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.

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

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.




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.