Model Builders Inc Blog

Model Builders Inc. founder's 1930 Boeing P-12B national contest winning 1/15 scale model is on display.

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Aug 04, 2016 @ 10:42 PM

At the 1930 National Airplane Model League of America (AMLA) Contest Bill Chaffee won first place with a 1:15 scale Boeing P-12B in the Senior Scale Model category. The plane is on display at the National Model Aviation Museum in Muncie, Indiana from June 1 until September 15, 2016.


Boeing P-12B with a 24" wingspan in exact 1/15 scale

Bill spent more than 500 hours building this plane from officially AMLA approved plans. The contest rules stated the judging decisions were based on "workmanship, originality in obtaining the desired resemblance to the man-carrying ship, the exactness to which is the model is scaled and any other points which are, in the opinion of the judges, important in such a contest."


 Several pictures taken at the National Model Aviation Museum in Muncie, Indiana of the Boeing P-12B model, the first place silver trophy and the Certificate of Distinction for First in the Senior Scale contest with a model rated 97 out of 100 possible points for the detail and workmanship can be seen at these two blog addresses: . 

Newspaper accounts noted the model "amazed veteran fliers, who viewed the model at the Statler hotel, for it was so true to exactness in every detail that it appeared to have been built at the Boeing factory". Although none of the control surfaces had to move for the contest Bill's models control surfaces did work by moving the controls in the cockpit.


 The control wires are visible through the open area on the side of the P-12B and in the cockpit.

2016-08-07-BoeingP-12Bmodel-structure-5-page-001.jpg The wing structure is shown here during construction.

The score sheet had a list with 71 items that were rated for fidelity to scale (within 1/16" or 1/32") for several details in the wing, the fuselage, the tail surface, the landing gear, the engine and the location of the parts. Included in this list there were 33 individual details rated such as neatness of the joints. general neatness of the paint job, nine flanged cylinders equally spaced and located, etc. All contestants had to have accurate drawings of their plane that were approved by the manufacturer. 


Although Bill Chaffee cashed his Airplane Model League of America first place check for $200.00 he was able to keep the check which had an original countersigned signature by Orville Wright the Chairman of the Contest Committee.


 The winners of the three categories in the 1930 AMLA American Boy magazine contest won a six week trip to Europe. While they were there they competed in London for "The Wakefield Cup for International Competition" for rubber band powered fuselage models.


Above:  Bill Chaffee in the middle and Joseph Ehrhardt on the left. They were the  first two Americans to ever place in this contest. Bill Chaffee finished sixth and Joseph Ehrhardt of Detroit and St. Louis (the USA national outdoor and fuselage model champion) won first.  

Bill Chaffee is in the Academy of Model Aeronautics Hall Of Fame. For more information about his model airplane accomplishments and career go to scroll down the alphabetical list of last names and click on Chaffee.

The Airplane Model League of Amercia in 1930 was headed by Rear Admiral Richard A. Byrd and had about 400,000 boy and girl members.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping manufacturers, industrial designers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at 773-586-6500 or 









Tags: model

How a scale model helps envision and sell a gas processing plant.

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 @ 11:41 AM

UOP had an investor meeting coming up and wanted to make a great impression showing the advantages of their prefabricated gas processing plant. UOP is the only manufacturer that makes a prefab one and it consists primarily of seven skids that can be trucked to the site. They also wanted to use this model for sales presentations and tradeshows. 

The UOP advantages are that the prefab gas processing plant can be made much more cost effectively in advance in a factory and there is little final assembly once the seven skids are shipped to the client's site. Furthermore quality control in the factory is much easier to manage than in the field.  UOP's competitors build  gas processing plants on site which takes far longer and their construction time is much more exposed to weather delays. 

UOP Gasification Plant Model

UOP prefabricated gas processing plant 1:48 scale model 25" long X 25" wide.

To have a real impact with investors and potential clients UOP wanted them to easily envision the prefabrication concept and how it went together. If they could pick up each of the seven skids to assemble or disassemble them by hand that would be very engaging and memorable. Furthermore clients would be able to see the key components in each skid. This is an effective way to relate to what each skid does and where it goes.

The model makes for quicker and easier comprehension of the entire plant than walking through the real one. Furthermore  the real prefabricated gas processing plant is too big to take to a tradeshow (or potential client) and most potential clients are not located near one of the installed prefabricated gas processing plants.

What were the keys to getting this model fabricated to meet UOP's short deadline and to be as effective as possible in generating sales? 

(1) Choose the right model maker.

