Our History


The Association of Professional Model Makers is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization established in 1993. It was chartered with the mission to serve as a forum for exchanging information and ideas, as well as pool talent and resources for the benefit of the industry as a whole. The APMM was founded on the idea that model making is a vital and integral part of the design and product development process. It seeks to enhance communication between the industries that use prototypes and models and the professionals who make them, promote professional recognition and support the advancement of model making tools and technologies.

The “Napkin Sketch”

In early 1993, a group of Silicon Valley, California model makers decided it would be a great thing to hold a conference to discuss and measure the impact technology was going to have on the model making industry as the 21st century approached. These specialists felt that if the garage-based, one man shops didn't learn about the breakthroughs being made in Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Machining (CAM), CNC and Rapid Prototyping techniques, then they would be left behind, and eventually put out of business. Kelly Hand and Robert Novack (Satellite Models), Wendy Sommers, Jeff Hoefer and Tom Jacobson, among others, began planning the first-ever model maker’s conference, with the theme "The Future of Model Making", to take place in October 1993.

The initial problem was to determine how many model makers there were around the country (and the world). Nobody really had any idea of how to do this, and with the internet in its infancy, researching meant heading to the local library to look in the Yellow Pages for various cities. After endless hours of brainstorming and searching, the effort paid off. The organizers were amazed that there were so many people who could identify with the term Model Maker. Kelly and the others, in speaking with these individuals, found that a real interest existed in having a forum where model makers could get together and share ideas with others in the same line of work.

Intense preparation was begun by a small group of people, making phone calls, reserving a conference center, and inviting presenters and speakers. This gathering was truly an extraordinary undertaking for people who were not in the business of running conferences! The head of Apple Computer’s prototyping department, along with people from IDEO and Lunar Design would speak at the event. CNN, the world-wide news channel, planned to send a journalist and camera crew to cover the proceedings.

Developing the Concept

1993 – San Francisco, CA “The Future of Model Making”

The APMM’s first conference took place October 3-5, 1993 at the Hotel Sofitel at Redwood City, with Kelly Hand as the organization’s first president and Wendy Sommers as executive director.

More than 350 Model Makers attended the first APMM Conference, far exceeding anyone’s expectations. The excitement level was electric among attendees, and the idea of continuing the fellowship and professional networking became solidified. Attendees came from as far away as New Zealand.

Tours included Apple Computer, Satellite Models, Contour Inc., frogdesign, and Industrial Light & Magic. Participants were invited to fabricate and bring at least one letter of the alphabet for the Great Wall of Letters. The first annual student model competition was held, and prizes were awarded at a banquet featuring Michael Fulmer, the Curator of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

A few months later in the Spring of 1994, the first edition of the quarterly newsletter “Prototype” (Editor Stephen Pombo, then Wendy Sommers) was published and mailed out.

1994 – San Francisco, CA “Model Making in Every Dimension”

The APMM’s second annual conference was held at the San Francisco Marriott Hotel from September 3-6, 1994.

Participants were again encouraged to bring a letter for the Great Wall of Letters and the first annual student model competition was held (again), according to the program.

Tours included Academy Studio, Skellington Productions, the US Corps of Engineers’ San Francisco Bay model, and Scale Models Unlimited.

Topics of workshops and general discussion were CAD/CAM software, IGES translation, Unigraphics upgrades, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (screened at the conference) and another little movie from that year, “Jurassic Park”. Some people were keeping tabs on things back in the shop with their brand-new PDA’s.

1995 – Milwaukee, WI “From Art to Part”

The Mark Plaza Hotel hosts the third annual conference from October 7-9, 1995.
Tours included Kohler and the Harley Davidson factory.

A desktop “BPM” 3d printer was demonstrated at the conference and that year the Stratasys Genisys and Z-Corp Z402 printers were introduced. The big anticipated movie was “Apollo 13”, with model makers who worked on it in attendance. The AEMS (American Engineering Model Society) officially merged with the APMM

In the Spring of 1996 the “APMM internet mailing list” (aka the Bulletin Board) was inaugurated.

