Tag Archives: model shop

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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naked models naked models

 

naked models naked models

 

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naked models naked models

 

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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.

sales tool model

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.

sales tool modelsales tool model

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.

sales tool model

 

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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.

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So You Want to Be a Model Maker?

scale model maker

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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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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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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Model Maker Materials

It’s been over two years since I’ve started spending time with model makers, and I am still struck by the variety of mediums they work with. Especially since I do the ordering for them!

Model makers who make custom models have a stunning variety of material they must be able to construct with, and just as many techniques to go along with that. Depending on the type of model – architectural, trade show, military, museum – and its purpose: sales, display, training, fundraising, etc., the actual substances used to create a model vary.

Our model shop works with all types of wood, several types of plastic, a variety of metals, molding compounds – even fabric. Just in the plastic category alone there are several different types, each with its own properties: ABS which is more resilient, acrylic which cuts beautifully on the laser but can break, resin which is the liquid plastic that the 3D printer uses, and styrene – an easily bonded staple of architectural models.

When determining what material to build with, a model maker has to decide what properties are best suited for the purpose intended. If the model will be displayed in a clear box and never touched, then delicate, intricate and the most realistic looking materials can be used. This is rare.

Most of our models are meant to be touched and handled by the viewer and need to be built with substances that can hold up to this kind of treatment. Often times this means a mixture of different plastics and metals. The metal ends up providing a solid skeleton for the model that more detailed pieces can be “hung” from.

At the extreme end of durability are models that must provide motion, simulate movement or light up. These working models require material that can withstand the friction, and sometimes heat, involved in the moving parts. It may include pulleys, actuators, motors, gears, or electronics that need to be properly housed in the correct materials.

Besides knowing what material to use for which model, a model maker needs to understand how to cut, shape, and cover the chosen substance. Paint doesn’t cover every material the same way. It’s also important to choose the correct fastening method. A model is usually made up of many parts, each of which not only needs to be accurately formed and covered with a properly adhering finish, but then has to be securely attached to the model as a whole.

Knowledge of all the different types of materials that may go into any given model, takes time and practice. Successful model makers are well versed in the various fabrication choices, methods and techniques that go into a custom model. They get this way by actual immersion in the craft.

 

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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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Model Shop Name Change

KiwiMillA&M Model Makers has been in existence as a scale model shop for half a century. While the owners, craftspeople, techniques, technology and even the company location have changed over time, the name has not.

Originally created from the names of its two founders, the moniker A&M served the company well through its former years on the West coast. Having moved to the East in the last decade, adding staff, square footage, equipment, advanced technology in the field, and absorbing another local scale model company’s talents, we felt it was time for a new identification.

Maybe the biggest reason for a name and logo change is our expansion of services. The company originally built models for the booming Texas oil industry of the time. With its West coast location it eventually focused on the aerospace industry. In recent decades that meant a specialization in satellites, and space craft models, as well as airplanes.

Today’s company looks quite different. Since moving to New York, our company has combined with another firm and expanded to include large numbers of trade show models of all types, military vehicles, architectural designs, museum pieces, topography, medical prototypes and training models.  We have experienced master model makers who specialize in each of these types of scale models.

With the addition of engineers and industrial designers on staff, are services now encompass all of the latest 3D technology. We even have a sister design service for product development and prototyping needs. Our in-house electronics team adds special effects to our models, including automation, lighting and sound.

Fabrication processes have expanded along with our knowledge base and equipment acquisition. Molding & casting, CNC machining, 3D printing, metal bending/punching have all been added to more traditional model making techniques, allowing for more variety, accuracy, speed and detail in our productions. Old world craftsmanship and cutting edge technology have melded beautifully in our shop to provide truly innovative services in the model making industry.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the company. Our current team is well-balanced as far as skill sets, talented in their individual specialties and motivated to do quality work for their clients on every project. It seems like an appropriate time to unveil our new name, logo and company website:

www.KiwiMill.com

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