Editorial: The next evolutionary step in scale modeling?
As technology advances throughout our lives, we see some amazing things now that weren't possible only a decade or so ago. From a scale modeling perspective, one of those technologies was slide molding. While slide molding has been around a while, the technology has finally become inexpensive enough for use in the production of injection molded model kits. Thanks to slide molding, kits now have details on surfaces around the edges of the molds that would not have been possible with older tooling technologies (remember the disappearing panel lines and details of 1/48 Monogram kits as they approach the edges of the fuselage halves?). Not only can we have nice surface detailing, we now also have hollow one-piece gun barrels and the ability to mold complex canopy shapes. Though some companies still don't use the technology, more new-tooled kits today are standing out with accurate shapes and details than ever before.
There have been interesting speculations about the next step in scale modeling, with one of the more interesting being the ability to buy a model from an online digital library and print it at home. While we are getting closer to that possibility, 3D printing still isn't ready for prime time given the issues between price of the printer versus print resolution, cost of materials, cost of CAD software, etc. Perhaps one day, but not for a while I suspect.
So what is the next step in scale modeling evolution? We saw a hint of it with Wingnut Wings' upcoming Lancaster kits that should rightfully concern its competitors - stressed skin. Stressed skin as well as 'oil canning' replicates the real appearance of the surfaces of metal aircraft. Look at the sides of a full-scale B-52, especially aroud the forward fuselage just ahead of the wings. The diagonal wrinkles are a good example of the oil canning effect on airframe structures that twist and bend repeatedly. You can also see vertical and horizontal lines of the stressed skin which usually appears along the panel lines and rivet lines holding the skin to the underlying structures. The Lancaster below also reveals the stressed skin effect which Wingnut Wings has nicely captured in their upcoming kits.
When I've talked about these effects with some model companies, they've said that replicating that effect wasn't possible/practical when developing the CAD designs that are machined into the molds. Well something has certainly changed since you can see in the CAD drawings of Wingnut Wings' Lancasters that they've indeed solved the stressed skin problem and that will be notable on contest tables when you see those kits parked next to the smooth-skinned HK Models' Lancasters.
While we're still several months away from the release of the Wingnut Wings Lancasters, you can see one of the first (if not THE first) production stress-skinned model kit right now with Airfix's 1/24 F6F-5 Hellcat. We'll be taking a much closer look at that kit in the next few days, but what we are seeing is the beginning of a new generation of model kits with higher fidelity surface detailing. The bar is raised for our expectations of kit accuracy with this new technology and those companies that make use of the technology. While there are limits to the effectiveness of such molded details in smaller scales, there are other subjects that usually don't show such stresses on their surfaces.
It will be interesting to see where this new kit design technology takes us going forward, but we're likely to see more subtle detailing appear in our kits that have been missing except from those built by the master modelers who replicate those details by hand.
Owner/Publisher, Cybermodeler Online