1996 – Boston, MA

Our fourth annual event is held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston on August 24-27, 1996.

Tours included Hasbro, Santin Engineering, Apple Pattern Company.

Solids modeling is becoming widespread and the first parasolid modeler for Windows was introduced at the conference. Trendsetters would have been rocking their StarTAC flip phones.

In the fall of 1996 the Board of Directors structure began to be put into place and there was a call for nominations for the offices.

1997 – Redondo Beach, CA “FX: Behind the Scenes”

Back to the West coast for the fifth conference, which is held at the Crown Plaza Hotel on June 14-17, 1997.

Tours included Digital Domain, Donald Pennigan Inc., Boss Films, and Santa Monica Pictures. Special Effects going digital was a huge topic, as was the upcoming “Titanic” movie, at least among those who got to see some of the ship models and film clips. Good thing DVD players were starting to show up for our movie-watching convenience.

In the summer of 1997, Barbara Jones was elected President of the APMM, along with a new Board.

1997 – Chicago, IL “Bridge Tooling: Rapid Prototyping to Rapid Tooling”

The first regional conference was held on Nov. 14-16, 1997, at the Sutton Place Hotel, Chicago.

Tours included Wielgus Models and General Exhibits and Displays.

1998 – Austin, TX

The second regional conference takes place on April 5-7, 1998 at the Driskill Hotel in Austin.

There may have been talk of a member who was one of the first to bring a 3D printer (Z Corp’s Z-402) to a client’s office, set it up, and both slice and print a part the client provided on a floppy!

1998 – Seattle, WA

The APMM’s first northwest area conference took place on July 24-28, 1998 at the Madison Renaissance Hotel in Seattle.

Tours include Nike in Portland, Boeing, Modelwerks, and a model railroad at the home of the owner of Evergreen Scale Models. Rhino V.1 was released this year.

In October 1998, the APMM organization began a new era, under the leadership of Richard Coleman (Coleman & Associates) as President and Cynthia Hoffpauer as Executive Director. The headquarters was relocated to Austin, Texas. Cyndi and a core staff of other volunteers contributed countless hours to keeping the APMM together and growing. The Board of Directors was expanded to create new committees and roles to better serve the needs of the Association and its members. The December 1998 newsletter had a new look and announced a new APMM web site.

In March 1999, Sharon Moore (Honda R&D), Communications chair, began publishing the APMM’s quarterly newsletter with the new name; “The Leading Edge”, which was published on paper through 2003. After that, the APMM went to an E-Newsletter. The first “Model Making Source Book” of Vendors was created later that year, as well as annual Member Directories. The internet list exchange began to be called “The MILE”.

Sadly, in March of 1999, original Executive Director and one of the founding members of the APMM, Wendy Sommers passed away.

1999 - Grand Rapids, MI “Model Making – A Vision of the Future”

Grand Rapids’ elegant Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is the location of the eighth conference on October 1-3, 1999.

Tours included Steelcase, Johnson Controls Interiors, Herman Miller, Clarion Technologies and Formed Solutions.

It’s possible a few people had gone to see Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace earlier that year. BlackBerries, Stratasys Thermojets and SawStops began to show up.

2000 – Cincinnati, OH “Tradition & Technology – Model Making in the Digital Age”

Model Makers convened at the Marriott Kingsgate Conference Center from September 7-10 in Cincinnati

Some were lucky enough to get a tour of the Frank Gehry-designed Vontz Center for Molecular Studies adjacent to the hotel and other tours included: Procter & Gamble, Scott Models, Hasbro and Ethicon. Y2K didn’t change our world, but the new Objet and Z-Corp multi-color 3D printers would.

2001 – Pasadena, CA “Model Making Essentials for 2001 & Beyond”

The APMM’s 2001 Conference was the most challenging to date for the organization. As many attendees were en route to California, the tragic events of September 11th unfolded. Many travelers were stranded in airports across the country, some unable to get to California and worse yet – unable to return home. Fewer than 50% of attendees were able to get to Pasadena. The conference took place on September 14-17, 2001.

