The process in producing a Ready-To Run model and assisting manufacturers – A comment piece

As regular readers of my blog will I know I often assist a number of the model manufacturers and commissioners with support, advice and research in conjunction to models that they are in the process of developing. This post is a ‘comment piece’ and my own opinions on aspects of the process to producing a Ready-To-Run (RTR) model and I apologise in advanced for it ending up a little longer than I initially intended…

My own involvement varies from sometimes providing the initial idea, research and concepts, providing information from my own collection of drawings, documents and other reference material, checking drawings / CADs and perhaps checking livery samples etc. My involvement also varies depending on the manufacturer or commissioner involved as each has their own resources either full time employed, sub contract (sometimes off shore) or part time as they endeavour to run their own business.

I am not always at liberty or indeed willing to divulge or publish such intent, discussions, details and or CADs etc. as this is often of course commercially sensitive information; also with some manufacturers I have formal non-disclosure agreements in place.

This is not a full time occupation for me as I as I have a full time proper job and so is carried out in what little spare time I have. I should also make it clear that I do not get directly paid for my involvement, as my main interest is support the production of Southern Railway / Region related models (even in scales in which I have no direct interest), however my involvement does sometimes lead to a benefit in kind to which I am of course grateful.

Often I will speak to others whom I know and trust, that are experts in a particular field, or put them in direct contact with the manufacturer concerned, to obtain further information and advice. Others often assist with constructive comments and advice once a project in the public domain and on the whole this is welcome.
Sometimes however certain individuals decide to be: less than constructive, cryptic, verging on the rude and insulting; and often this has led to them being ignored or even blocked from communicating (including by a number of the manufacturers / commissioners), as their sometimes combative style does not encourage further dialogue (which is often a shame as their direct input could perhaps be useful if they were prepared to be involved on sensible and civil terms), although in some cases this does not stop them from trying to voice their often cryptic opinions elsewhere.

The overall process includes some or all of these steps, all within the constraints of scale, gauge and mass production techniques, of which I may or may not be involved in one or more:
Initial research » concepts / proposal for costings » additional research » collation of available information » laser scanning of any available prototype »
initial basic design of the model (such as chassis, PCBs etc.) »
production of full design and CADs – 3D printed samples (to check initial designs for fit etc.) »
tooling » Engineering Prototype(s) (EPs) – tooling changes / modifications / corrections »
2nd or more EPs » testing » livery artwork » livery samples » packaging design »
production » and finally of course sale to the general public.

Manufacturers and commissioners must be expected at the end of the day make a return on the not insignificant investment. This hopefully will then encourage more such investment in the future.

Differences, sometimes mistakes, can occasionally creep into the process due to a number of reasons such as:
Changes and/or variations in the prototype from available drawings, mistakes in available drawings, alterations made during lifetime and also preservation (which needs to be noted when scanning is used), and/or variations within the same prototype(s) even with only a small number of original prototypes, and during different periods in their life. 
All of which have to be accounted for and sometimes compromises will have to be made to make producing a model costs effective. The collaborative approach hopefully limits the number of these items that go unnoticed or misinterpreted by any one individual.

This process can take anytime between 18 months or so to even four or more years depending on the particular manufacturer / commissioner concerned, the available resources (either in house or sub-contract, full or part time), the information available and/or due to unforeseen circumstances that can sometimes crop up along the way.

Whilst I agree that often the process does appear to take too long this is sometimes beyond the control of the manufacturer for a variety of reasons, some of which have been well documented over the last 5 years or so. In some case s however such intent to produce a certain model can be seen to be announced to early, although often a market force at the time dictates such a decision whether right or wrong. Such a stake in the ground, as we have seen in the last 12 months or so,  does not of course prevent possible duplication, especially where one party is already well down the development process detailed above. Any form of behind the scenes collusion between manufacturers would of course be illegal as being a restrictive practice under completion law. I would however prefer such announcements to be made in a timely manner when the initial work undertaken is at such a place to backed up with a realistic delivery intent.

I hope this comment piece gives an indication of the processes involved in getting a RTR model to market and long may we continue to see Southern related models being produced as accurately as possible. I certainly believe that it is a positive step taken by many of the manufacturers and commissioners over the last few to involve members of the wider modelling community. We cannot expect all those involved at such companies to be experts in everything, especially the larger manufactures that are producing a range of RTR models over a wide range genres and eras. I therefore maintain that the constructive involvement of any subject experts in the wider community should be a benefit to us all.

