Model Builders Inc Blog

Is a product model or prototype required with a patent application?

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Mon, Oct 01, 2012 @ 11:48 AM

"Is a product model or prototype required with a patent application?" is a question we often hear. The answer today is no. The US Patent of Act of April 10, 1790 required a patent model. if possible. The  US Patent Act of July 4, 1836 required a patent model until 1880. Each inventor submitted a model "not more than 12 inches square" along with the patent application as an aid to the patent examiner to determine the originality of the invention. 

Prototypes, although not ever required, are usually advisable because they help others visualize the idea and prove that it works. Prototypes help a lot when you are trying to sell or license your patent idea to others. They also help when you go to a manufacturer so they can determine what the parts might cost.

Rarely can you build a prototype straight from the patent drawing(s). Here are some important points to keep in mind when having a prototype built of your patent idea.

  • Patent drawings illustrate the concept and are not meant to be engineering drawings. Measurements when shown in a patent are often a range within which the concept can work. However, many inventors we talk with think all they need to give us is the patent illustrations to have us build a prototype.

Sawhorse Patent

  • To build or hire someone else to build a prototype requires that you provide or they create detailed drawings with measurements. If you go to a model shop, an industrial design firm or engineering firm with just your patent they will have to first create drawings with measurements that they can build from.
  • First you may want to do a series of rough prototypes and have people test them until you determine potential problems and what variation of your idea has the best chance of being sucessful.
  • Inventors sometimes want to build a final product model of their patent idea and then go out and market it to others.  It is probably a waste of money to try to build the final product in the beginning. If the idea is licensed to others they may want to modify your patent idea or use different production equipment which can't make the product exactly like yours.  So the money you spent to make your idea exactly like you wanted may be wasted. Furthermore you should probably use a rough prototype with people to test and see if it works well or needs improvement before it goes into production.
  • We sometimes see inventors whose ideas when built as they describe, don't work. One patent was for something that worked in more than one direction.  The product as shown in the patent illustrations looked to the inventor and the patent examiner like a product that would work.  The inventor even had a series of drawings showing step by step how it worked.  However as we started to build the prototype it didn't work as drawn.  Fortunately we were able to change the design to make it work. Until you build a prototype and test it you may not know for sure if the idea works at all. 


If you are interested in the history of patents to gain a perspective on what works you may want to read "The Patent Book An Illustrated Guide and History for Inventors, Designers and Dreamers" by James Gregory and Kevin Mulligan. A&W Publishers, Inc. New York, New York. 1979. ISBN: 0-89479-037-4. Hardcover: 126 pages. This book covers the history of patents, who needs a patent, how a patent is obtained, the proper selling strategy behind the invention, and a list of common mistakes made by new inventors and how to avoid them. Along with an illustrated review of 50 famous patents – some of which changed the course of American history – are actual drawings from the patents. Hopefully this book enables you to see why some ideas succeeded and others failed.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss a patent model, prototype or other projects contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .



Tags: product model, prototype, product models, prototype model

This waste-water treatment plant layout model shows how it works

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 @ 10:14 AM

The Rock River Water Reclamation District (RRWRD) in Rockford, IL uses this interactive plant layout model to explain to school groups, customers and the public the sequential steps in processing solid and liquid waste as well as generating energy as a by-product of that process.

The model has many advantages.  The viewer can grasp the overall picture in one viewing. The large plant site is reduced to a 6 X 16 foot model (the scale is 1:96). A well designed plant layout model like this one can orient the viewer from any angle and help them draw mental connections among all aspects of the process.

Rather than taking a plant tour of the site with a group, which takes much longer, RRWRD personnel can use the model to explain the various processes to the group and answer questions.