Despite the trying times, and general feeling of disquiet among those who assembled at the Doubletree Hotel in Pasadena, conference organizers decided to continue with the event in the spirit of perseverance and in the interest of those who were able to be there. One highlight of the sometimes emotional event was John Brock, sales representative for Robert McNeel & Associates, performing “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes, which he fortuitously, although unintentionally, had brought to the event.

Many workshops had to be cancelled because presenters were unable to get to Pasadena with the airport shutdown resulting from the attacks. Tours to TRW Space and Electronics, Mattel, Gentle Giant Studios, Pacific Miniatures, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the Art Center College of Design, CTEK, BJB Enterprises, and Walt Disney Imagineering continued, with heightened security.
In early 2002 the APMM rolled out two new logos (the previous 2D logo, arranged into a 3D cube, and 4 shapes with the letters APMM in them), a new website and an updated newsletter layout.

2002 – Silver Spring, MD “Elements for Success”

The APMM’s 11th conference was held at the Hilton Hotel from September 20-23, 2002. Maryland’s proximity to Washington DC and surrounding areas provided many opportunities for Model Makers to enjoy a full schedule of activities, workshops, and tours. These included: the Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central, Black & Decker/DeWalt, the U.S. Army CAD/CAE Facility, and Direct Dimensions.

Those on the leading edge of technology might have been using their brand-new “camera phones” to take (hopefully authorized) pictures. About this time, the APMM began working in earnest with 3D printers and 3D printer service providers.

2003 – Costa Mesa, CA “Solutions for Scary Business: Model Making Tricks & Treats”

Back to one of our most popular locations: Southern California! The 12th conference took place at the Westin SouthCoast Plaza Hotel on October 23-27, 2003. Tours included Oakley, Herbst Lazar Bell, Roland DGA, CTEK, Prototype Concepts, C&D Aerospace, Crown City Plating, Gentle Giant Studios, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Art Center College of Design.

A highlight of the Industry Expo event was the belt sander races - two belt sanders, outfitted like race cars, are positioned on one end of the track and set in screeching, sanding motion at the same time to see which reaches the end of the track first. Noisy, messy, and lots of fun!

This conference was held around Halloween so it took on a related “scary” theme, but in reality, brush fires raged a few miles away from the conference headquarters, showering ash on nearby Costa Mesa. Some attendees had trouble leaving town after the conference due to airport delays associated with the fires.
The latest paper edition of “The Leading Edge” in our archives was published in the Fall of 2003. There is no mention of it being the last issue, and there is no mention of the Electronic Newsletter (ENL) replacing it.

2004 – Naperville, IL “Modeling Synergy: Concept to Object”

The APMM’s 13th conference took place at the Holiday Inn Select Hotel in Naperville from September 9-13, 2004. One highlight of the 2004 Conference was the proximity to Chicago, and the multitude of locations that were ideal for tours. The final list of tours included: Arrow, Argonne Laboratories, Packer Engineering, the Merchandise Mart, AllSteel, Herman Miller, the Field Museum, the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studio, Millennium Park, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Herbst Lazar Bell, and the Murphy/Jahn studio. 

Following the Naperville Conference, the APMM Board decided to hold Biennial Conferences rather than annual ones to allow the administrative office to concentrate its resources on strengthening the organizational structure and membership benefits. Moving to a biennial conference schedule also enabled the APMM to offer gatherings spaced to better fit travel and training budgets and encouraged participation rather than missed opportunities.

Advancing the Original Design

In April 2005, Cyndi retired from the position of Executive Director, and Samanthi Martinez, whose husband has been a member of the APMM community for many years, and had worked with Cyndi in marketing and accounting roles with the APMM, took over the position. This change in leadership coincided with the nomination and election of a new Board of Directors, with Charles Overy of LGM Architectural Visualization from Minturn, CO as president, who began their terms by planning for the 2006 Conference. 

After the 2004 conference, the new sphere-in-a-cube logo was introduced. The oldest archived e-newsletter version of “The Leading Edge” is the Spring/Summer 2005 issue. The Newsletter Gap Mystery is only heightened by the fact that there is no mention of it being the first edition of the ENL.

