All posts by pam

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.

Cutaway Model Build

A few weeks ago, KiwiMill finished another cutaway model. Model maker Mike created the 3D files necessary to 3D print some of the smaller, intricate parts. Meanwhile model maker Brian drew up parts for the CNC router to carve out big hunks of tooling board for the outer shells of the cutaway model. He also created files for the CNC mill, which made the patterned holes on some of the interior parts of the model.

The interesting thing about cutaway models is the glimpse into the inner workings of a product. In this case, the cutaway model has intriguing designs that make for a beautiful reveal. Painting each component a slightly different shade in the cutaway portion of the model further highlight the features. Of course, the signature company color on the exterior of the product attracts attention as well.

Take a look at the process:


What’s Inside a Cutaway Model?


Cutaway models are more than just a replica of your product.

Cutaway models reveal the inner features that would otherwise remain concealed.

At the same time, a cutaway model still provides the viewer a sense of the overall design.

It’s no surprise that cutaway models are a very popular way to represent a product when the inner workings are an important aspect of the sales pitch.

Show your potential customers what your product has to offer on both the outside and within – have a cutaway model built.


Reevaluating How We Ship Scale Models

Shipping Scale Models

KiwiMill has recently changed the way we are shipping scale models. Up till now, if a scale model fit into a hand-held travel case, it was usually shipped via commercial package delivery services, either ground or air, depending on time constraints.

However, after several random instances of scale models breaking in transit, we’ve reevaluated our policy. Before making changes, we first made sure our model construction process was not to blame.

The engineering of a scale model has much to do with its durability. KiwiMill designs models with the understanding that they need to be sturdy, not just look good. Especially our trade show models, which need to withstand frequent travel and handling.

Sturdy design means choosing the right materials, the strongest fasteners, and factoring in additional supports where necessary. So metal pieces are added to plastic for strength, soldering may be used for fastening rather than glue, and hidden braces may be placed at joints.

Great care is put into making sure a custom model is built durably, with accuracy, and all the artistic details expected from expert craftspeople. It makes sense to put just as much energy into the packing of the model for shipment.

Custom jigging is part of all model pack jobs. Many smaller models are placed in hard shell transport cases, with foam inserts that are hand carved to hold the model parts snug and secure. Medium sized models will have a custom built road case with wood jigging inside that is foam or cloth-lined. Larger industrial and architectural models are placed in hand built wooden crates that are jigged inside as well.

As professionals, we don’t want to jump to conclusions or assign blame if these  packed models are damaged in transit. Yet, when we see a continued pattern of beefy, guaranteed-for-life road cases sent back to us with flanges or handles broken off during transit, it’s hard to deny rough treatment occurred.

Our new solution? Every model is now shipped strapped to a pallet. Even if it’s in a road case, it gets strapped down to a pallet and goes freight. We’ve always used this method for larger models made in our shop. We are now using it for models we would have used package delivery service for in the past.

Shipping Scale Models

Architectural Model Presented to Donor

Recently KiwiMill built an architectural model of a campus building expansion. The donor was presented with this scale model of the school building as a thank you. Having an architectural model made of new real estate can be an effective way of showing appreciation for a donor, along with naming rights of the space.

This particular architectural model was made mostly from precision laser cut plastic. It has a unique brick texture that has been spray masked on to match the particular pattern used by the college.

The architects on this project wanted the option of showing the various HVAC parts that are commonly found on the roofs of buildings. While they are not often depicted in architectural models, KiwiMill built the scale HVAC equipment and provided the pieces loose, so they can be added to the model if desired.






Mining Equipment Models

Mining Equipment Models


KiwiMill recently completed a series of mining equipment models. Three of the models were replicas of conveyor type vehicles that are used to transport material from one site to another. One mining equipment model depicted a scale for weighing material.

All four mining equipment models were made primarily from 3D printed parts. Even the tires were 3D printed. Some laser cut acrylic was added to each model as well.

The models are transported in individual Pelican travel cases to trade shows and sales events.

Scale Model Specialization – Is It a Good Thing?

scale model

Some scale model shops specialize in particular types of models. Architectural model making is a common type of specialization, as well ship building or airplanes, here in the United States. Model trains would be another example of builders focusing on one specific genre.

KiwiMill, like many of today’s scale model shops, has chosen to market to a variety of industries in need of custom model designs. Custom model requests may come from the military, land developers, manufacturers, advertising agencies, product developers, private collectors, the medical field, museum and exhibit companies. Really, the possible sources for clients are endless.

Along with the variety of industries that require scale models, there are various types of models which are commissioned. Trade show models, cut-aways, display models, working models, training models, product models, prototypes and sales models are a few examples of the types of models requested by clients. The purpose of the model – what it is being used for – drives the type of model required, which then informs the model maker as to how to go about the build.

While specialization in a particular type of scale model building has its advantages – stocking materials, investment in fabrication methods, model maker training – at KiwiMill we believe a broad approach is more advantageous. Part of the allure of model making is its custom nature. Master model makers often thrive on the variety and challenge of each new job. Sameness is the antithesis of what many custom model makers are looking for in their work environment. Our model makers work best when presented with something new to build each project.

Providing the variety of custom model work that our team thrives on can be a challenge. Marketing to such a wide range of potential customers is daunting. Supplying the machines, tools, software and technology to build all types of custom scale 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 fabric or tiny plastic footballs. A little bit of waste in regards to material left overs from previous jobs is to be expected.

Assembling a team of model makers who have the talent, training and abilities to make all kinds of models is important. It hasn’t been difficult for our scale model shop to find the combination of attributes that allow for creations of great depth and breadth. Some of our model makers have over 20 years experience with architectural models. Others have experience with 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.