Real water runs through the Rock River shown in the foreground, as well as through four water processing tanks. The aeration tank bubbles. There is also real water in the two Gravity Thickening Tanks. Real water helps to make the model realistic.

water plant layout

A half inch thick clear acrylic barrier on three sides helps to protect the model. Overhead lights that highlight the model are activated by a sensor when anyone approaches the model. The "rocks" on the right above are the back side of a large aquarium stocked with native Illinois fish. "Rocks" arching above over part of the model support a real waterfall that drops into the aquarium.

plant layou model, site model 

The sequential path of each of three processes (liquid, solids, and energy) is clearly shown with chase lights and with colored lines on the control board. The buildings and tanks each have a light come on when their labeled button on the control panel is pressed. Most of the buildings and tanks have an identifying label next to them. All this makes the model useful at any time of the day.

plant layout - control board

The interactive control board highlights the three sequential processes with over 600 blue (liquid), yellow (solid) or red (energy) chase lights. There are also buttons to light up the individual tanks or buildings.  The energy (red chase lights) below is created from the methane gas by-product of the waste processing. 

water plant layout model - energy sequence

Individual buildings and tanks each have a label and a separate light as shown below.

plant layout model pump building

To reinforce the explanation of the water treatment process the RRWRD website has a "just for kids" section that explains what happens to a drop of water.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss plant layout or process models, site models, topographic models or other projects contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .



Tags: site model, plant layout model, architectural model, interactive exhibit, architectural models, industrial scale model, topographic model, process model, plant layout models, topographic models, terrain model

Scale models as an award make it very special!

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 @ 11:08 PM

Model builders are sometimes requested to make a custom model or award for a special presentation. Here are three unique award examples and some things to think about.

The 5" X 7" award pictured below holds a 2" diameter artistic glass globe with all seven continents that the recipient can spin with his or her thumb(s). This interaction engages the recipient and others who see it.

The model builder both created the design and did the fabrication. The two clear acrylic panels slide together below the ball and are bonded together. If the award happens to fall these two clear panels help protect the expensive glass globe from breaking.

The name of the person being recognized and the organization giving the award is engraved on it. Prior to this design the plan was to just put each globe in a nice wood box to protect it and add a engraved brass plate with the award information to the top of the box.

Award scale model

Shown in the picture below is a 18" diameter logo made from Legos which was ingeniously used to symbolize how a company was built brick by brick under the guidance of its founder. The original concept was going to be about 12" high.  However with guidance from the model builder the client soon realized that the logo in Legos had to be about 50% bigger in order to more closely resemble the company's logo.

This Lego logo wraps around all sides of 5/8" thick clear acrylic sheet which was cut into the shape of a round head with a neck. A five sided clear acrylic dust cover (not shown) was included.

scale model award

Model kits when made with fine craftsmanship and quality materials are very meaningful to the recipient in industries such as transportation when that person's work is related to a product such as a railroad tank car. The model can be customized to have the same markings and details that relate most to that person. 

With model kits the details are very important and get noticed.  Is the lettering crisp or is it fuzzy? Is the lettering straight or crooked? Round tank cars are not easy to paint. Does the paint finish look the same on the whole model? Does the dust cover fit snugly or is it loose? Are the right couplers used on the railcar? Are the screws that attach the model to the wood base hidden behind the wheels or are they visible under the middle of the railcar?

You should consider seeing in person an example of a similar model or at least close up pictures of it before placing an order.

award, scale model

Model Builders, Inc. is known for creative thinking and fine craftsmanship. If you are looking for a custom model to award to a person or company take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: railroad equipment model, product model, product models, award, awards, custom awards

Big product models get your customer's attention

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Sun, Aug 05, 2012 @ 08:56 PM

Vodka bottle - large prop

How do you get your product noticed? Maybe you should think big to make that product stand out! That is what FRIS vodka did.  They had an eleven foot high vodka model made, put it in a truck with clear sides, added a snow scene around the bottle and drove it to events.

Bosch Convection Oven

The convection oven model in the back is twice the size of the real one in the front.  By making the sides and front clear the "heat arrows" inside show the path of the heat in the convection oven for even cooking. The model is close to 8 feet high with the signs on top.  An ideal size for viewing the heat arrows that highlight the flow path of the hot air in this convection oven.

Drill bit - 8 feet long

 Even a drill bit becomes dramatic when it is made as a scale model 8 feet long and then used in a trade show. Craftsmanship, precision fabrication, a careful choice of paint color and a nice coat  of paint create a model that looks like the real thing...only larger.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for dramatic, realistic product models in a variety of scales. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .




Tags: product model, product models, props

Topographic model interactive shows the story of Telluride's history

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 @ 12:50 PM

This topographic model in the Telluride, Colorado airport draws visitors to historic attractions they may not otherwise visit, including the history museum where it previously was located. Viewers can interact with this popular exhibit to see all the area attractions that may interest them - historic, recreational, or geographic. This touchable fiberglass model is 48" X 50" with 6.5" of relief. The model scale is 1:9000.