Hire a professional model making firm with experience - in this case one that makes process models for heavy industry like oil, gas and nuclear models. This firm would know where to get the special materials necessary and have the expertise to help design and fabricate the model in about four weeks. For this model UOP hired Model Builders, Inc. in Chicago.

(2) Provide the information the model maker needs to build from right away.

UOP drawings were needed to build from and they were needed fast. Model Builders, Inc. suggested that only pdfs of some of the drawings were needed.  It would have taken more time and expense if the model maker had to get familar with the UOP CAD drawings since it takes a while (often several days) to get familiar with the many CAD assemblies and parts drawings.

The UOP Director of Corporate Communications recognized that the model maker needed the pdfs right away and put the key UOP engineer in Oklahoma in touch with the model maker. That same day the engineer was able to send out all the needed dimensioned drawings as pdfs.

(3) Choose the scale.

 The 1:48 scale was the right one for an engaging hands on demonstration and for transport in a personal vehicle if necessary. Furthermore a scaled flatbed truck was put on the model to help the viewer get a clearer idea of how big the skids were by comparison.

(4) Determine the level of detail.

One of the things about models is that viewers are often attracted to them when they are highly detailed. The details draw them in. With this model even the UOP designer was impressed with the detail accuracy. This is particularly helpful to the sales effort when UOP can discuss with potential buyers what each skid does and the component parts that do that.

Gas processing plant model

(5) Engage the viewer in creative ways.

UOP had Model Builders, Inc. make the seven skids as loose units that can be assembled and disassembled by hand on a simple base with a plan view of the site on top. That meant each model skid could be picked up by hand and assembled or disassembled in the appropriate location on a scaled drawing. The drawing was bonded to the top of the 1" thick 25" X 25" base board.

Prefab Gasification Plant model

The stairway next to the right hand and the crosswalk next to the left finger are each connected with magnets for quick and easy assembly.


(6) Use durable materials.

ABS plastic is a very durable material and is the primary material used in this model. Futhermore the bonding liquid chemically welds the parts together.

In contrast acrylic is brittle and sometimes cracks or breaks. Vibrations during shipping and handling, below-zero temperatures and other adverse conditions could cause breakage or the acrylic glue joints could come apart.

(7) Make the model easy to pack and unpack.

The cutouts in the thick foam make packing and protecting the parts from damage simple.


UOP gas processing plant model case.
The flat base with plan view is below the parts seen here. The truck is in the silver box.

How effective was the model at the investor's meeting? It was so effective UOP decided to order a second one to keep at the home office for potential customer presentations.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping manufacturers, industrial designers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .



Tags: industrial scale models, site model, plant layout model, architectural model, model, product model, engineering model, product models, industrial scale model, tradeshow product models, trade show product models, process model, plant layout models, scale model

Apollo 8 Command Module replica model in "The 1968 Exhibit"

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 @ 12:32 AM

1968 was an incredible year with a spectacular ending - mankind's first trip to the moon. Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders flew the Apollo Command Module ten times around the moon starting on December 24th.

Model Builders, Inc. created a replica of the Apollo 8 Command Module for "The 1968 Exhibit" which is a month by month journey through a pivotal year for the baby boomer generation. See this video tour for a 4 minute overview and these photographs of the Command Module replica and some artifacts at . This traveling exhibit is at the Chicago History Museum from Saturday, October 4, 2014 to Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Apollo 8 Command Module replica

Apollo 8 Command Module replica in "The 1968 Exhibit"

The real Apollo 8 Command Module is on loan from NASA to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and we examined it to ensure detailed accuracy. We had to deal with significant challenges however. For example, having gone through the extreme heat of re-entry the original Apollo 8 Command Module no longer has the silver reflective Mylar heat tape nor very much of the exterior labels that were originally on it.

Thanks to some careful analysis, the replica in "The 1968 Exhibit" has the silver Mylar tape and the pre-flight exterior labels. Like the original Apollo 8 the replica tape pattern is exactly same and the tape width is exactly 4" as on the original. Not all of the Apollo Command Modules had the same reflective tape pattern. However by closely examining the burned residue lines left on about half of the original Apollo 8 Command Module Model Builders, Inc. was able to confirm that the tape pattern we previously had found for the Apollo 13 Module was exactly the same as on the Apollo 8. Model Builders, Inc. was also able to find all of the exterior label details at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Apollo 8 CM tape pattern

Apollo 8 Command Module - Mylar tape pattern

real Apollo 8 CMReal Apollo 8 Command Module - Note parallel white Mylar residue lines 4" apart