2006 – Orlando, FL “Innovate: Fabricate”

The Grosvenor Resort Hotel, one of Disney’s chain of hotels, was the headquarters for the 14th conference, held on January 19-23, 2006.

Tours visited the Disney Institute’s Behind-the-Scenes at DisneyWorld, the Kennedy Space Center, Mydea Technologies, and Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not Art Department. It was a busy year for Objet, Z-Corp and 3D Systems, who released the Eden 500V, the 310 Plus and the Viper Pro SLA machines, respectively. Stratsys began selling their FDM and Polyjet parts online. RepRap introduced the first “at home” 3D printer. EOS released the first 3D printer that laser-sinters metal.

2008 – Portland, OR “RETHINK Model Making for the Future of Our Planet”

Our 15th conference was held at the Doubletree Hotel Lloyd Center from March 7-10, 2008.

Tours visited the Nike model shop and the Museum of Contemporary Craft, the adidas prototype facility and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s exhibit production shop, and the Evergreen Aviation Museum including a tour of their restoration facility and Howard Hughes’ gigantic all-wood Spruce Goose cargo plane. Some participants could have used their recently-released iPhones to capture and share the moment. DC and Marvel began their epic battle for movie world domination with the release of “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man”. SLA and Polyjet technology users continued their epic battle for RP domination by introducing high-impact-resistant and water-clear SOMOS resins and the Connex500 printer, which could print “digital materials” (plastic alloys). Shapeways begins their online 3D printing service.

In 2008 the APMM elected a new President, Hal Chaffee, with a new Board of Directors. In 2009, a refreshed website with lots of new features and functionality was launched, along with the APMM's Facebook page!

2010 - Boston, MA "Revolutions in Model Making"

The Hyatt Regency Cambridge Massachusetts was the location of the APMM's 16th conference, which was held for four days from March 26 - 29, 2010.

Tours took us behind-the-scenes at DEKA Research & Development Corporation (Inventor and Entrepreneur Dean Kamen) and Manchester's SEE Science Center, Hasbro World Headquarters and Development Center and the Rhode Island School of Design, Continuum design house and Bose Corporation, and Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Boston City Scale Model, and the MIT Museum. One of the revolutions we experienced is how many people are gaining the means of production. Our speaker, Neil Gershenfeld of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, talked about opening Fab Labs around the world and many members contributed to building a RepRap 3D printer at the conference. A 3D printer explosion was imminent, as the patents for FDM technology had expired the previous year. The first Makerbot 3D printers came out that year as well, followed by Cupcake and Thing-O-Matic printers. “Coraline” is the first major movie featuring 3D printed characters.

A new Board of Directors, with Terry Wellman of St. Charles Model Works in Illinois, as President, was elected during the conference, bringing an increased vitality to the organization.

2012 - Kansas City, MO "Growth & Opportunity"

The APMM's 17th gathering centered on Kansas City, Missouri, for our "Growth & Opportunity" conference on March 16 - 19, 2012. The conference was about increasing capabilities, expanding business and improving work life.

We toured Kansas University's Department of Visual Art - Metalsmithing and the Reuter Pipe Organ Company, Hallmark's Prototype Facility and the National World War I Museum, R&D Prototype's campus and the Toy & Miniature Museum @ University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Garmin International and Dimensional Innovations. 3D Systems took the opportunity to grow by acquiring Z Corp. So did Stratasys, by buying Solidscape and merging with Objet. Makerbot released the Replicator and Replicator 2 and were then gobbled up by Stratasys in 2013. The first 3D printed food had been gobbled up in the previous year.

2014 - San Jose, CA "We Know the Way"

Attendees celebrated the APMM's 18th gathering and 21st year as an organization with an exciting gathering from March 6 - 10, 2014. This year's theme centered on all the tools, skills, abilities, and practice that makes a model maker unique and the profession one of the most interesting in the world!

Tours went to Easton Bell Sports, Tesla Motors Factory, California College of the Arts, AutoDesk and Limelab PCH, Studio RED, Specialized Bicycle Components, IDEO, Stanford d.school and Stanford's Product Realization Lab. There was also an excursion to the local branch of TechShop. 3D Systems launched a $399 3D scanner, possibly to entice us to visit their location in South Carolina. The 2014 conference featured the first use of Twitter to provide updates by a number of members.

