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Keeping you in the picture with Chris' Briefs!
This is the first in a series of briefs which will hopefully keep you in the picture with all things related to Kernow Model Rail Centre. It won't be every week, or even at set intervals, but just whenever I think there is something that needs to be said! As an aside, it has taken longer to decide if it should be Chris's Briefs or Chris' Briefs than it has taken to write the rest of the brief! Having decided that both are correct, I have opted for Chris' Briefs because it is one less character to type...
I hope that you find it informative and useful - to let me know what you think there is a dedicated email address at the end of the brief.
To announce or not to announce! (First published 5th September 2014)
At what stage should you announce your plans to produce a particular model? This is something which is always difficult to get right. Too early and you will get lots of moans about delays and how long it takes to produce models. Too late and you can find someone beats you to it, which is especially frustrating when you know how much work you have done.
Before I delve deeper into this, perhaps it is worth explaining the several stages I go through to produce a model.
At some point the initial idea presents itself. This can be through customer suggestions, staff suggestions, reading a book, needing one for my layout, visit to a heritage railway, a dream in the middle of the night...
Any fans of Father Ted will no doubt remember when Dougal and Ted are discussing how the Holy Stone of Clonrichert was selected to be upgraded from a Class 3 to a Class 2 relic. Ted explains how it would be a complicated process depending how many miracles could be attributed and other requirements. The camera then cuts away to the Vatican to show several bishops lounging around and one of them sticks a pin randomly in a map and says "Holy Stone of Clonrichert"! That is much more similar to how I pick a model!
Having got an idea some initial research is then needed to see if there is a decent variety of liveries, how many variations may be needed on the tool, how many of the prototype were there, do any exist to measure or scan, geographical area, historical documents, photos etc.
At any one time I may have around 20 of these models in various vague states of planning and the list can change quite a bit as other announcements are made by other companies, but at some stage I have enough information to move a project on.
More research is now needed to work up a decent specification to present to the factory. This has to include sufficient detail to allow them to provide the quote for the model. At this stage I need to know exactly how many variations there will be in the tool, but I don't need the exact size and shape of every widget. Just as long as the factory know exactly what they are going to need to design in and produce we can get a pretty good idea of costs between us.
More detailed research
Much more information is now required to allow actual design work to commence. Every single widget needs to be measured for size, details and position, and then recorded in a format that the factory can use. A laser scan at this stage is invaluable! You can never have too many photographs for reference and finding someone who knows the subject in depth is also hugely beneficial.
With the full package of information sent to the factory work commences on the cad. There can be many iterations of each cad, every one of which has to be thoroughly checked. Inevitably new information comes to light throughout this process and this needs to be incorporated. Clarifications of a particular widget may be required - for example early in the O2 design a strange shape appeared on the cad and it took some time to rumble that it was actually a large fire iron that had been left lying on one of the water tanks and subsequently laser scanned! Our early Thumper cad was so accurate it even featured bodyside ripples and rust patches!
Once the cads are signed off as complete tooling can begin. This will result on Engineering Prototype 1 which is the first test shot from the tooling. If you have missed anything on the cad it is very expensive to start making changes at this stage! The first test shot is to prove all the parts fit together and that the model will run. It will still be quite a rough model and small details will not yet be fitted. Once this has been approved Engineering Prototype 2 will arrive and this should have all fine details added and every rivet in place. It is even more expensive to mess about with anything at this stage - you really do need to have everything sorted by the end of the design stage!
Once the tooling is signed off decorated samples will be supplied. These will be based on the research supplied early on in the project. There may be several iterations of this as even exact colour matches can look wrong on a model. The finish also needs to be checked to ensure nothing looks too plastic or too dull for example.
Once the livery samples have been approved then the model is ready for production. It is only at this stage that you can give a delivery date with relative certainty!
The above process can take anything up to two years from start to finish. You could speed this up by not bothering with all of the research and you could save money by not bothering with the variations. I have never taken either of these options as I would not be happy with the final model, so it takes as long as it takes to get it right.
Going back to my original question - to announce or not to announce? What is the best stage in the above process to announce a model?
Initial Thoughts stage is obviously too early - I would have a huge list of models announced and then pulled which would do nothing for our reputation!
Initial Research is also too early, as is Detailed Research. It would be nice to announce a model at this stage but you cannot know what running numbers, liveries or prices you will do at this stage, so it would not be much of an announcement even if it would potentially avoid duplication.
More Detailed Research is generally the point at which I announce our models. At this stage we have accurate costings, details of our proposed liveries and running numbers, but it is still early enough for any changes which may be required to be incorporated without a cost penalty. No matter how much information you have you will always discover something new! You can also start to judge the quantity of models to produce in each livery as orders start to come in.
Design is getting a bit late in the day to announce a model. You have already committed a substantial sum of money at this stage and there is no chance to recover any of this if you have to abandon the project.
Tooling is so late in the day it is almost tomorrow! Proper serious cash has been committed by now.
Livery Samples - you would need balls of steel to leave it this late! If this is your first exposure to the public it would be a disaster to discover someone pointing out a major flaw you have overlooked or discovering that nobody wants the model in unlined pink that you thought was the banker of the production run!
Production - Only a seriously large player like Hornby or Bachmann could leave it as late as the model being on the water before announcing it and even they have only done this on a handful of models which shows how risky this can be, although those few models certainly generated a buzz when they arrived!
To date every model we have produced as been announced at the More Detailed Research stage. There is one exception in that we have dropped some teasers about another model that is actually well into the design stage, so I really must get on and announce that model...
I suspect some other parties may well announce their models much earlier in the process than we do. As an example we were ready to announce the 1366 GWR Pannier Tank at Alexandra Palace early this year. We were already at the More Detailed Research stage in the Summer last year but as all our models had been delayed by the impasse at Dapol and our new arrangements were only just being negotiated I thought that Warley was a good time to announce these new arrangements and that adding a new model at that stage would not be credible. In the event Heljan announced the 1366 just before Warley so even though I was well advanced with our model I chose to drop this and move on to the 1361 instead to avoid duplication. The Great Western Society at Didcot already knew of our plans and were more than happy when we said we would be bringing the model forward and we arranged our visit for February this year. I was planning to make this our big Warley announcement even though by that stage we would be well into the design stage and probably ready to start tooling. Subsequently the O2, Gate Stock, unannounced wagon, PBA Tiger and D600 progressed so rapidly that the factory was chasing new models to design! I set them lose on the 1361 and decided to announce it in our newsletter in August as this is traditionally a quiet time. How wrong that has proved to be - has there ever been more announcements in August than this year!
Public perception appears to be that he who announces first already has a victory, but I hope that the above shows that there is much more to it than this. If a model is announced with virtually no supporting information I would suspect that the model is at a very early stage in the process.
What do you think? Get in touch with your thoughts, suggestions for future briefs, suggestions for future models!
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