The Apollo 8 was the very first in the series of Apollo Command Modules to have a probe for connecting to the Lunar Module and this detail is shown on the replica. It is based on original NASA drawings and also close up photographs taken of a real NASA Apollo probe at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas. The probe mechanism is quite interesting in that on the later Apollo flights it had to latch onto a matching drogue parachute on the Lunar Module. After both were pulled together the twelve smaller latches around the circumference of the docking tunnel locked them together.  That explains the two red circles (representing the silicon o-rings) outside the tunnel. Once connected the hatch in the Command Module was removed, then they removed the probe assembly, then the drogue and finally the hatch on the Lunar Module to be able to get into it. 

Apollo 8 probe

Apollo 8 Probe replica

Model Builders, Inc. had already done a lot of the research necessary for accurately building this Apollo 8 Command Module replica. A few years earlier we built a 1/10 scale model of the Apollo 11 Command, Service and Lunar Modules and a 1/6 scale model of the Apollo 13 CSM -Command and Service Module (with the door blown off and the oxygen tank exploded) for the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center,  The 1/6th scale Apollo 13 CSM model sits next to the real Apollo 13 Command and Service Module in Hutchinson, Kansas. If you are interested in the details of the Apollo Command and Services Modules an excellent book with lots of illustrations in color and cutaway views is "Virtual Apollo" by Scott Sullivan. It is a pictorial essay of the engineering and construction.

We think you might really enjoy "The 1968 Exhibit". After Chicago the exhibit travels in 2015 to the Colorado History Center in Denver and after that the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: aviation models, model planes, model, exhibit, model builders, model maker, model makers, airplane models, museum model, aerospace models, props

GM Futurliner restoration gets a replica exhibit with aircraft models

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 @ 05:06 PM

We were surprised and delighted last year to receive a request from Ryan DeCol of Kindig-It Design to build a replica of an exhibit that had been in a GM Futurliner they are restoring for a client. Ryan found our website and thought our models of planes, trains, spacecraft, interactive exhibits and cutaways were high quality so he called us. Model Builders, Inc. since 1950 has a long history of working on projects for GM. Eugene Kettering (son of GM's "Boss" Kettering) was a close friend of William Chaffee, the founder Model Builders, Inc., and also an early investor in the company.

Originally there were 12 GM Futurliner buses and each one had a separate set of exhibits in it. This particular GM Futurliner had a "PROGRESS FOR THE AIR AGE" theme which included a full size cutaway of an Allison J-35 Jet Engine. If you would like to know the history of the GM Futurliners please see this youtube video . If you are interested in the GM Futurliner restoration go to and then click on the Facebook link in the upper right hand corner. Below are three photographs of the original exhibit.


POWER FOR THE AIR AGE - General Motors 2014 photo 

GM Futurliner talk

Discussing how a Allison J-35 jet engine works. It is cutaway so the viewer can see the parts. General Motors 2014 photo

GM Futurliner presentation

Presentation on the theory of how a Allison J-35 jet engine works. General Motors 2014 photo

Futurliner Cloud exhibit

Replica of the cloud on the backwall of the PROGRESS FOR THE AIR AGE exhibit

The cloud is 8 feet long and 3 feet high. The hemisphere diameter is 24". The continents and ocean we silk screened on the inside. The atmosphere is a 32" diameter clear acrylic disc that is 1"thick.

The aircraft are 1/27 scale models. From the top to the bottom they are the P-80 Shooting Star, F-9F Panther, Convair CV-240-2, A2D-1 Skyshark and the F-84 Thunderjet.

GM Futurliner Convair

Replica of the Convair 240 at the right end of the cloud exhibit. 

We did an extensive search but couldn't locate any of the original drawings. The pictures we found on youtube were too fuzzy or dark to be able to identify the aircraft. So we called retired GM manager Don Mayton who led the restoration at his farm in Zeeland, Michigan of Futurliner #10 starting in 1999 (however it had a different exhibit inside). A DVD on his restoration is available at .  Don suggested we contact the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, MI which has over 650 GM vehicles and extensive archives.  The GM Heritage Center was very helpful and found in their archives thirteen high resolution pictures of the PROGRESS FOR THE AIR AGE Futureliner which enabled us to scale the cloud exhibit and identify the aircraft.  Futhermore they sent us a copy of the script that the instructors used for this exhibit.

