All posts by pam

Cool Veterinary Model

This veterinary model of a blood separating device is a great example of going bigger in scale than the real thing. Not all scale models need to be small. In this instance the model is 6X bigger than the product it is replicating. By going bigger, the details of how the product works can be featured clearly.

This separating device takes blood and breaks it down into plasma and platelets in order to harvest white blood cells. The challenge of this veterinary model was to show the process in a clear and user friendly way.

Our model makers chose colors to represent the different processes. Yellow = plasma. Red = blood cells.

veterinary model parts

A clear acrylic tube was used to represent the flask. A silicone vinyl hose was placed inside, which gave the correct diameter and coil for the extracting piece. Colors were added using theater jells.

The resulting veterinary model looks cool and communicates the properties of the separator with accuracy.

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Aircraft Simulator Model Takes Flight

I really enjoyed watching this aircraft simulator model come together in the shop. KiwiMill model makers milled the outer shell in pieces and then assembled it to create the curved shape of the model. The detailed parts were 3D printed and added on to the model. The design of the model was modular, with sections that come apart just like the real product.

I was most curious to find out how the aircraft simulator works in real life. Turns out it is a  huge 35 foot long machine that is placed over the nose and cockpit of an actual aircraft. Images are projected on the curved screen that mimic the movements of the pilot working the controls. This way a pilot experiences flight in a very realistic way without ever leaving the hanger. What an amazing, immersive training tool!

It is useful to have an aircraft simulator model to take to trade shows or sales meetings because the real product is too large to transport. We anticipate our client getting many years of use out of this model.

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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


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naked models naked models


Hip Implant Device Makes for a Beautiful Scale Model

Often times at KiwiMill a scale model turns out to be a work of art in itself. An excellent example of this is the Taper Fill Hip System. This product is an implant that is inserted into a person during hip replacement surgery.  When made into a model at 3-4 times its original size, the beauty of the design and its functionality really come to life.

Modular scale model

The model was commissioned to show how the implant works inside a human body. The various parts of the device were created in a modular fashion, so they could be taken apart and put back together during a demonstration. Model Maker Mike chose magnets to connect the various pieces of the implant to each other. This makes it easy for a salesperson to connect and reconnect them over and over again.


The various parts of the scale model were made from 3D printing and CNC milling and routing. The finishes were particularly important in this model build, as they illustrate how the product functions. For instance, the heavily textured areas that you see in the model are used in the real product to encourage human tissues to attach and grow after implantation.

The high gloss on the pink socket you see in the model is a mirror-like finish, achieved by placing a clear coat  over the painted surface. The shiny chrome surfaces you see in the model were created using vacuum metalization.

Modular scale model

All of these carefully rendered surfaces come together to create a an incredibly visually appealing scale model. The modular features of this particular model only add to its usefulness.

Modular scale model modular scale model




Cutaway Models Give You a Peek Inside


Cutaway Models are a popular type of scale model, and for good reason. There are different types of cutaway designs, but each one seeks to reveal the inside workings of a particular product. Sometimes the technology inside an industrial product is its greatest asset and a cutaway model is designed to draw attention to this.

Most cutaway models replicate the overall look of the outside of a product. Then with the use of cutaways, offer a view at the design inside the product. Some cutaways are split in half, others have a small portion of the outside cut out, making  a peep-hole of sorts into the inside. Other cutaway models are modular – pieces are removable by way of magnets to reveal the inside components.

Most companies would prefer to bring a real product to a sales meeting or trade show if it is practical. Of course that’s not always the case, as real products may be too heavy or large to ship and display. Scale model replicas of a product are not only more efficient to use in these circumstances but can even be more attention grabbing and informative than the real thing. By incorporating cutaway features, a model can communicate the inner design which would ordinarily be hidden.


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.

Warehouse Model Has Visual Impact

This warehouse model is an excellent example of the visual impact an architectural site model can have. Basic shapes, and a clean design create a very clear communication tool.

