MNL Celebrates 40 Years of Prototyping Innovation
In 1971 Rolls-Royce had just been nationalised, the NASDAQ stock market opened, the UK switched to a decimalised currency system and the USA was still sending men to the moon. It was also the year that Malcolm Nicholls started the product development and model making company that bears his name today, Malcolm Nicholls Limited (MNL).
Chromed SLS Taps
MNL Logo: The original Logo from 1971, illustrating the main types of model making work done at that time.
Quality Models Started From His Garage
Much has changed since Malcolm undertook his first solo project — a beer crate that was hand fabricated in his garage. Indeed, the product development and manufacturing sector itself is a very different place 40 years on with new technologies available, such as 3D printing and greatly improved materials with properties that would have been unimaginable in 1971. This milestone anniversary for MNL provides an excellent opportunity to look back at the developments within the company, to pinpoint special achievements and to identify the traditional values and service that have kept it at the forefront of product development activities for leading organisations around the world.
The single, most important factor that has remained constant from the very first project and in every project since is the production of quality prototypes and models. Whether for early concept proofs or fully functional prototypes, MNL supplies quality as standard and this has been key to the company’s success with repeat and new business. Growing from a one-man operation involved in traditional hand-crafted model-making into a team of skilled individuals utilising the latest advanced technology for some of the most exciting product development projects, quality standards have been at the heart of every project and is demanded of every new employee as they join the team. A family run business, MNL is a company that successfully fuses traditional values with new, cutting edge technologies to provide a professional prototyping service with a personal touch.
In terms of new technology MNL has always been at the vanguard in terms of appraisal and acquisition of the latest processes. MNL was the first UK-based company to invest in and utilise vacuum casting machines from MCP in 1989 [Even though they had been Vacuum Casting with their own manual Vacuum Chambers for 10 years already]. Similarly, the company was amongst the first to adopt the SLA 3D printing process (then called rapid prototyping) in 1996, followed soon after by the SLS 3D printing process in 2005. With superior expertise for maximising the potential of all of these processes, MNL is completely unbiased when it comes to process selection, and will choose the best process for the application at hand.
A look through the archives … A fascinating fact: MNL has been involved with the development of many of the products we see and use every day. This ‘Ruby’ anniversary is a great time to take a look back through the archives to select just a few of the most interesting and important highlights …
Sales Aids: Fully articulated scale models of anti-aircraft field guns.
1976 … • MNL was tasked by Oerlikon (Swiss arms manufacturer) to produce replica scaled down anti-aircraft guns for the Army and Navy. To be used as sales aides, the models were fully articulated and able to demonstrate the USP’s of the guns; namely the mobility and ease of deployment. Originally produced from brass, MNL devised vacuum casting techniques to help with lighter weight materials and higher volumes.
Lightweight Engine: allowing easier and cheaper transportation between shows
1978 … • MNL produced lightweight versions of full size engines for Rolls-Royce Diesel Engines, which allowed easier and cheaper transportation between shows than full production engines. The main part of the engines were manufactured using Aerolam (now known as Hexlite) with traditional model making techniques and silicone tooling. Components such as the pistons were produced using vacuum casting; even though machines were not in mass production at that time MNL devised their own to help produce low volume parts.
Walls Solero Shots
Noel Edmunds: MNL worked alongside the celebrity TV and Radio star
1981 … • Commissioned in 1981 to produce scale models of a revolutionary craft “Hydro-Wing”, MNL worked alongside celebrity TV and Radio star Noel Edmonds. MNL produced several models for publicity and wind-tunnel testing. A version of a wind-tunnel model can still be seen today at MNL’s offices in Bidford.
Walls Solero Shots
Luxury Yacht Cacique: model produced was nearly 6 foot long.
1986 … • MNL produced this fantastic 6 foot model for Terence Disdale Design in the early 80s. The actual superyacht was launched in 1986, giving its discerning owners accommodation for 10 lucky passengers and 13 crew.
Turtle Wax Air Freshener
Turtlewax Air Freshener: model was used for “copy milling” the production tooling.
Early 80’s … • MNL produced a “family” of Green turtles for the familiar Turtle Wax car air-freshener brand, all prototypes were handcrafted by MNL’s in-house model makers. Block models were then fully finished to a high gloss. A twice full size model was used for “copy milling” the production tooling.
Late 80’s … • MNL was approached by leading UK designers to help to produce concept models for the first ever clamshell mobile phone — from Motorola. The company was asked to provide models to help showcase the innovative new “flip” design, where the “mouthpiece” folded over the keypad. Client confidentiality was as strict then as it is today. No pictorial evidence exists of the models created then and all drawings were destroyed.
Myers Office Tidy
Myers Office Tidy: Fabricated entirely by hand by some of MNLs finest craftsmen
1980’s … • Fabricated entirely by hand by some of MNLs finest craftsmen this model, like so many produced for Myers during the 80s was photographed and published in sales catalogues way before production tooling was available.
Psion Series 3
Psion Series 3: CNC machining combined with model making were used extensively in the development of these sets of models.
1991 … • The Psion Series 3 was the first truly useful Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) made by Psion PLC. MNL produced aesthetic and functional models of this PDA during its development using CNC machining to profile ABS sheet ready for fabricating the model.
Walls Solero Shots
Iconic Buildings: Londons Gherkin and Wembley Arch.
2000 … • MNL has also built architectural models for some of the most iconic buildings in the UK including the Gherkin in Central London  and Wembley Stadium .
Walls Solero Shots
Drayton Manor Theme Park: A working model Carousel welcomes visitors to their new hotel.
Coming Full Circle … • Coming full circle in this 40th year for MNL, one of the company’s most recent projects was with the same company with which Malcolm started producing prototypes at the beginning. This project was the development of a scale model for a carousel at Drayton Manor Theme Park and the results speak for themselves. The theme for the carousel is a blend of the old and the new, a chord struck in parallel with the technologies used to create this magnificent attraction. This not only demonstrates MNL’s exceptional capabilities but also illustrates why companies that partner with MNL keep coming back for more.