Peter Mack of Steelcase was elected to his first of two 2-year terms as APMM President in 2014, along with a new Board of Directors.

2016 - Greenville, SC "Collaboration in Model Making"

Our conference in the Greenville area took place March 11-14, 2016. We chose "Collaboration" as our catch-phrase and theme since so much of model making is the interface of Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Resources.

Tours visited TTi/Ryobi, 3D Systems, VELUX, and the Clemson University ICAR campus. An informal event happed at local makerspace “Synergy Mill”, whose founders also participated in the conference. The APMM started an effort to gain a Social Media presence by sending out frequent updates on the conference via Facebook and Twitter. In other instant gratification news, Carbon 3D introduced their ultra-fast 3D printer, it became possible to do 3D scanning with a phone, and 2016 was the second year of Disney releasing Star Wars movies - Every. Single. Year.

2018 - Grand Rapids, MI "Prototyping the Future"

It was in 1999 that we were last in Grand Rapids, so everyone was eager to revisit one of our favorite locations. We gathered from March 16-19, 2018 to explore the many ways that model making has changed and the industry has grown in the past 19 years. Model making continues to be on the leading edge of innovation!

Tours visited Steelcase, Herman Miller, Amway, Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, World Class Prototypes, Meyer May House, Gerald R Ford Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Tiara Yachts. Fun and giant electric arcs were enjoyed by those who visited The Geek Group, a makerspace and STEM education facility in Grand Rapids.

A new Board of Directors including President Jill Kenik of Acropolis Studios Model Works was elected and efforts to revamp many aspects of the APMM’s identity were undertaken.

During the Summer of 2018, a New Logo was unveiled and Forums replaced the MILE, which was maintained for emergencies. A few months later, t-shirts with the new logo went on sale through the website. By the end of 2018, APMM members were using a redesigned and updated website.

2020 - Seattle, WA - Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

After being postponed and rescheduled twice, the APMM Board of Directors decided that an in-person event would not be in the best interest of the health and safety of our members so the 2020 event was cancelled and they began working on a virtual event, which was held in March 2021.

2021 - Virtual Conference

Using the same four-day schedule that our Conferences are known for, we were in for a wild ride that meant our organization would never be the same again. We experienced tours from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US, and across the world to Nagpur, India. Our Keynote Speaker was none other than Jeff Hoefer (now with Google) who was a founding member of the APMM. Jeff's early passion for the interests of the professional model maker and his experiences in the early days of film and special effects left a lasting impact on our field. Our Featured Model Maker Chris Stanley talked with us about his career in model making, his present work with the Bainbridge Area Resource Network makerspace, and why he's so excited about Arduino.

Workshops ranged from mind-bending to metal-bending, from electrifying to electroplating! The flow from YouTube premiered videos by our workshop presenters to the Zoom HQ hangout was seamless and made for easy transitions and great conversations. It was almost like being there.

2022 - Virtual Conference

With a trimmed-down schedule of nearly two full days, participants were able to tour the American Precision Museum in Vermont and Ekstensive/Texas Metal in Houston, and hear from two special speakers: Bill Robertson, fine miniaturist and Fon Davis, film special effects visionary. Workshops included topics such as adhesives and 3D print materials, mitigating dust hazards, and a follow-up to the popular sheet metal fabrication session from 2021.

Highlights also included an in-depth review of UK's Thorpe Model Making Archive and informal meet-up sessions and a vendor meet-and-greet that included prize drawings! The success of these VCONs proved that virtual gatherings were important ways for our membership to stay connected and keep skills and development opportunities, during a time when in-person gatherings simply weren't possible.

Looking into the Future

The APMM exists for, and because of, its members. Members can ensure that the APMM stays alive and remains strong by volunteering for one of the Board positions and committee roles when they become available (two-year terms), by offering input for improving services and benefits, by renewing their membership, and by contributing questions, answers, and interesting posts to the Forum.