The purpose of this model was to show both the interior and exterior of a new warehouse our client is building. The interior features rows of racks where product is stored as well as the layout of the offices.

The exterior of the warehouse model includes simple landscaping, roads and trucks. The topography does an excellent job of framing the interior features of the warehouse building.

Most of this model was programmed and cut on our shop laser.  It was built using PDF’s supplied by the client. The finished warehouse model will be displayed under Plexiglas in the corporate lobby.

We Build All Types of Custom Models – Here’s Why.


custom model

Some scale model shops specialize in particular types of models. Architectural model making is a common type of specialization, as well as ship building or airplane replicas. Model trains would be another example of model maker focus.

KiwiMill has chosen to market to a variety of industries in need of custom models. Our team has the broad experience to make a replica of just about any object out there. Model requests come from all over:  the military, land developers, manufacturers, advertising agencies, product developers, private collectors, the medical field, museum and exhibit companies.

There are various types of models which can be built for each industry as well. Trade show models, cutaways, display models, site models, working models, training models, product models, historical models, prototypes and sales models are examples of the types of requests we receive.

At KiwiMill, we believe a broad approach is more advantageous. Part of the allure of model making is its custom nature. Master model makers are curious, creative people and thrive on the variety of each new job. Sameness is the antithesis of what many custom model makers are looking for in their work. Our team works best when presented with new challenges on each project.

Marketing to such a wide range of potential customers is daunting. Maintaining the machines, tools, software and technology to build all types of custom models is an investment. Finding and stocking materials for each new job is an ongoing process. One job may require tooling board and brass piping, while the next project requires a source for synthetic fur or tiny plastic footballs.

Assembling a team of model makers who have the talent, training and abilities to make all kinds of models is key to our success. Some of our model makers have over 20 years experience with architectural models. Others have experience with design, prototypes and product development. Still others are engineers by nature and provide the CAD knowledge and mechanical expertise to draw up model parts and add movement, sound or lights. Together they can tackle a wide variety of projects.

The toughest part about building all types of custom models and choosing not to specialize in a particular type, is convincing the general public that we know what we’re doing. Our business is fortunate to have a large portfolio of work going back decades that we can share with potential clients. Yet, often we are asked to build a model of something that we haven’t done before. That’s the nature of the business – just about any object found in society can be replicated. It’s impossible to have an example for each to show potential clients. Part of our job is reassuring customers that we can build a model of a product that we have never encountered before.

What that means is that our satellite models are every bit as sophisticated as our museum dioramas. Our model makers can replicate a military all terrain vehicle as readily as they can recreate a piece of industrial equipment in the form of a cutaway. Our model makers are not only capable of making all types of models, representing all types of industry, they thrive on it.

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.

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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


Solar Array Models That Rotate

Recently KiwiMill built two solar array models for our client, NEXTracker. First, our client wanted a portable, articulated model to represent a small section of their product – the NX Horizon solar tracker. The model is built almost entirely out of brass with acrylic panels. The panels on this model rotate and demonstrate the wide range of motion of the solar array, showcasing a 120° rotational arc, unlinked rows allowing independent movement, and face to face configuration for cleaning mode.

A second solar array model was commissioned showing just the center section of one pair of panels on the NX Horizon. This  blown up version of the first scale model focuses on the gear box and motor area of our client’s product. The panels tilt on this model as well. The materials used on this model are aluminum, ABS, brass and acrylic.

By building two models of the same product, NEXTracker is able to present different aspects of their design to potential customers, in easy to transport carry cases.

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Solar array model

Making a Molded Part

mold making

I recently noticed some jelly-like blob soaking in the shop sink. What? It prompted a discussion with, Tom, one of our model makers, about making a mold for models. I grabbed the camera, took some pictures, and wrote the process down in a notebook. Here’s what I came up with:

model making

Choosing the object you want to make a mold of, you determine where you want the “mold line” to go. This is the seam that will need to be disguised after the molding takes place. Using clay, you make the mold line on the object, then place it into a well sealed custom box and pour rubber up to the mold line and let set. After that half dries you peel off the dried rubber and reposition the object in the box in order to pour rubber on the other half. You peel the hardened rubber off the other half and now you have two rubber pieces that fit together with the cavity in between them representing the object you want to mold.

