an open letter to scale model manufacturers.
If the 3 golden rules for astute real estate investment are location, location, and location, similar can be said for the modelling industry: accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy. The foundation of this hobby as far as modellers are concerned...the appeal, and our motivation...is the pleasure derived from the creation of a miniature replica of the real thing. We are trying to reproduce reality in miniature. If it was just about assembly, we would be into Lego or furnature. If it was just about collecting, we would buy ready-made die-casts or toys. The idea of producing a cheap quick kit to appeal to children is an old, out-dated idea that was relevant in the 1960's and 70's. Children now have computer games to keep them amused. Model companies need to realise that their audience now is middle-aged adults, not children. This change has been exacerbated by the increase in the average price of a kit these days, now well out of reach of the average child. Our hobby is not a 'pocket-money fling' any more, it is a major commitment of time, money, and energy.

Model producers need to focus on the real market that exists now, not the folk-tales and attitudes of yesteryear. The idea that there is no time or budget to develop a quality model kit is just a fallacy. The idea of being in the hobby business primarily to make money is a fallacy. If all you are interested in as a producer is making money, why are you in the hobby industry at all, when you could be where the real money is: computers, oil, women's fashion, telecommunications, groceries, mining, defence? An industry based on a hobby should remember that a hobby is a recreational activity, practised for fun and pleasure. While a hobby is a source of pride and satisfaction, it is not an essential, and is financed with disposeable income. Therefore, model builders are alot more fussy and demanding about the products they buy with this disposeable income than they would be with day-to-day necessities. They apply a different set of standards when making a purchase decision... they do not want to have to put up with the same foibles with model kits as they endure with 'need-to-have' products from Microsoft, and appliance or car manufacturers. Being in business to service this hobby should be about fun, pleasure, and pride. If you as a producer are not passionate about the hobby, if you are purely a bean counter, get out of the modelling industry.

The most successful model kit producer ever is Tamiya. Is it an accident that Tamiya kits are the most accurate of any company? Is it an accident that the director of Tamiya is absolutely passionate about model aircraft? Tamiya spent 3 years producing the tooling for its 1/32 Mitsubishi Zero kit. When it came to the final sign-off for the tooling before production, Mr Tamiya looked at it, thought long and hard, and told his development team to go back and start again, because it just wasn't accurate enough. The result of that renewed effort is one of the greatest kits modellers are ever likely to see, and Tamiya can rest easy knowing that no other company will ever be likely to eclipse that tooling as far as Mitsubishi Zero's go. It is that kind of dedication and passion that has put Tamiya where it is today. If we as modellers didn't care about accuracy, we would still be buying toys, and companies like Tamiya would not be as successful as they are. Tamiya is not the most succesful kit producer because of 'market penetration' or pricing or advertising. It's because of their commitment to quality, which means faithful reproduction of the prototype. Modellers are willing to pay a premium for this accuracy.

As a company catering to this hobby, your first priority when designing and manufacturing a new tool for a model should be to make sure it is accurate in replicating the shape of the real thing, not just the size, but the actual shape, including cross-sections. This tool will last for decades, and could potentially bring millions in return investment over its lifetime, so it makes sense to get it right. If you do not, you leave the market open to another company. The moment that a competitor produces a more accurate tooling, your tooling becomes redundant, and your investment goes down the tubes. Exploiting a short-term monopoly with a sub-standard model will do long-term damage to your company. You can take advantage of a modeller's dedication to the hobby: yes, they will sometimes pay exhorbitant prices for a substandard kit if it is the only one available. But the moment a better kit comes out, they will drop you like a hot potato. Anexample of this was the Tu-16 produced by Red Star. A marginal rendition, it was more than eclipsed by the later Trumpeter tooling. MPM's new Wellington tooling is another perfect case in point. For years modellers had to make do with Airfix's & Matchbox's outdated offerings until MPM released its new tooling. MPM's kit ranked as the number one best seller for several weeks on the Hannants website. Not only has MPM's kit been successful in its own right, but the enthusiasm that the quality of the kit has re-kindled in modellers has allowed an explosion of accessory products related to the Wellington to be released onto the market, as well as new versions of the Wellington itself by MPM, which will be practically guaranteed of success based on the enviable reputation that first tooling laid down. Now even a new book on the Wellington has been produced by 4 Plus. Quality creates a synergy. You are making more than just one tooling, one production run. You are investing in your company's long-term viability. Where do you think Airfix's, Matchbox's and Red Star's toolings rank now? They have been consigned to the closet of modelling history.