Topographic model Telluride

Buttons light up icons for trams (yellow), mines (gold), tunnels (blue), the power house (gray), the mills (red) and other features from different time periods in Telluride's history. A popular walking trail is also shown that goes well up into the mountains and circles back into town. Labels on the model clarify what each attraction is such as Mendota Peak, Coronet Creek, the Origin Trail, Funicular Cable Railroad, Sheridan Vein, etc. 

 Topographic model Telluride

The model also highlights the ski lifts, which are shown using piano wire mounted on metal posts. On the lower left is the Boomerang trail that goes from the ski area back down to the town. This model makes it easy to visualize the ski trail slopes in three dimensions which is far more engaging and useful than a flat ski trail map. It helps skiers decide which trails they may want to ski. The elevation change shown is from 8,660' to 13,580'.

terrain model Telluride

Topographic models are highly effective ways to quickly orient and inform visitors to any area, especially a large area like Telluride with many winter and year-round attractions. They make visitors more comfortable and engaged in their new surroundings, and they bring enthusiastic people to each attraction.

Model Builders, Inc. is known for creative, economical, realistic topographic models. Take the next step by contacting us at Model Builders, Inc., 773-586-6500 or .







Tags: site model, architectural model, museum interactive exhibits, interactive exhibit, architectural models, topographic model, museum interactive model, topographic models, terrain model

How to create a trade show exhibit that sells

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 @ 09:06 PM

To create a trade show exhibit that sells, focus on solving these three basic problems:

Problem 1: How do you get the attention of your highest potential buyers?

Answer: Use a concise headline in the most easily seen part of the exhibit - put it up high, make it big, light it up. Repeat the headline elsewhere in the exhibit. Use the company name nearby. 

Focus the headline on a specific product, or service and make a strong benefit promise. For example, Uni-tek's headline is "Broken Taps Removed Fast" in large, flood-lit lettering. Sharp focus like this attracts people who want what you have to offer.

You have five seconds to attract the attention of potential buyers and less than five minutes to develop interest. 

Problem 2: How do you develop detailed product interest?

millennium ball model

Photo: A 30" diameter model of the Millennium ball drops slowly a few times a day in synch with a video countdown at this 50' trade show booth for Philips light bulbs, drawing attention to the  key product benefits on the billboards.

Answer: Highlight the product. Use a sales message with the most important features and benefits. Show your product or service in action. Invite the potential client to participate in a product demonstration.

Remember the product is the star. Consider a cutaway of your product to highlight how it works.  Make a small product larger with a realistic larger-scale model as the center of attention in the booth, like the 5' high spark plug Bosch used. For a large product like a locomotive, aircraft, or mining truck, feature a smaller-scale model that fits in the trade show booth. Consider adding mechanical movement or chase lights to show the sequence of how the product works.

The sales message should be simple and dramatic.  A video or exhibit backwall with a few pictures and copy can tell your story quickly and effectively. Help the booth staff tell the product story with a few key visual aids that highlight the product's most important features and benefits.

Problem 3: How do you follow up with the potential buyer?

Business card drop box 

 Photo: Business card drop box (slot) in a 2X scale prop model of a new medical device.

 Answer: Often several potential buyers show up at a trade show exhibit at the same time.  A business card drop box offers a quick way to get a potential buyer's business card even when exhibit staff is busy with someone else. Provide blank name/address cards, too, and pens to make it easy to fill them out. Consider adding a question or two on the blank card to help qualify the prospect as a potential buyer.

If the objective is to make an appointment with the potential buyer for a followup call, include a graphic that invites the visitor to sign up for a product demonstration. Include a large appointment book to make it easy.

Another option is to integrate a private area or separate office into the exhibit area as a place to close a sale, show more detailed product options, etc.

One technique to close sales is use of show specials: offer a lower price for orders at the show only, making the invitation highly visible.

To wrap up the planning process, ask yourself:

  • Did we pinpoint the product and sales message in the headline?
  • Did we dramatize the product for immediate impact?
  • Is the exhibit uncluttered and geared to a single objective?

If yes, then you are on your way to having an effective exhibit. If you have any questions or would like to discuss exhibit design, a cutaway of your product, a product model, or a larger or smaller than life model contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .



Tags: construction equipment models, railroad equipment model, exhibit, interactive exhibit, product cutaway, product model, engineering model, industrial scale model, trade show product models, medical models

Museum interactive exhibits attract visitors and make the point

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Thu, Jun 07, 2012 @ 11:42 AM

Museum interactive exhibits engage visitors if you make it clear what the exhibit is all about and make it easy to use. 

The Wright Dunbar Interpretive Center in Dayton, Ohio has a museum interactive that shows how the Wright Brother's wing warping concept controls the wings on a biplane enabling it to turn. When the visitor moves a U shaped control the pilot in the model biplane moves his hips to the right or the left. The hip crade moves wires connected to it which causes one end of the wings to twist in one direction and the other end of the wings to twist in the opposite direction.  This enables the pilot to bank and turn.

museum exhibit

How do you focus museum visitors on the point that the Wright Brothers knew from racing bicycles on a banked oval wood track that flying in the air in three directions would be very difficult to control? The following exhibit with one handlebar used to control a 12" long bicycle in only two directions and another handlebar  used to control a 12" wide glider in three directions lets the visitor experience how much more difficult it is to control a glider in three directions than a bicycle in two directions.

.wright museum interactive exhibit

Museum interactive exhibits need to be user friendly to work best. Exhibit designer Jeff Kennedy wrote an excellent 77 page book called "User Friendly Hands-On Exhibits That Work" which is available from the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC). Look in the Exhibits section of the ASTC publications at . 

If you would like information on having a museum interactive exhibit fabricated contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .

Let us know below in the comments what your favorite museum interactive exhibit is and what museum it is located in.

Tags: museum interactives, museum interactive exhibits, exhibit, interactive exhibit, museum interactive model

3 advantages of a product model versus the real product in an exhibit

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Tue, May 29, 2012 @ 08:35 PM

One of the easiest things to use to attact visitors to your exhibit booth is your product  because that is what you are selling. However you may be overlooking the advantages of using a product model instead.  Here are three examples of exhibits where there was a very significant advantage to using a product model versus the real product.

(1) The first advantage is a savings in weight and therefore cost. Below is a photograph of a replica model of a track welding machine which is 12' X 4' X 3'.  The cost to ship the real machine which weighs close to 15,000 lbs. is quite high. Then the expense to move a real track welding machine into the exhibit booth and set it up is also high. However a replica model made out of ABS plastic instead of steel like the real product weighed less than 1,000 lbs. The shipping cost savings for the first tradeshow alone can pay for the model.

product model

(2) The second advantage of a product model versus the real product is you can make a large real product as a much smaller product model which enables you to ship the product model to more tradeshows for the same cost as one tradeshow. Furthermore for really large products like some mining trucks the real product is too big to even fit in an exhibit hall.  Shown below at 1:16 scale is a mining truck model which is about 33" long which has been shipped to tradeshows around the world.

product model

 (3) The third advantage of a product model is that an expensive product such as medical equipment with expensive components can be replaced by a product model greatly reducing the cost of shipping insurance. The model cost about 1/15 the cost of the real  lithotriper.The lithotripter model shown below also was made at 1:3 scale to make it small enough for the sales force to drive it to their clients locations in addition to the use of the model at tradeshows. The mechanical arm moved exactly like the real lithotripter. 

product model

The benefits of product models are real. If you would like information on having a product model fabricated contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or .

Tags: construction equipment models, industrial scale models, railroad equipment model, product model, product models, industrial scale model, tradeshow product models

Sales kits demonstrate product advantages

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Sun, May 20, 2012 @ 09:33 PM

A sales call is one thing but a sales call with a sales kit is more likely to focus the potential client's attention on the advantages of a product.

Shown below is a sales kit that demonstrates how this particular storage silo works. The silo is hermetically sealed to keep oxygen out, thus keeping the feed fresher longer.  However, without a special feature, the silo would split open from expansion pressure if the inside air became much hotter than the outside air. If the inside air got much colder than the outside air, the silo's walls would collapse inward.  To prevent that, the top of the silo has two breather bags vented to the outside air. The bags collapse when it is hotter inside than outside and expand when it is colder inside than outside. This design enables the storage silo to keep the feed inside hermetically sealed without splitting open or caving in.

sales kit, sales kits, product model, product models

The question for the salesforce of well over 500 was how to show this breather bag process to potential clients so they believe it and remember it. The answer was the sales kit shown above.