Some of our other projects for GM include the entire underseas section of the GM ride at the 1964 World's Fair on Long Island, a half size Aerotrain locomotive mounted on a truck chassis and also a half size steam locomotive mounted on a truck chassis, a 13 foot long Diesel locomotive with one half cutaway down the length so you could see the interior, a transfer press model, numerous diesel locomotive models and a cutaway of a full size turbocharger for a diesel locomotive.

A blog in November, 2014 featured several nice pictures of the restored GM Futurliner No. 3 after it had been in the SEMA show in Las Vegas. There is a particularly good picture of the cloud exhibit we made in the last picture.  If you click on the picture it gets larger and provides a dramatic highly detailed view of the cloud exhibit. See: . If you would like to see the before the restoration pictures of GM Futurliner No. 3 see  .

 Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping manufacturers, industrial designers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .


Tags: aviation models, model planes, model, exhibit, interactive exhibit, model builders, training aid, model builder, industrial scale model, airplane models, museum model, aerospace models

5 reasons when buying a custom model or prototype to pay for quality

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Sun, Jun 15, 2014 @ 10:24 PM

You should be worried about buying a custom model or prototype based on a lowest-cost bid as we pointed out in our last blog.  Here are five reasons to pay a little more for quality and get a lot more in return.

1. Quality sells.

The impact and quality of a model or prototype built with superior materials or design may lead to far greater sales than the incremental cost of say 10 percent over the lowest quote. That's value.

 GM LIRR  front rt

1/24 scale brass locomotive model - exterior and interior

If a model or prototype is 25 percent or more effective in generating leads than say a quote that costs 10 percent less it is more cost effective. Our experience is that the extra expense is often the difference between a dull model and one that grabs the viewer’s attention. In the case of the 36" long locomotive model pictured above it was also the difference in a more accurate and durable model that we built primarily out of brass instead of plastic.

GM LIRR equip rack resized 600Internal equipment rack prior to painting. Primarily brass construction

The entire exterior of the locomotive body and most of the internal equipment is brass construction with strong silver soldered weld joints .  The model is then very durable and the thickness of the parts is in scale.

2. A model is your reputation - don't mess it up to save a few dollars.

It takes a long time to build up a corporate reputation and a short time to knock it down if you don't meet the expectations of your client or potential client. Put your best model forward.

3. A partnership with a good model maker can raise quality exponentially.

Commissioning a prototype can be a learning experience that simultaneously represents and improves your idea when working with a good model maker.

The best model makers will spend when needed up to a third or more of their time doing research for or with you. For example the U.S. Navy's policy is not to provide drawings on currently commissioned ships. All is well if accuracy is not your goal or if you can do the research required for accuracy. One of Model Builders, Inc's strengths is our exceptional research and commitment to accuracy when it counts. Some of our competitors have had their models rejected by their clients who liked their price but not the inaccurate results.

4. Quality pays, but quality is not free.

Even one step up from the lowest bid can make a big difference in quality. The marginal difference may go to the more talented and experienced staff, more precise tools, more durable and realistic materials, and safer shipping containers, for example. When you commission one model in anticipation of multiple versions later on, buying quality also prevents having to start over later with a different company if the first model is unsatisfactory.

5. The lowest bid often means there is little room for innovation or details that can make a big impact in the final look of the model or prototype.

Montpelier garden

The above picture is of a finely detailed 1:500 scale model garden that is only 5" X 7". The two white lions on the right in the garden are 1/2" long. The holes are only 1/16" diameter for lighted fiber optic cable ends to identify the area by pushing a button. This model type of finely detailed model making takes time and special artistic skill.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: aviation models, construction equipment models, railroad equipment model, plant layout model, architectural model, model, architectural models, product cutaway, boat models, product model, prototype, model maker, prototypes, product models, airplane models, topographic model, aerospace models, prototype model

5 Reasons not to choose the lowest quote for a model or prototype

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Jun 05, 2014 @ 10:52 AM

In today’s world of instant everything from everywhere we can easily fall into the trap of making business decisions just by choosing the lowest price. Here are 5 reasons you should be very worried about the lowest price, especially for a custom model or prototype.

1. Value = quality divided by price.

 You can easily pick the lowest price - just pick the quote with the lowest number.  But if you expect good value, you must spend the time it takes to consider quality. Quality in models and prototypes depends on a number of factors.

Petronas Towers exhibit resized 600

Oil storage site exhibit in Kuala Lumpur

For example if there is a body of water in an architectural or topographic model, how is it depicted? Possibilities range from one color of blue paint to a realistic range of several colors applied artistically under a wavy piece of clear acrylic as shown in the above picture.   The latter looks far more realistic, but costs a little more.