The rubber mold is sprayed with mold release and again placed in a special box to keep it rigid, the  two halves forming a whole. An opening, called a gate hole, is created where the resin will be poured in. Air holes are made in the rubber mold as well, where hoses or straws will be poked through to allow air bubbles to escape during the hardening process.

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Resin is mixed with hardener and then poured through the gate hole via a tube. The box is then placed in a pressure chamber to compact and press the resin into all of the nooks and crannies of the cavity. When the resin has hardened, the box is opened, the rubber mold peeled off and the molded part is then rinsed off in the sink.  After that the mold lines are smoothed over and the molded part is ready to be primed and  painted.

pressure pot for mold making

model making

Exploded View Fishing Reel Display

Recently a client asked for a display model of their product that could be taken to industry shows. The product is a fishing reel, and the challenge became how to make this into a unique attraction for trade show attendees. The design decided upon was an exploded view of the reel, using actual parts.

The exploded view concept was not just an interesting  way to draw customers in to a trade show booth. Like most well designed models, it also educated potential buyers by revealing the unseen technology that resides within the fishing reel.

The parts to the fishing reel were provided by the client. Our model makers mounted the parts on a base using piano wire, which gave the illusion of the pieces floating in space. The layout was designed so that certain parts were grouped together, while others were featured individually for emphasis.

The display was carefully suspended in a bed of rice and placed in a sturdy travel case. The entire design can be transported easily from show to show. This educational and attractive fishing reel display shows how an exploded view concept can work well to highlight your product’s inner workings.

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Exploded view fishing reel display

Exploded view fishing reel display

Goddard Rocket Desktop Model – Bulk Order

This Goddard Rocket desktop model was developed for our client in order to improve on a previous design. Our client had previously commissioned these models out of soldered brass, which would sometimes crack during shipment. KiwiMill was presented the challenge to come up with a new material for the frame of the model.

KiwiMill model makers chose a 3D printed black nylon for the frame. This nylon is both strong and flexible, minimizing the opportunity for breakage. The Goddard  desktop rocket model prototype was approved and a bulk order of 50 was produced for retirement gifts.

desktop rocket model

desktop rocket model

desktop rocket model

desktop rocket model

desktop rocket model

desktop rocket model

For a background on physicist, Dr. Robert H. Goddard, who invented the Goddard Rocket, click here. Dr. Goddard is considered the father of modern rocket propulsion, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland was established in his memory.



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.

Custom Trophy Truck Model Excitement!

Seems like every holiday season KiwiMill is asked to make a custom truck model for a very special client. Our model makers  love this type of project. Who wouldn’t?

This year’s custom trophy truck was based off a store bought RC 1:10 scale truck named the “Yeti”.

custom truck model

The outside shell of the Yeti was removed and a custom one designed in its place. A photograph of the real truck was used to take exact measurements, which were then adjusted slightly to fit this particular off-the-shelf truck frame. The custom shell was drawn up in Solid Works.

custom truck model

The computer drawings were then used to vacuum form the custom truck shell.

custom trophy truck model

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A custom chassis was assembled under the base using ABS plastic. Other accessories were hand built including the light bars, fire extinguisher, gas tank, and ratchet straps.

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The interior of the truck model was hand built as well. A plastic figure was placed inside. It wore a custom fabricated and hand painted helmet to match the one the real life owner and driver of the vehicle wears.

custom truck model

The custom trophy truck model was masked off and painted from the inside. Vinyl labels of the logos and sponsors were applied to the finished surface.

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The truck was then mounted on a base made out of rolled, welded steel that was painted to resemble the dirt hills the real truck is driven on.

The final product turned out to be a great surprise for the client. His own custom trophy truck model, built to replicate the real one he owns and races. Very cool gift!

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