I realise that some of the content of this comment piece, and it just that, a comment piece and my own opinion and views, might not be welcome in some quarters but if the cap fits…

11 thoughts on “The process in producing a Ready-To Run model and assisting manufacturers – A comment piece”

  1. I think one of the sadnesses is the conservatism of model railway manufacturers just now. I know about Heljan with their Met Electric and L&B, they are the exception rather than the rule. It would have been nice if Oxford had attempted to “break the mould” by either going into 2 or 3 mm scales rather than the already overcrowded 4mm market. Perhaps they could have made a version of the MicroTrains coupler in 2mm/N gauge foe NEM sockets.

    Just a thought,

    Mike Beard

  2. mycroft212b – Historical Researcher, Writer, Sculptor Cooks a mean Curry Long Distance Cyclist Hard Boiled Cop [Once] Soft Boiled Egg [with soldiers please...]
    mycroft212b says:

    Thanks Graham,

    Similar to the processes I went through when working for Britains a decade and more ago!
    Many specialists I found were similarly prickly about having their conclusions challenged or refuted, especially it seemed if they were confronted by dated photographic evidence. A shame in many ways as they usually ‘went off with their ball’ and wouldn’t play anymore!

    Regards, Peter

  3. I am grateful to you for sharing some of what goes on behind the scenes. I am just delighted that we are getting such wonderful RTR models now. The part that you and others are playing in that is much appreciated. OK some have taken time but there is enjoyment in the expectation. I traded in my old white metal Black Motor at the weekend; absolutely no regrets – the Hornby models I have replaced it with are from a different world not just a different century.
    Whatever your specialisation there will be “experts” with different views. Just be glad you are not dealing with the economics of quitting the EU like me where it is said for every 3 economists there will be at least 4 views!

  4. * mycroft212b Similar to the processes I went through . . . . a decade and more ago! Many specialists I found were similarly prickly about having their conclusions challenged or refuted *
    This is most pertinent. As an accountant (and modeller), I offered a few notes on the financial aspects a while ago to a manufacturer of ‘Southern’ models, in a forum such as this. No acknowledgement, no feedback, personal or general. Disappointing. Perhaps they were well ahead of me, or just aghast at the concept of realism; who knows . . . ?
    My profession is known for pouring cold water on others’ passion for projects (never mind what I read re the Urie locos’ missing £27k) and the part you omit is the control of the finance for the project.
    I suspect, no more than that, one manufacturer may not profit from the introduction of a much-desired 4mm loco, when a main manufacturer (which has in the past caught a cold / influenza / pneumonia with its own products) introduces a duplication.
    We’ll never know the details, but good control says there will be general confidence in crowd-funding as a way of financing, dependent on setting a realistic level of expenditure that can be afforded if necessary to be written off following an abortive project.
    Ignore that latter point at your peril.

  5. Graham,

    No doubt you are aware in the past Colin Duff and I have assisted (separately or in collusion) manufacturers with prospective models but unfortunately found some difficult to deal with when trying to provide historical or technical support; choice of model /livery etc being strictly down to the manufacturer.

    As a consequence these days I limited any support to simply facilitating confidential introductions to industry; this being undertaken impartially and with the trust or both parties (as a consequence of my professional position).

    The only other area of support is to publish (along with lead author John Atkinson) the Southern Region multiple unit histories on http://www.BloodandCustard.com; some being undertaken following a specific request with a manufacturer being provided with advanced copies.

    The observant modellers will note some correlations exist between published histories and planned /proposed models although I have tried to avoid making this too obvious.

    Ultimately the objective is to place all the emu /demu histories on the web (the notes for all units have been written).

    Kind regards,

    Colin

  6. I think it’s important to see some of this from a manufacturers position. Imagine you are researching a prototype and suddenly find yourself faced with dozens of “experts” proffering advice at you. How do you know who to trust, especially when the “offers” are being shouted at you and the “experts” can’t always agree with each other?

    Those same “experts” will them post on forums as though the manufacturers haven’t talked to anyone and just imagined the model with no research. As Graham says, they all have a small group of people they trust and work with them. It’s the only practical way to operate.

  7. First of all may I thank you for you interesting posting (as all of them are) thank you also for “Flying the flag for the Southern Railway/Region on our behalf.
    Ian

  8. Well done all in expressing our gratitude to Graham and the others who contribute positively to encourage RTR manufacturers to produce our pet loves. I cannot possibly imagine the anxiety they all must feel from largest to smallest proposing a new prototype through to success (or failure) in the eventual market. Even as a Great Western man, I felt that this year’s Wish List survey omitted the blindingly obvious nominations for you Southern chaps, particularly a ‘Nelson’ unit (SR EMU Chassis + Maunsell bodies already produced) or a centre car for the Thumpers. Good to see a proposed Soton Docks diesel shunter, again not on the list..

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