There is reason why “cheap” means both "low cost" and "low quality". It pays to investigate closely how your model or prototype will look or work by carefully comparing the assumptions and details in the quote and each vendor's reputation for quality.

2. Balance: The common law of business balance.

 Over a century ago John Ruskin said “It’s unwise to pay too much…but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money…that is all.  When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot.  It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run.  And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.”

3. Avoid wasting money on models and prototypes that are in too small a scale. 

One problem is that parts can become too thin in a small scale and break easily. The client's desire for the smallest possible model to make it easier to transport as well as save money in packing, shipping and initial cost means it is more likely to arrive damaged and maybe even not repairable before the sales presentation or tradeshow.

A second problem is companies that “saved money” by having a model made in a scale that was too small to effectively show the detail especially when it is a printed out on a 3d printer. We refer to these models as "blob" models since instead of seeing the finer details that help attract potential customers you see blobs of material. Request a drawing of the plan and elevation views in the model scale proposed before you buy.  Even better request a sample part that shows some of the finer details.

4. Durability counts.

Is the model you ordered going to arrive as loose parts that came apart during the shipment?

Your model isn’t any good if you can’t use it when it arrived or requires extensive and expensive additional repair. That could be the case if the materials used and the way they were bonded or attached together couldn’t survive the road vibrations, shock from being dropped, temperatures, humidity, poor or loose packing, etc. In transit if the temperature is below freezing acrylic glues don’t hold their bond very well and your acrylic model may come apart. High heat also affects acrylic bonds much sooner that it would ABS plastic.

We use ABS plastic where we can instead of acrylic since ABS can be welded (the surfaces melt together with the chemical liquid we use for bonding). The ABS plastic is also stronger than acrylic which can crack under stress. 

If there is damage you may or may not be able to collect from an insurance claim and it may take a long time to collect for it. If a quote is higher than the low bid it probably is built stronger, with better materials and is packed better to survive shipment.

5. Insurance against an unpleasant surprise.

A benefit of partnering with a high quality model maker is the opportunity to learn and improve the project together.  With their experience and expertise, it is not hard to see potential problems while they can still be addressed successfully and at little or no additional cost. Even if the new approach costs more it is "cheaper" than  paying for a model that may meet your specifications but not your expectations.

Recently a potential museum client sent their project out for bid and all of the bids were higher than their budget. Sometimes if you have a limited budget it is better to tell the model making companies what the budget is and have them let you know what is possible to do with that budget.

When deciding on which company to hire for a model or protoype our experience is that the highest value, rather than the lowest price, is normally the best criterion. In our next blog we'll point out 5 reasons you should be very willing to pay for quaility.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .


Tags: railroad equipment model, site model, architectural model, model, architectural models, product model, prototype, prototypes, topographic model, trade show product models, prototype model

Iterative prototypes and models are often key to a successful product

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, May 01, 2014 @ 01:30 PM

Why do so many products fail in the marketplace? Maybe it is because the developer of the idea didn't do an adequate job of creating a series of prototypes and reviewing them with potential users.

1) The initial idea can be expressed as simply as on a napkin sketch to convey an initial product idea. At first an idea is normally just that with no physical prototype. The Smithsonian has a wonderful exhibit called "Doodles, Drafts and Designs"  that shows examples of this earliest stage of a new idea for a product (see ).

Below is a sketch of a ashtray idea for the Scenicruiser bus by Raymond Loewy Associates.

ashtray sketch

 2) A simple prototype model can be an early representation of the final product. It could be as simple as taping or gluing a few pieces of material together. The potential users then have the chance to get a general picture of the product idea that is in development with requirements that are not entirely known and give their reactions to it. Our rule of thumb here is that less than 25% percent of the population can visualize things well in three dimensions unless it is built first in three dimensions.

3) Product development is a iterative process that can begin without a full specification of the final product. You can use a series of models to evolve the idea. To get started just part of the product can be developed and then reviewed by users to identify further requirements. Then repeating this process can continue until the final product appears to be ready for the marketplace. Learning occurs both with the development and with the use of these product prototypes in iterations. Use a series of models to evolve the idea.

4) In the words of David Kelley, the founder of industrial design firm IDEO, design is now a team sport. Model makers at IDEO are more frequently getting involved much earlier in the development of new products to help create the idea before it is physically made. The industrial designer doesn't dictate the design or necessarily be in charge of it.  Instead a team of people with diverse backgrounds (human interaction, user interface, product design, engineering, manufacturing, model making and more) works together to collaboratively and iteratively build on each others ideas. Make sure you have a model maker on your team because your product ideas are far less likely to be a success if you don't.

