makers are given an object, picture or design, they draw up the parts in 3D and set about constructing the item. Whether the finished product ends up in a museum, sales office, board room or trade show booth, it is often a one-of-a-kind model that won’t be repeated.

Occasionally, though, a model shop is given as assignment to make multiple scale models of the same design. Sometimes these are requested all at once, and other times a model shop will repeat models on an as-needed basis.

It is these types of projects that turn the model shop into a temporary production facility of sorts. A systematic approach is developed to create multiple parts in an efficient, orderly fashion. Using fabrication techniques such as casting, CNC milling, 3D printing and lasering, multiples of the same part are created.

When it comes time to assemble parts for duplicate models, jigs are designed. A jig is a tool used to control the location or motion of another tool. The jig’s primary purpose is to provide repeatability, consistency and efficiency.

Creating multiple scale models of the same object requires certain upfront approaches that would be unnecessary for a one-time build. Duplicate models are still custom-built, but fabrication techniques and production processes are controlled and streamlined in order to create a consistent product, over and over, in a reasonable time-frame.

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Welding as a Model Making Tool

model maker weldingOne fabrication technique that is not often associated with model making is welding. While styrene plastic and glue are staples of some model designs, many more are made out of metal for stability, longevity and appearance. One way to fasten metal model parts to each other is by welding, or a similar technique: soldering. While not every model maker is skilled in this trade, it’s helpful to have the training and equipment on hand in a professional model shop.

Welding is the process of bonding parts together by applying heat to two pieces of metal and melting them together along with a filler material to form a strong joint when cooled. Soldering is similar but does not actually melt the work pieces themselves, only the filler material between them which has a lower melting point, thus requiring less heat application.

Types of models that may need welding or soldering application vary. If a model needs to hold up to heavy handling by the client it might be considered a good candidate for brass, sheet metal or stainless steel. A more delicate material would not hold up to rigorous use.  As with most models, the purpose or intended use informs the materials and fabrication techniques involved.

Currently KiwiMill has two models in the shop that required welding. One is a large-scale model of an asphalt plant and the other is a model of an expandable shipping container. One of our model makers has apprenticed with another in-house master welder to complete these projects.

model maker welding

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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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Packing a Scale Model with Care

 A little talked about aspect of a model maker’s job is to figure out how to pack and ship a finished scale model. No matter how intricate and difficult a build might be, nothing compares to the challenge of getting a model safely to the client in one piece. Scale models can be delicate works of art (though certainly not all of them are) and white glove handling by a dedicated carrier is not always feasable. Shipping companies like Fed Ex and UPS are reasonably priced but do not generally ensure (or insure) that models will arrive unscathed. It’s up to the model maker to give as much thought to the way a scale model will be packed as he has to its design and construction. A project isn’t complete until you get word that the model has been received undamaged.

Different packing methods are used for different types of scale models. Smaller projects (under 2×3 ft) are usually packed in premade hard shell boxes called Pelican cases. They come with solid foam inserts that are then carved to fit the model snugly inside. Similar to how a camera or cell phone is sometimes packed when you buy it at a retail store.

Some models are not as hardy and will be unable to lay in the foam openings without damage. These projects are often secured at their base to a crate and the rest of the model is encased in a protective shell and wrapped securely with packing tape. Mummified in a way.

packing scale models

Some crates are built in the model shop, particularly for bigger pieces. Wood crates were custom made for these trade show models, secured on shelves with screws. A local courier then transported the crates to the client.

packing scale models

 A scale model might be delivered by the model making company itself, anchored by way of wooden blocks and screws to the bottom of a truck floor. Some common carriers may pick up a model on a skid or pallet, depending on its over all size. Often the shipper is UPS or Fed Ex. With these carriers, there is a chance of the model being dropped, or otherwise roughly handled and occasionally a project will need to be returned for repairs or the model makers will go on site to fix damage in transit. It’s easily one of the most frustrating parts of the job, but skilled model makers know exactly how to repair their work.

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Model Making Materials

While plastic is the raw medium of choice in model making, KiwiMill uses a wide variety of materials to construct theirscale models. Depending on the needs of the client – portability, durability, cost, time constraints or ability to reproduce in volume, or the specifics of the project itself – how the model maker visualizes the object being constructed.

Materials may include:

  • Styrene
  • Metal
  • MDF
  • Acetate
  • Foam board
  • Acrylic
  • Wood
  • Tooling Board
  • Plaster
  • Silicone
  • Latex
  • Laminate
  • Fabric

Raw materials for model building

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