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Definition of a Model Maker

For thousands of years people have been creating models to translate and improve their ideas into three dimensional reality. Model making is a logical next step in the thinking process for many ideas. Once someone starts using materials and fabrication techniques they are able to refine their ideas to make them work. In a way everyone is a model maker when they translate an idea into physical reality. Those in the model making profession through experience and talent have advanced skills with fabrication techniques and their knowledge of what materials would work best.

  Archtype 3D - Resort Towers in Florida

Explore further:
What does a model maker do?
What kind of models do they make?
What education do they have?
What tools and techniques do they use?

The art of model making encompasses a wide variety of materials, techniques, and end results. Most people equate model making with plastic model cars and airplanes or scale models of satellites and miniature sets used in filmmaking. But model makers blend a unique combination of art and science into their work of replicating, creating mockups, volume studies, and scale reproductions of anything from a building to an automobile. Just about any product you use, whether it is an athletic shoe or a cell phone, was very likely represented by a scale model sometime during its development life cycle.

Though the general public may not often ponder who built the model after which their disposable razor is styled, or who helped develop the ergonomic aspects of their new notebook computer, these behind-the-scenes professionals directly influence and act as a guiding force in any new product, design or structure.The companies that utilize models in the development process are able to work out bugs in the design, assess a product with focus groups or by industrial testing, and make improvements before proceeding to the next phase of investment in bringing the idea to reality.

One rather glamorous aspect of model making has to do with film and special effects. Perhaps the best known Model Studio is Industrial Light & Magic, which created the visual effects for films such as the Star Wars series, Harry Potter and the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Some model makers work for major corporations in their design and development studios, building models of things the company produces or designs. Other model makers are freelancers or sole proprietors who work for a variety of clients on a project-by-project basis.

What education do they have?Aaron Swanson, Bemidji State University
To gain the knowledge and training needed to be a professional model maker, you can follow a course of study with a college or university that offers a degree program in model making as it relates to industrial design, architecture or industrial technology. Some model makers pick up a range of applicable skills from a variety of different sources, like wood working, metal working, general fabrication and sculpting. Either way, much of a model maker’s success will depend on how well he or she understands a variety of materials and finishes and how well he or she can actively solve problems.  There are several 2 and 4 year programs in model making and more information about colleges and universities on this website.

Revit model: Phil Read, VP HNTB Architecture; 3D printing: Z CorporationTypes of Model Makers
Models are made of toys, automobiles, consumer electronics (cellular phones, MP3 players, computers), footwear, medical products, home appliances and housewares, architecture, industrial design (durable equipment, office products), even candy and food items are often modeled before they are approved for production.As many types of models exist, there are as many different skilled model makers who combine their ability to follow detailed drawings and renderings, free-form sculpt and create finishes that mimic the look to be achieved in final production.

Model makers are problem solvers who combine their ability to adhere to strict specifications and dimensions with their talent for envisioning a finished product and bridging the gap between concept and reality. Model makers may find themselves walking through life saying, “I could make that” when they see something that sparks their interest.

Though model makers were once seen as typically “blue collar” positions, these professionals are now taking their rightful place at the design table as an integral part of the design process. They are valued for their fabrication abilities and for their capacity to bring about innovation.

They ordinarily receive competitive salaries commensurate with their expertise and ability to adapt to the studios in which they work. Because of the competitive nature of product development and the speed of the time-to-market process, model makers often work unusual hours when they are under a deadline. Some model makers pride themselves on their “can-do” attitudes and often give the project their complete focus.

Universal Services Associates, Inc. - Parts cast and cleaned for scale military vehiclesModel Making Techniques
Fabrication skills (how to break up a project or data file for the best construction, assembly, speed, repair and adaptability) are very important to modern model making. It is essential that the model maker has a complete understanding of the function of the parts and assemblies before selecting the method of construction. The utilization of CAD/CAM, Rapid Prototyping and other technologies usually greatly increases the model maker’s efficiency, output and quality. However fabrication skills as described above are as important as the new technologies.

The advent of computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing changed the world of model making dramatically. Prior to the arrival of CAD/CAM to the modeling process, milling machines, routers, lathes, and other carving and cutting machines were utilized along with templates and patterns to create freeform sculptures of products to be modeled. Now, model makers program Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) machines to carve a model out of the desired materials or use additive processes to “build” models out of a variety of base materials.

Model makers use a variety of materials, depending on the type of model they are making, or the requirements of the design. Some of the components used in the subtractive process (more on this later) are: Polyurethane foam, acrylic, Ren-Shape, Delrin, high-density foam, foam core, plastics, and other materials. In the additive process (sometimes also referred to as rapid prototyping), base materials include an array of synthetic powders and liquids that harden upon contact with the “printing” device or method.

Gene Rizzardi, Modelwerkes - Lamborghini Countach limo for Team AmericaSubtractive Process
The subtractive process is the prevalent process in the history of model making. Model makers once utilized materials like clay and wood or other hard material, to whittle, carve, or sculpt a model component. A complex part could be made in a number of pieces and assembled to create the final product. The excess material was basically chiseled, cut, and sanded to expose the design within the carving medium. This process was understandably time-intensive and resulted in a finished product that was a one-of-a-kind and could not be easily replicated without remaking the part from scratch. Once a part was roughed out in the desired material, hand finishing, applying colors, textures and graphics allowed model makers to achieve a unique part that often closely mimicked the desired future product.

Today CAD/CAM programs make the replication of these parts much simpler and provide high tolerances for part specifications. Architectural model makers use laser cutting technology to precisely incise materials like foam core, high-density papers and other materials to replicate panels used in the construction of structural models. Product design model makers may use molds and castings, CNC routers or milling machines to electronically carve parts out of the desired medium.

Additive Process
The additive process uses equipment to electronically “print” a part in three dimensions in a base material of powder or liquid (depending on the type of process). The parts can be printed in a variety of finishes, colors and textures. Sometimes the parts will require additional hand finish work, but often the parts come off the machines ready for study and testing.

Rapid Prototyping
A variety of rapid prototyping devices use the additive process to create models through complex computer-controlled programs. A concept is translated first to a 3D computer model and then this data is used to three-dimensionally print the data into a base material. The processes used in rapid prototyping include: FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), SLA (Stereolithography), MJM (Multi-jet Modeling), and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering).One of the clear benefits of rapid prototyping is the ability to program and build a part with minimal handling of the part. The ability to build a component with complex details makes this type of model making valuable to the design process and minimizes cost and time to production.

Questions? Comments?  Contact APMM at [email protected].

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