5) MIT Professor Eric von Hippel, the author of the books "Democratizing Innovation"  and "The Sources of Innovation", observed that users are often the ones who develop a product when they have a need for a new or better product and a place where they would use it. They are ahead of others in a important market.

The Sources of Innovation resized 600

"von Hippel also proposed and tested some implications of replacing a manufacturer-as-innovator assumption with a view of the innovation process as predictably distributed across users, manufacturers, and suppliers. Innovation, he argues, will take place where there is greatest economic benefit to the innovator." Here is a video on lead users studies that 3M did to find lead users to work with to create some of their new products. See: .

6) It is hard to fail if you show prototypes to those who would use the final product and get their feedback. Potential users get the opportunity to test the functionality of the prototype and give feedback to help improve the product.

For additional information you may want to review our blogs including this one "How successful product development was done with a model shop's help" at .

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .


Tags: product model, engineering model, prototype, industrial designer, model builders, model maker, prototypes, model makers, prototype models, industrial design, product development, product models, model builder, industrial scale model, industrial designers, prototype model

Where can you find out about 3D printing of prototypes and models?

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Sat, Mar 29, 2014 @ 10:56 PM

We often have potential clients who are interested in having a prototype or model made with a 3D Printer. However they don't know if 3D printing is the way to build their project better, faster, stronger and at a lower cost. Our experience is that 3D printing can alternatively be not as good, slower, less durable and at a higher cost. It depends on a lot of factors. You need to learn more about 3D printing and it helps to discuss your project with a professional model maker.

Two of the best websites to learn all about 3D printing are and . Those two comprehensive websites give you lots of information on the whole field of 3D printing.

2014 Printing the Future book resized 600

You can also order a informative book "Printing the Future" by Ed Grenda from his website at .

To get a perspective on 3D printing you should think about it as three categories - 3D printing of prototypes and models, 3D printing of manufactured products and 3D printing for personal fabrication. That is also the order in which those three categories developed.

3D Printing of prototypes and models and 3D Printing of manufactured products

The two largest manufacturers of professional 3D printers are 3Dsystems at and STRATASYS at . They make 3D Printers for all three categories of 3D printing. In January, 2014 at the CES show in Las Vegas 3Dsystems had a number of new product announcements and those products are featured on this 54 minute youtube video at . It will give you some idea of the range of 3D printing products in the marketplace. NOTE that both 3Dsystems and Stratasys  recently purchased companies that make 3D printers for personal fabrication and more recently created new 3D printers for personal fabrication.

The RAPID show organized by SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) is the main conference and tradeshow for companies and institutions to see the vendors of the larger professional 3D printers used for large 3D prints and in metal as well as plastic.

Since the middle 1980's when 3D printing started 3D printers were very expensive so companies and institutions that could afford it bought 3D printers and the CAD (computer-aided design) software so their model shop or an independent professional model shop with the right software and 3D printer could make their prototypes and models. About 7 years ago the least expensive professional 3D printer was about $15,000.00.

3D Printers for personal fabrication

3D Printers for personal fabrication sell mostly fom $400.00 to $5,000.00. There are now over 100 different 3D printers for personal fabrication available. By January, 2009 the first two 3D personal fabricator machines were being sold as kits for about $800.00 each. To get a review of many of these 3D printers for  personal fabrication that are now available see . Also order from MAKE magazine their latest annual review of 3D printers at which compares 23 of the more popular low end 3D Printers.

Formlabs Form 1 3D Printer

3D Printer for personal fabrication - Form 1 hi resolution 3D printer

However if you buy a 3D Printer you still have to purchase and learn how to use the CAD  software to create the files for the product that you want to 3D print. Alternatively you could use CAD drawings that are available on or similar websites and you can print them. However most people want to create something unique.

There are also companies that can do your 3D printing for you.  One very successful company is Shapeways at  .  Shapeways has 3D printers for smaller personal fabrication and also have larger professional machines that can print in plastic or metal. You can even set up your own store on Shapeways to sell what you have made.  They will accept orders for you, produce your printed product, ship it and collect the payment for you.  The Shapeways byline is "Make, Buy and Sell Custom Products with 3D Printing. One store example hosted by Shapeways is  .