The toughest part about deciding to build all types of custom models and not 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 varied 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 known to society can be replicated. It’s impossible to have examples to show for every request made. Reassuring customers that we can build a model of a product that we have never encountered before is part of our job.

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. Not only are our model makers capable of making all types of models, representing all types of industry; they thrive on it.



Landfill Site Model

A local landfill is running out of space. They need a site model to show what the expansion will look like. The site model will be used to inform the local community as well as secure approval from local government.

Topographic maps are provided by the engineers of the landfill project and are used to build the site model. Our model makers have made use of Google images as well for the accurate depiction of the affected land.

The base of the site model is hand sanded foam. The landfill mass in the center of the model is drawn in a 3D computer program and then CNC routed. Flocking is added, along with laser cut roads.

The scale is 1″ = 200 ft. The site model covers a roughly 3/4 mile by 1/2 mile area.

site model

The Difference Between Professional Model Makers and Hobbyists

model maker

The main difference between professional model makers and hobbyists?

It’s not necessarily talent. Many model maker hobbyists make BEAUTIFUL models.

It’s not access to specialized, expensive equipment and tools. A hand-built model, when done right, can be very polished looking and precise.

It’s not the materials used either – anyone has access on the internet to quality supplies.

It’s not even that professional model makers get a pay check. Hobbyists have been known to make money from their projects.

The biggest division is time. Professional model makers always work under deadlines – often very tight deadlines in the corporate world. The pressure can be fairly intense. A high quality replica needs to be built accurately and quickly to meet a client’s expectations and then it’s on to the next one.

Oil Industry Scale Models

Oilfield sites contain a vast supply of equipment to safely and effectively extract, contain and transport this raw material. Consider having a scale model made of your oil industry product to help sell its abilities and features.
KiwiMill can build a scale model of any piece of  oil industry equipment, including:
  • pipe racks
  • drill pipes
  • traveling blocks
  • Oil Industry Modelsfuel and water tanks
  • mud pits
  • stand pipes
  • draw works
  • conductor pipes
  • bore holes
  • bits
  • swivels
  • rotary hoses
  • turntables
  • crowns
  • crown blocks
  • cranes
  • degassers
  • blowers
  • auxiliary rig machinery
  • elevators
  • offshore rigs
  • shale shakers
  • mud tanks
  • mud agitators
  • mud pumps
  • safety valves
  • gate valves
  • coring equipment
  • cooling equipment
  • derricks
  • bucking units
  • compressors
  • drill collars
  • blowout preventers

Cutaway Models of Industrial Products

Cutaway models are a very popular way to display a product at trade shows. These two cutaway models show close up aspects of a full industrial skid shown in the 3rd picture.

By increasing the scale and adding cutaway features, these models seek to highlight key parts and processes of the overall skid. These products have special features that harness and convert energy. The cutaway models were made out of ABS plastic, tooling board, 3D printed material, plumbing hardware, and metal fixtures.

Engineering Skid Model


KiwiMill was asked to build an engineering skid model of industrial equipment produced by Energy Recovery.  This product is used to harness fluid energy.

The engineering skid model is a combination of several materials. Aluminum pipes and plastic plumbing parts were combined with milled tooling board for the majority of the model. Smaller, more detailed parts were formed out of metal, or else 3D printed. Color was added for visual definition and orientation.



How Long Does a Custom Model Job Take?

custom model

Part of quoting custom model work is determining how long the project will take to build. KiwiMill gives an estimated completion time in each quote. The time it takes to complete a custom model is based on a number of factors.

The number one factor influencing project length is client need. Many of our projects have to be finished in the shortest period of time possible. There are deadlines for trade shows, sales presentations, corporate meetings and museum openings. Therefore, one of the first questions we ask our clients, after figuring out the purpose of the model, is when and where they need it delivered.

Meeting the client’s deadline is of the utmost importance. Before a job is accepted it has to be agreed upon that the project can be completed in the given time-frame. No client will be expected to pay for a scale model that fails to meet its deadline.

As each custom job, by nature,  is different from the previous, figuring out how many hours will go into a build is a complex process. KiwiMill does this by estimating the amount of time needed to complete each step of the project – from material acquisition,  design time, fabrication, to assembly and finish – then figuring out how many model makers are available to work on it.

Once we make the commitment to a project deadline, everything possible is done to make it happen. Often this involves long days, over time and weekends. Sometimes it means a model will have expedited shipping (agreed upon ahead of time with the client). Whatever it takes to get the job done on time, and with high standards of quality, is the goal.

When there is not a hard deadline to work toward, the length of a project is still determined by estimating the number of hours each part of the project will take, divided by the number of model makers available under “normal” working conditions. The project length is usually quoted in weeks. It typically does not start until the information needed for the build are supplied by the client, along with a deposit where applicable.

When a quote is given, the completion time is based on the current work load in the shop. Our production supervisor schedules simultaneous jobs, and assigns project managers to each one. If you happen to need a model when there are fewer jobs currently scheduled, then the completion time will be shorter. Likewise, if you choose to have a model made during a very busy time period, the build time will be longer. By sharing this information upfront with the client, before a project is agreed upon, there are no surprises or disappointment.

Most clients understand that the building of a custom model is an artistic endeavor which does not follow fixed steps found in many other manufacturing processes. Each model is unique, as are the materials and fabrication methods that go into a build. In spite of its unique nature, model makers understand the expectation that the final product needs to be finished on time, every time. It’s the nature of the profession that most custom model projects will have tight deadlines, sometimes even highly unrealistic ones.