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.

Rocket Launch Pad Scale Models

This was a two-part project involving rocket scale models and rocket launch pad scale models.

The rocket display scale models were built in 1:200th scale. They were mounted on black melamine bases for display purposes.

rocket display model

rocket display model


The second part of the project involved 1:200th scale rocket launch pad scale models. These large-scale models were made from a variety of materials. Tooling board and plywood were CNC routed for the bases. Sheet metal was welded to provide sturdy towers for the rocket launch pads. ABS and styrene added details. The treads were 3D printed.

Sheet metal parts:

rocket launcher model parts

3D printed treads:

Rocket launcher 3D printed part

3D printed rocket launcher parts

Plywood and tooling board base:

rocket launcher model parts

rocket launcher model parts

ABS & styrene parts:

rocket launcher model parts

Putting it all together:

rocket launch pad model parts

rocket launch pad model

Building the towers:

model maker

After the rocket launch pad scale models were built, custom crates needed to be designed to safely house and transport the models.

custom scale model crate

Here’s some pictures of the finished product:

rocket launch pad scale model

rocket launch pad scale model

rocket launch pad scale model

rocket launch pad scale model

rocket launch pad scale model

Underground Storage Tank Cutaway Model

This underground storage tank cutaway model was commissioned for training purposes. It will help owners and operators understand the structure and parts of an underground fuel storage tank. It helps make sure they are staying in compliance with laws governing fuel storage.

Our model makers used client supplied diagrams and actual photographs of gas station pumps to create the cutaway model.

ABS, styrene, acrylic and 3D printed parts were combined to create this display. The resulting cutaway model conveys the information needed for training in an easily understandable way. It makes an effective visual aid.