Another alternative is to go to a store like the 3D Printer Experience in Chicago at or a shop like TechShop (a expanding nationwide chain) that sells education classes and charges you to use (or have them use) one of their 3D printers or other machines. To find these places go to the Maker Map at , check off the filter box for retail, museums, etc. and zoom in on the red location dot. As you zoom in the name and address, etc. will appear on a pop up.

Then click on what you want to find like Retail and then zoom in on the red dot in the location you prefer and the name, address, etc. will pop up.

Getting the best possible prototype or model

Large corporations often have their own industrial design department and model shop. They can study how users might use a new product and create prototypes to test the idea with potential users. Alternatively they may hire an independent industrial design firm like IDEO which also has a model shop. If you have a large budget then hiring an industrial design firm might be a good option for you.

However the top down process of creating a new product is now competing with the bottoms up process since individuals and smaller companies or institutions now have computers and tools such as person fabricators as well as funding mechanisms like Kickstarter available to help them to create new products at an affordable price.

Hiring a professional model shop to work with you on your prototypes and models should add a new dimension to the discussions and increase the odds of creating a successful product. Working with a professional model shop is often a affordable option. Their expertise will greatly improve the final product. Which is the best way to make your product better, faster, stronger and at a lower cost? 3D printing may or may not be the right answer for how to make your prototype or model.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers and individuals  go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: industrial scale models, product model, prototype, industrial designer, model builders, model maker, prototypes, model makers, prototype models, industrial design, product development, product models, model builder, industrial scale model, industrial designers, 3D printing, prototype model, 3D printers

Model Builders Inc. founder is a 2013 inductee in AMA Hall of Fame

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 @ 09:20 PM

Model maker William H. Chaffee (Bill), the founder of Model Builders, Inc, was inducted in 2013 into the Academy of Model Aeronautics Hall of Fame located in Muncie, IN. To see his Hall of Fame biography go to: .

Many of the model airplane builder noteables that Bill competed against in the late 1920's and early 1930's are in this Hall of Fame. By 1929 there were over 300,000 members in the Airplane Model League of America (A.M.L.A.) which ran the National contests. "Beginning to Fly" The Book of Model Airplanes by Merrill Hamburg the Secretary and technical advisor to the A.M.L.A. is probably the best book on this era of model plane building. An interesting side note is that MIT student Robert Clary in 1932 invented microfilm to replace the heavier Japanese imperial tissue paper on the wings. Microfilm cut the model plane weight by about 20 percent.

Model plane - William Chaffee

William Chaffee held the National Indoor record for rubber band powered flight at 173 seconds  in 1927 when he was 15 years old. Page 72 in "Beginning to Fly" is shown above.

1928 April 2 William  Chaffee White House

AMLA's four contest winners were flown to Washington, DC and on April 2, 1928 and they flew their model planes on the south lawn of the White House for President Calvin Coolidge . William Chaffee is on the far left and President Coolidge is third from the left. The Detroit Free Press reported that "The boys left two of the model planes dangling from the tall poplar trees adjacent to the executive offices, and two landed on the roof of the offices."

William Chaffee White House 1929

William and other national model contest winners flew their planes for President Herbert Hoover on the south lawn of the White House on April 4, 1929. Merrill Hamburg Secretary of and technial advisor to the A.M.L.A. is on the far left. William Chaffee is pictured in the middle and Aram Abgarian on the right. 

William Chaffee Boeing P-12B model airplane1930

William Chaffee's Boeing P-12B won 1st prize in 1930 for scale model planes in The American Boy magazine contest.

Boeing P-12B model William Chaffee 1930

William Chaffee's BOEING TYPE P-12B U.S. Army Pursuit plane scale model

William spent over 500 hours constructing the model and even machined his own propeller out of aluminum. All of the flaps move accurately when the levers are pulled or pushed in the cockpit. All entrants in the contest used exactly the same set of to scale drawings with a model wingspan of the upper wing at exactly 24". First prize in this contest was a 6 week trip to England and France plus a silver cup and $200.00.

While in England he competed in the Wakefield International Cup fuselage model plane contest and won 6th place. The planes were all rubber band powered fuselage models.

Chaffee C-4 fuselage model airplane

Chaffee C-4 Indoor Fuselage rubber band powered model

In 1930 William designed the Chaffee C-4 Indoor Fuselage Model (see pp. 164-172 in "Beginning to Fly"). The AMLA was interested in moving American model airplane builders from "flying sticks" to fuselage models to advance their skills and add a new contest category. The AMLA sold the Chaffee C-4 as a kit from their supply division and it became a favorite of model builders. The rubber band powered C-4 flies for about 3 minutes. 

