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Tech Talk: Model Shop & Appearance Prototypes

By <a href="" target="_self">Sarah Smith</a>

By Sarah Smith

Posted on June 13, 2023

TriMech Advanced Manufacturing services provides casting and 3D printing services to engineers and businesses. Their knowledgeable staff can help to guide you on what process and material is the right fit for your project, helping you to achieve success. Our team takes pride in creating accurate, well finished, and on-time parts, whether it be a single one-off custom piece or a run of 500 parts.

One service that TriMech offers that sets us apart from other 3D printing service bureaus is our incredible Model Shop. Today, we’ll speak with TriMech’s Model Shop Manager, Rob Giese, to get an in-depth overview of our capabilities, from finishing, painting, and other value-added services.

What does the model shop do? What services are offered?

We take 3D printed or cast urethane parts to the next level. Our team elevates parts beyond the raw engineering prototype stage. We achieve this in a variety of ways; we finish smooth, prime & paint, assemble if requested, install hardware such as brass inserts, and or modify for fit or weight. We work with our clients to get the best possible outcome for their project. This is where we put our years of expertise into play.

Custom Finished Prototype

Custom Finished Prototype

Why invest in a realistic prototype?

When it comes to display or prototype models, we make raw parts look like the real product. Our clients rely on us to take their detailed concepts and make them a reality. This enables them to show off their concept. From there they can pitch the concept to their client, use it on a photoshoot for advertising, or get design feedback from a focus group to ensure the product has market appeal before investing and moving into mass production. There is incredible value in having a realistic prototype in hand.

“A picture is worth a thousand words; a model is worth a thousand pictures”.

For certain clients with lower run production jobs, the model shop is finishing and painting the actual parts that are sold to the end client. Our team takes great pride in their work, assuring that production specifications and attention to detail are being met.

3D printed and painted trophy

Custom Paint Finishing

What kind of equipment do you use?

For appearance models we generally start by hand sanding the parts, from heavy to light grit sandpaper and work our way to a smooth finish. Then we can spray an automotive grade or industrial grade primer as a first coat. From there we can layer the premium grade color paints and clear coats to match any desired finish, sheen, or texture. Upon request we custom match colors to supplied samples or swatches or use one of many standard color guides like Pantone, Federal Standard, RAL, and textures to match Mold-Tech. Decals and graphics can be added if needed to complete the look.

In the photo below, you’ll see a 3D printed model that was painted with a machined metal appearance finish. The paint and texture combination gives the illusion of a machined part, without the weight or machining. This application can be tremendously helpful for tradeshows and exhibits, where cutting additional weight is important.

Painted Part

Appearance Painted Part

For traditional fabrication of model parts, we use shop tools like a bench grinder, belt sander, drill press, lathe, and Bridgeport Milling Machine. For finishing of casting patterns, we use a combination of hand sanding and bead blasting to achieve the desired finish level. Everything we do is made to order, each job that passes through the model shop is a one-of-a-kind custom.

How many years of experience does the staff have on average?

This can vary greatly. Two of our model makers started as 3D technicians and were recruited for the model shop because they showed the qualities needed. They have learned from the senior model makers by on-the-job training and have an average of around 4 years and growing. The senior model makers have an remarkable 30 years of experience.

In the photo below, the team rallies around a large multi-assembly display prototype project.

TriMech Model Shop Team Members

TriMech Model Shop Team Members

What makes your shop unique?

A lot of our competitors don’t offer any finishing and painting at all. So just by having this option available to our clients makes our business unique. We attract and maintain finishing services on castings and 3D printed parts due to our expert finishing. In fact, our quality and attention to detail has pulled jobs from our competitors who were not meeting the client’s expectations.

Molded Blank Part

Molded Part Ready for Finishing

What types of clients use your services?

We have a wide range of clients that use our services. Traditionally our realistic prototype and trade show model clients were industrial designers for the consumer electronic, medical, and defense industries. Whereas our low run end-use production clients are contract manufacturers or direct manufacturers.

How many pieces are in a typical order?

One to one thousand, whatever the client’s need is.

How long are the lead-times?

The lead-times are project dependent. When you initiate a project by submitting a quote request, you’ll discuss when you need the parts in hand. Some of our painted engineering prototype parts are ready for next day shipping; some of our other projects that are high-volume production parts are shipped in ongoing batches each month over a span of years. The cost and quality of the job are reflected based on the urgency of the request.

Urethane-Casting Parts

Urethane-Casting Parts

Is there a benefit to printing and finishing parts on-site at one location?

Yes, I believe so. We give print orientation advice to the 3D printing team for ease of finishing, and feedback to the casting team to help improve success for each returning order. The teams work together to leverage each other’s strengths, which helps to keep the quality consistent or better than the prior job. But we do occasionally finish and paint parts sent in by our clients whether cast, 3DP, or injection molded.

With many technologies on-site we create prototypes that utilize multiple materials with varying characteristics. This way we can create robust durable housings, clear or tinted lens, and flexible over molds or features all on one prototype.

How do I place an order?

When you’re ready to request a quote, you can upload your files or contact the estimating team at to speak with one of experts about your project details.

Article by <a href="" target="_self">Sarah Smith</a>

Article by Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is a Hardware Products Marketing Specialist for the TriMech Advanced Manufacturing business