All posts by derek

Custom Electronics for Models

KiwiMill has the ability, in house, to add motorized and electronics features to your models. A few weeks ago, we delivered a model to a customer that required a lot of power and numerous interactive features all controllable by buttons on a panel in a museum.

Custom Electronics Box & Power Supply

Adding electronics to models comes with its own set of unique challenges. Our customers demand their models work reliably and want to make sure the power supply is UL listed to ensure it is safe to use in their displays.

Some of the issues we run into in our models:

  1. Multiple Voltage Requirements – models often use off-the-shelf electronics (sound makers, motors, lights, etc.) that require multiple voltages on a single model.
  2. High Current Requirements – While LEDs use little current individually, today’s modern superbright LEDs can use upwards of a watt of energy each and, when you string 50 or 100 of them together, they use more current than a typical power supply can provide. Motors can also use a lot of current and require a robust power supply.
  3. Were Do We Mount All These Things – Break-Out-Boards, Controllers, SSRs, power supplies, etc… where do we mount all these things so the parts won’t get jostled and the customer won’t get shocked?

Our solution is a custom ATX power supply in a custom made sheet metal box. An ATX power supply provides multiple voltages (3.3V, 5V and 12V) which is the power requirements for almost everything we build. Not only do they put out multiple voltages, an ATX power supply puts out A LOT of current. We can get a 1,500 watt power supply just in case we need to light an entire city all at once! On top of that, the ATX power supplies we buy are UL listed to ensure they operate safely. A good ATX power supply is also built to last a long time and includes a fan that will keep the electronics in the box cool.

Below are some pictures of our CAD design for this custom ATX power supply and electronics box, and pictures of the finished product. There’s also a picture of a much larger box that has hundreds of wire connections coming into it.

ATX Power Supply Box Design Drawing
Design Drawing
ATX Power Supply for a Scale Model
Before Connections
Custom Scale Model ATX Power Supply
After Connections
Custom ATX Power Supply Box
Complete with Cover
Custom ATX Power Supply Box
Larger Custom Electronics Box

Fiber Optic Light Source

This one was a little easier.

The problem: anything that holds a light-bulb is designed to allow light to escape as much as possible. A light is designed to provide humans with light, after all. We need to fully contain the light and direct it toward a bundle of fiber-optics.

The solution: A custom designed fiber-optics light source. This is nothing more than a sheet metal box with a bracket to hold a standard light socket. The cover contains the light in the box. We used a 60W LED spotlight to direct as much of the light into the fiber bundle as possible.

Custom Fiber Optics Light Source Drawing
Fiber Optics Light Source Drawing
Custom Fiber Optics Light Source
Fiber Optics Light Source

Making Interactive & Moving Models

Interactive features on models help to draw customers to your booth, add excitement to a museum display, and can transform a model from a boring static display to the main focus of your booth or gallery. Kids and adults alike love creating the action or turning on lights in a museum diorama, or causing water flow with the flick of a switch. A trade show display model can be brought to life by adding lights, water, moving parts, or even a miniature TV.

In this post, I’ll detail some of the interactive and moving features KiwiMill has added to the various models we have made recently.

TV in a ModelMiniature TV embedded into a Times Square Model
A trade show company came to us with ideas on how to add excitement to their trade show booth. The models were for CES, which is a consumer event, so first  people had to be attracted to the display and then were encouraged to pick up the cameras and take pictures using the zoom functions in order  to see the smallest details of the models. The TV in this model has a 1.8″ screen which was connected to a DVD player. This added movement and excitement to an otherwise static display model.

Computerized Asphalt Plant Model
This was a unique model for KiwiMill. Our client designed embedded controllers for asphalt plants and wanted to demonstrate the unique capabilities of their controllers on a working model. The client specified which parts of the model needed to function and KiwiMill created an interface to allow the model to animiate using their product. This model had numerous moving parts driven by motors and linear actuators. 

Road Construction Truck Model
This road construction truck model is used to demonstrate the numerous features our customer built into their truck. Take a look at the video below and you’ll see just how many of these we were able to build into this model including sounds, moving parts, lights, arrow flashers, etc.

Working Hydroelectric Dam
This model was built for the U.S. government to demonstrate how hydroelectric power was created. It included a valve that could be opened to allow water to flow through a working turbine. When flow and turbine were activated, the sign on top of the turbine would light, simulating electricity generation.