The cost of thorough research and accurate reproduction can be amortised over several different scales. Once you have truly accurate data resulting in a truly accurate pattern, that quality information can be used as a reliable benchmark to produce a kit in any scale (for aircraft: 1/24, 1/32, 1/48, 1/72, 1/144, 1/200, 1/350, etc) particularly when the flexibility of CAD/CAM systems is taken into account. When you make a new tool, you should approach it like you are documenting history. Scholars and historians have a responsibility to record history accurately. You are reproducing reality - history - in miniature, and you have a

responsibility to your customers, and your reputation as a company.

The idea that the smaller the scale, the less accuracy matters, is completely false. In 1/32, we all expect a model to be accurate, it is taken for granted. If that model is a scale 10mm out in length, it would be somewhat noticeable. When the full size of the prototype is taken into account, the error is magnified to a discrepency of 320mm on the real thing, something of considerable concern to the modeller. But if such an error was present on a 1/72 model, it would equate to a whopping 720mm on the full size protoype! That is totally unacceptable. Manufacturers should remember: the smaller the scale, the more critical tolerances become.

If your arguement against quality tooling is the expense involved, if you as a manufacturer are concerned about reduced profit margins due to rising or substantial tooling or printing costs, why are you specifically in the model business? Why not conduct a business in another industry where the profit margin is geater? If you can only afford toolmakers that fail to grasp the true shape of the intended subject, why are you in the model business? Is your goal to produce just another impression of a Spitfire? Why don't you just lease an existing (and better quality) tool? The global hobby market does not need 15 different toolings of the Spitfire Mk 1. All it needs is ONE good one. If you cannot better the quality of a competitor, lease their tooling. There are so many 'wheels' out there, why re-invent unless you can actually do better? You would probably achieve greater profits if you opened a franchise of convenience stores, McDonalds restaurants, or computer stores.

The global market for model kits is in a state of transition. In the Western world, the total market for model kits is contracting, due to greater competition from computer games & simulations, and ready-made die-cast models. The average age of the modeller is fast rising, to around the mid 40's or older. This means that the person who chooses to remain a kit purchaser rather than a ready-made model collector does so for very specific reasons. That person takes pride and derives enjoyment from individual assembly and finishing (craftmanship), and they are searching for a higher level of accuracy and finesse than ready-made die-cast models can offer. As more and more alternatives compete with model kits for the consumer's attention, you as a model kit producer will be placed under increasing pressure to justify why the consumer should choose your product. There will be higher and higher standards of expectation from the consumer, your customer. It means they will pick and choose with ever more discernment, and only the companies with the highest dedication to satisfying their needs will survive. If you are not prepared to meet those expectations, you might as well get out now.

There is another weapon you can use to combat rising costs: innovation. Innovation has often been the saviour of private enterprise. Just when you think there is no economic way forward, a new idea or fresh approach can save the day.

Listen more to your grass-roots staff, and less your middle managers. Your managers are paid to lower costs, boost profits, keep everything running 'smoothly' and to tell you what you want to hear. They can be brilliant at making the bottom line look good on paper but in so doing, can rip the guts of your business (ie. in-house expertise and experience often unquantified) and destroy its long-term viability. Your grass-roots staff are ones who are really making your enterprise happen. They are the ones who really know how a production process can be made more efficient, because of their practical experience. Go and talk to them directly.

Outsource. Everything does not have to be in-house. Instead of trying to control everything, farm out activities to experts you can trust with an established reputation. Decals are an excellent example of this. Almost no kit manufacturer makes decent decals, so why bother? Outsource that part of your production to the specialists.

Join forces with your competitors on product development and tooling costs. Many companies have amalgamated, many are leasing each other's tooling. Why not follow the lead of the European aerospace industry and go a step further? Instead of jealously guarding your product development plans, form strategic alliances with similar companies and share the cost of research and high quality tooling. Make the tooling versatile by covering all the different versions of a given prototype.

Review your manufacturing process with a clean sheet of paper. Consider new, innovative manufacturing methods, perhaps based in nations you may not have thought of before. In some cases, you may be able to reduce overall production costs by integrating two or more model subjects (eg. a jet fighter in 1/48 and 1/72, or two completely different subjects like a plane and a truck) into a single tooling, depending on the size of the subjects. The higher cost of the single tooling (but cheaper than two separate toolings) can be offset by the more streamlined production process.

