I have just returned from visiting the Copperfox Factory in China, and WOW, what an experience! It was a-m-a-z-i-n-g, if not extremely surreal seeing the models in production and just *there*. I've visited all the factorie's of the major model horse manufacturers so i knew what to expect but seeing your own models in a factory environment was quite a moment, especially when I've seen each model come to life from an idea on paper to full scale production as something you can see, hold and feel.
Overall, my visit was a roaring success. The models are being very well behaved and look wonderful. They are in production at the moment and being prepared for their upcoming trip by snuggling into their cosy boxes. One model might miss the first couple of tour stops, she wasn't quite right, but she will join the rest of the herd eventually. I'll explain more when we unveil details of when the models will be available and all those bits and bobs.
Being at the factory enabled me to take pictures and videos so I can show you exactly how the models are made, from start to finish, and it's a process that is very hands-on. When you think plastic model horses it's easy to think everything is automated and machine done but in our case it's completely the opposite. Whilst the models require a machine to create them (there is no other way), the rest of the magic is done completely by hand.
So, I thought you would like to discover more about each process or steps that each model goes through. A quick fun fact is that a Copperfox Model Horse goes through 20 different stages from start to finish- and I lost count of the number of times a different person handled one model!
Part 1: Injection Moulding
Each model starts life as plastic, which doesn't sound very glamorous, but it's a fantastic material to work with. Model horses come in a variety of mediums but the one that is the most durable and price competitive is plastic. We could use resin, china or a mix of everything, but plastic is the one that ticks the most boxes for what we want to use it for- for example it's ability to capture depth of details and have a delicate feel. Using materials like resin or china would affect the cost per model, which at the end of the day is important, aswell as change the way the models are painted, handled and the actual production process.
To create a plastic model, you require a metal mould or tool as it's more commonly known. Tools are extremely heavy and expensive. Theyare made of metal as they need to be strong enough to withstand the pressure they are put under to create the models. This picture shows all Copperfoxes tools and the tall one is the mould for the Irish Sports Horse model (or King horse as it's nicknamed at the factory). You can see the size of it compared to Tony, our close friend and contact in China. The tool weighs a whopping 1.5 tons, so no quickly picking it up and slinging it over your shoulder!!
Once you have a tool, you need a machine to inject the plastic into the tool (or mould). It's a bit like creating a plaster of paris model as a child, although on a slightly bigger scale. Hot molten plastic is injected into the tool by a injection moulding machine under pressure. This little video below shows the machine in action, with a "hot off the press" Exmoor Pony model popping out at the end.
Once the model comes out of the machine, it's still very hot. A bit like how candle wax is still hot until it sets and cools. Whilst the models are still warm, they are trimmed and roughly assembled, being held together with elastic bands while they cool down. I know what your thinking, elastic bands are a bit primitive, but sometimes the easy options are the best ones!!
The below image is quite interesting (well, i think anyway). This model was literally minutes old and I loved seeing the patterns the plastic made on the models surface, the swirls and whirls. These effects will be sanded off during the polishing process or covered in paint when they get their clothes on, but it's fun to see where a model starts and where it finishes. Excuse the Copper nails!! :-)
Once the models are moulded and cooled, they are checked for any deformities like standing wonky or curling plastic edges. Even with their rubber bands on, the edges of the models can still move and so there is room for things to juggle and wander around at this stage. There is no guarantee that every horse that is moulded is perfect too, so even at this stage there is lots of things that can go wrong. Who said that creating model horses was easy, and we're only on step 1?!
The next stage after moulding is putting the model together. Stay tuned for another post- and video!