posted 08-17-2012 08:56 PM
About a year ago I went to local hobby store and met with the owner to discuss what it would take to produce the X-15 in 1:18th in China. They have a lot of kits, figures and other stuff made overseas so they really know the costs of everything from tooling to shipping.
They had recently started doing their tooling using CAD models instead of pantographing. A pantograph is a three dimensional milling machine that takes a large part and scales it down to something smaller, usually in ratios of 3:1 or 1.5:1, so if they wanted to make a 1/32 LEM using a 3:1 panto, the master pattern would need to be three times bigger than 1/32, or about 1/10.6667, fairly big and that also would need to be that big for each part not just the exterior in one piece.
Machining the tooling straight from CAD eliminates having to build the big 3D model but until recently the owner has been hesitant to use CAD. I've been using CAD for all of my models since 1997. My first project for NASA was a 1/8 X-33 model and to create it I had to use the CAD data they gave me, they really didn't want to make a bunch of big blueprints.
Fortunately I was already using CAD for some other projects but this was the first time I was supplied with data instead of creating it, which in itself created a new set of problems, the first getting a program that could read the files created by Skunkworks multimillion dollar CAD system. The second was learning it. I was able to do both without too much trouble and from then on CAD was used for every model I've built.
I showed my portfolio of NASA models and talked about overseas production. I also said if they ever needed someone to do CAD work, let me know, the only thing I had to work on at the time was the big X-15A-2 model. Several months went by when one day he asked me to come by the store, he needed a CAD model built for a small model they want to build. It was pretty easy and he was impressed with how fast I created it and it only cost him a model kit I had my eye on but no funds to buy.
I've helped them on some more kits and I asked him the other day about the possibility of doing the LEM. He told me that real space stuff actually sells pretty good, and his store carries a good selection of space kits and the pre-builts like the Dragon vehicles. What's also kind of cool is he frequently goes to China and knows everyone in the industry, and I mean everyone, like the owner of Tamiya.
I don't want to get everyone's hopes up like so many have done before me and even including me, but I think there's a good chance someone will be doing one soon. I'm hoping it could be him because if that happens I'd probably take the lead on the CAD work.
We talked a lot about the cost of tooling and it's actually a lot less than I imagined. The LEM however would still probably be fairly expensive, somewhere in the $200k-$250k range, but that would give you a pretty nice kit. I think the one big concern holding him and the other model companies from doing this is that there is a real worry that as soon as you start a kit, someone else is doing it at the same time. Even for Tamiya, this is a real concern.
So for a mid-size model company, a large capital layout is a pretty big step, especially now. And it takes years to recoup the investment, the payoff comes down the line when you're in your second run of kits and the profit margin is higher.
One thing that could be a real thing for getting this project done sooner rather than later is Kickstarter.com. It's a really interesting website that's perfect for a project like this. If there's enough interest here and in the other groups interested in real space models, I will put together a Kickstarter project and see where it goes, there's nothing to lose!