In competing for the contract to produce the Joint Strike Fighter, US aircraft manufacturers had no choice but to reverse the trend of spiralling costs through innovation. They applied as much advanced technology as they could, introduced innovative manufacturing and management techniques, did away with old pre-conceived ideas, and shared the costs over a wider industry base.

Specific areas where model manufacturers can improve:
To Japan: Since when has the colour of cream ever been the same as white?? Dump the local decal producers! Lithographic printed decals with cream instead of white is letting the quality of your kits down. The low viz greys used on the decals in many Fujimi & Hasegawa kits are virtually never the right colour, often having an insipid greenish tinge to them. In many cases the decals accompanying your kits are almost totally unusable due to this discrepency, leaving the market wide open for aftermarket producers. Tamiya has finally seen the light and made a step in the right direction. Their 1/32 F-4E has white decals that are truly white!

To aircraft kit producers in general: reduce panel line size, introduce panel rippling (keep it subtle!), sharpen trailing edges. Pay closer attention to the shape of the fuselage, canopy, and aerofoil cross sections. Make all the control surfaces as separate parts. Stop trying to make all the parts of a kit just with the injection moulding process; produce photo-etched metal parts where appropriate. When it comes to decals, raise the standard of printing and color reproduction accuracy. Make bubble canopies with correct undercut cross-sections where appropriate (like Tamiya and Hasegawa) & reduce the thickness of the plastic used for the canopy.

In all the injection moulded kits that have crossed our path, we have never seen a single canopy that accurately portrayed the optical qualities of the real thing. Injection moulded transparencies may be cheap to make, but it is a waste of time if the goal is authenticity. If you insist on injection moulding, employ camera lens moulding technology to get a distortion-free component. Better still, why don't you farm out your canopy needs to the people who actually mould plastic camera lenses? Either that, or employ the same technology that is used to make radio-control car bodies: vac-formed clear plastic sheeting (preferable polycarbonate like the real thing) with a metal die stamp-cut canopy frame.

Consider the concept of offering a cut-down, reduced-price model, packaged for the dedicated and experienced enthusiast: a 'no-frills' injection moulded tooling of the major components, undercarriage legs, and a vacformed canopy all packaged in a plain box without decoration, decals, interior detail, or even instructions. The idea would be to contact the after-market decal and resin detail producers well

before product release to allow them enough lead-time to make the necessary accessories to complete the model. The incentive for you is that you spend less money and time on development. The incentive for the modeller is that they spend less on the basic kit, freeing up more funds for the after-market detail parts and buying...more of your kits!

A note for some resin kit producers: stop blowing the price of your kits out of the water with solid resin major components! Tyres yes, but to make fuselages and wings solid is such a waste. Resin is very expensive. Minimise its utilisation: make hollow parts. Czechmaster and Aires are perfect examples of how to use resin effectively.

We encourage manufacturers of figures and vehicles to be specific about the scale they are working in; to work to one constant scale. If you work in both 1/72 and 1/76, keep the product lines distinctly separate, and make sure the labelling is clear as to what the scale truly is. Avoid the temptation to 'fudge' the scale and label 1/76 as 1/72: this is unethical and misleading, and it is very frustating to the modeller and collector to find that what they have bought is not what they expected. There IS a difference between the two scales: try sitting models of an identical tank in the two scales side by side and see how much of a difference there is. The only reason modellers cross scales is because they are forced to do so to complete a collection, not because they don't care or can't tell the difference. If you are a new manufacturer who is thinking of getting into this field, produce in 1/72, because it is more popular. Your range will be more compatible. 1/76 is becoming a dead evolutionary branch, now only used by wargamers and some train modellers, whereas 1/72 is actually expanding into new areas, such as radio control, and becoming ever more universal.

We encourage ship kit producers to forge ahead in 1/72. There is still only a relatively small range, but popularity is growing. The scale lends itself well to R/C, so you would effectively be able to cover 2 markets. The advantage of working to this scale is that there is no need to produce the accompanying aircraft; they already exist in kit form.

Specific model release requests:
Click on the buttons to view lists of what modellers are specifically requesting to be released...
Models from TV and film, anything not real.
People and animals from all eras.

since 22/05/03, last updated 09/08/04.

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