In the bottom of the model silo is an emply aluminum soda can with the bottom missing. When the salesman lights a lighter inside the can the aluminum quickly heats the air inside which in turn collapses the two breather bags. He can then spray a can of fast freeze on the side of the aluminum can to cool the air inside and expand the two breather bags. This quick and memorable demonstration is a powerful factor in the sales process.

Sales kits often double as training aids. Shown below is a sales kit that is also used in training sessions to show how to adjust a crawler track for much longer wear.  The red rings show wear where they meet the white rods. The blue rings/rods are new with no wear. As the red rings wear down, eventually the track loosens up and the rings have to be replaced. 

However this particular design can be adjusted for wear so the track lasts about twice as long. The sales person can rotate the red rings and white rods 180 degrees with the steel tool in the middle of the yellow gear on the left so that they are facing the outside instead of the inside of the track. This puts the unworn half of the ring/rod facing the gear. You can hear and feel the difference by manually rotating the yellow gear on the left while holding the small steel rod in the gear.

sales kit, sales kits, product model, product models, training aid

Use sales kits like those above to help sell your product on sales calls or at trade shows. Give your product an edge by focusing on the key product advantages with an impact the client will remember.

If you would like more information on developing a sales kit for your product contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or

Tags: sales kit, sales kits, training aids, training aid

4 Advantages of Prototype Models

Posted by Hal Chaffee on Wed, May 09, 2012 @ 11:13 AM

Prototype models can make your product more successful at any stage of its life cycle. A prototype is a preliminary design or scale model representation of the final product. It allows your team and your customers to understand the product. You can take it to photo shoots, trade shows, or the customer's site. Below is a look at four of the advantages of using prototypes.

Preview the Final Product:

A prototype model can be an early representation of the final product, done to exact dimensions or to a larger or smaller scale. In addition, the prototype may be cutaway to showcase the internal components or have mechanical movement that demonstrates the operations of the product.

Prototypes are particularly important since they give a general picture of products that are still in development, and whose requirements are not entirely known. Until you can see and touch the prototype you often don't discover what works and what doesn't. Is it too big or too small? Will it actually work and if so how well? Do people like the look of the product in three dimensions? Can it be manufactured at an affordable cost?

A prototype enables all parties to visualize the product quickly and communicate what insights they have for the final product. You can find out if the prototype meets the requirements of potential users and then make changes before the final product is ready for production. The prototype is also the focal point for discussion with the design and engineering team.  The final product is a result of the fusion of design, marketing and engineering input as well as potential user interaction with a prototype.


       The first prototype at 2 times scale used to build demand at a tradeshow

Reduce the Cost of Development and Production:

Using a prototype model enables you to demonstrate the concept of your product and discover any flaws. You have the opportunity to correct these flaws, or come up with solutions for improving the product. This reduces the risk of your product failing. Hence, the cost of development and production is drastically reduced because you don't have to fix problems later after the final product is already in production.


Reduce the Time Needed for Product Development:

Once you have a prototype of your product, you are able to see it completely in 3D. The system requirements are defined as much as possible during the prototype process which is early in the product development. You are able to have a better idea of what the final product will look like, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge enables you to accelerate the product development because using the prototype can get you feedback from all parties at the beginning of the product development cycle.

Many firms still are bouncing new product development back and forth between the finance, marketing, sales, and production departments, etc. without using a prototype to get input from all relevant departments early in the product development cycle. This bouncing around among departments results in a longer product development cycle.

Increase User Participation in Product Development:

When you create a prototype of your product, consumers get the opportunity to study it and give suggestions or observations. Users can test the functionality of the product and give feedback. In this way, consumers have the opportunity to help you improve your product. In addition, you can develop a product that is more appealing to consumers since you will be using their direct input.

Usually a new product is developed with a series of prototype models that are reviewed and improved by those who will be involved with the design, marketing & manufacture of the product and potential users. This normally increases the odds of success for the product in the marketplace.

For more information on prototypes or having a prototype fabricated contact Model Builders, Inc or call 773-586-6500.

Tags: product model, engineering model, prototype, model maker, prototypes, prototype models, product models, model builder, prototype model