1933 SPEE-D-FLYR glider


In 1933 at the age of 21 William designed the balsa wood SPEE-D-FLYR Soaring Glider No. 333 and sold 24,000 of them to S.S. Kresge. Chaffee buillt the gliders in conjunction with pattern maker Emory Zimmerman.

Kettering Collection WPAFB resized 600

Kettering Collection of 600 scale model planes at theNational Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, OH

In the early 1930's Eugene W. Kettering started his collection of about 600 scale model aircraft at 4mm (5/32" to the foot) scale  representing military and civilian aircraft of many nations. This collection since the late 1960's has been on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Gene had his good friend William Chaffee make or supervise the construction of the planes in this collection.

From 1932 on William Chaffee stayed in the fields he loved best - model building, prototyping and inventing.  In 1950 he founded Model Builders, Inc. and in 1960 a subsidiary Technical Exhibits Corp.

Model Builders, Inc. did prototype work for Raymond Loewy Associates, Richard Latham, Dave Chapman and other well known industrial designers. Other work was for large corporations, institutions and individuals. One project was to build the underseas section of the GM exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Several projects were for NASA and for aviation companies. There were 1,000's of projects. Bill also has eight patents and two design patents. Six of the patents are the basis of products that were produced and sold. William continued to work until the end of his life in 1994

Model Builders, Inc. and Technical Exhibits Corp. continue to work on the design and fabrication of a wide variety of models and prototypes.  A recent project was to build a full scale replica of the exterior of the Apollo 8 Command Module for a traveling museum exhibit.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for helping industrial designers, manufacturers, institutions and individuals go from idea to reality. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: aviation models, model planes, model builders, model maker, model makers, model builder, airplane models

Architectural model iterations are often the key to design success

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Sun, Jan 19, 2014 @ 09:46 PM

"Iterations: John Ronan's Poetry Foundation" is a 2013-2014 exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago that shows how he uses a series of sketches, models, and digital designs in his design development of the award winning Poetry Foundation building in Chicago. The sketches and models are used to explore options in the beginning and review them with the client before the final detailed digital design is done. This iterative process helps to give more thoughtful consideration to how the various elements should be integrated together.

Some architectural firms do all of their work digitally on the computer. However with only digital images the client may have trouble visualizing the relationships between elements and how big things really are.

multiple modelsDifferent model iterations of the interior interrelationships

Many architects, like John Ronan, find ideas initially intuitively flow better from the brain to hand sketches. Later they do the digital design for the precision needed to finalize the design.

Ideas were initially shown as hand drawn diagrams and quickly bonded to cardboard. Then various rooms were connected in multiple different configurations so they could be compared in three dimensions to better visualize how the key elements worked together. Should the key elements like the building and the garden be interlocking or overlapping layers? Use of the models helped determine the site plan. Once the site plan was determined then more sketches and models were used to evaluate different iterations of the location of other elements in the building such as the library and reading room. In this particular case the garden became central to the development of the building's program and design.

Poetry Foundation site model

Site model - Poetry Foundation is the tan/green/gray area in the middle

The design at that point was ready to put onto a model that showed the surrounding buildngs. First a satellite image of the site and surrounding buildings was put down. Using cardboard and paper sketches the new design with the surrounding buildings shown in three dimensions was created. This helped to determine that the building design should be anchored with a large entry to the garden at the corner of the property.

Exterior screen wallTwo of several exterior screen walls - the perforated one at the top was chosen

The roofless courtyard garden is separated from the street with a two story screen on two sides at the site perimeter.  Models were made of different screens.  An oxidized black screen with holes was chosen to separate the garden from the sidewalk on the north and east sides. It provides views of the garden from the street while making the garden more private while standing in it. As you walk forward along the building the exterior is all glass which helps to connect the garden to the interior. Inside the building a ribbon of Baltic birch plywood helps to connect the mostly open plan interior rooms.

Presentation modelPresentation model - Basswood, cardboard, and Plexiglas

Here the roof has been removed and in this model there is more interior detail. These models were developed by the architect as part of the design process. Models help the architect to communicate better on design decisions with clients who often don't visualize the design well in three dimensions as it progresses unless they see a three dimensional model. These models help to make sure the client understands exactly how the building will look before it is built with no surprises.

For  information on seeing this exhibit click on .

Model Builders, Inc. is known for working closely with architects to interpret their design intentions as clearly as possible into a three dimensional model. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: site model, architectural model, architectural models, architectural model builder