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Legoburner goes to China - A Visit to Wargames Factory's... Factory  [RSS] Share on facebook Share on Twitter Submit to Reddit
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Made in gb
Decrepit Dakkanaut

London, UK

I was at gencon this year and I had a good chat with the nice people at the wargames factory booth. For those who dont know, Wargames Factory have a small company in the US but their main base of operations is in mainland China. My wife and I had a trip planned to Hong Kong in September and when I mentioned this to them, I was warmly invited to go and have a look around, take some photos and put it up here on Dakka.

As most people have noticed, Wargames Factory are handling quite a few projects at the moment, with Dreamforge being their flagship range for their quality and abilities.

So without further ado, here's how the trip went down, and here is how wargaming plastic sprues are manufactured:

Here is the ferry to China approaching while still in Hong Kong. Apologies for the lack of relevance to wargaming but I love that skyline so much I share it at any excuse I get Also proof that I braved a mainland Chinese ferry to get you this article!

After a ferry ride and then a silent car ride from a friendly person who spoke no English, I found myself here (apologies for the blur):

The factory is fairly large by wargaming standards. They have a large team of digital sculptors:

And a large team of tooling specialists (only some shown here):

I had to block out anything that was obvious to see as it was quite apparent what they were working on and I did not want to be unwittingly responsible for any spoilers.

The above shows the basic process - a model is sculpted digitally (either in house or externally), or is sculpted organically and then scanned and cleaned up. Next, the model must be cut up into parts that can be made in a 2 part tool. A tool consists of two halves which must pull apart easily, so if you have any undercuts it will simply jam or shred the plastic inside when you try to open it up. The most complicated bit of any wargaming model design is getting those undercuts handled and it is why plastic sculptors have such a slow turnaround relative to resin or PVC sculpts. Once the model is sculpted and split into parts, it then has to be laid out on a sprue. A sprue must be balanced so that when liquid (hot!) plastic flows into it, it flows evenly and pushes out all of the air.

Once the layout has been designed, it is time to cut into large chunks of Steel or Aluminium. A single tool is good for 50,000-500,000 shots, so once you've made it, it will last a very very long time.

Here's some of the equipment used for cutting and some cutting in progress on various types of machines (blurry to protect IP):

You can cut by milling out the metal (as the above pictures show) or by using electrodes which burn into the steel, giving much more detail but requiring more cleanup after tooling and a more complicated setup. Most people use a combination of the two but Wargames Factory try to focus on milling due to the higher overall quality you get as a result of it. The metal has to be perfect quality or you end up with strange things happening like bubbles and burned out areas, so the raw material costs for the metal are very high.

Here's some post-machine cleanup in progress:

And here are some of the tools that they have made to date. You can see both halves of a tool quite clearly and Dreamforge's stuff is in there somewhere too:

Once a tool has been made, tested, adjusted and tested some more, it is ready for use. All you need for that are some plastic injection moulding machines of which Wargames Factory has a decent number and range. They look like this:

Simply insert the tool, get the technician to operate the machine and out pops perfect sprue after sprue after sprue. Once you have them, time for packaging and shipping which looks like this:

Wargames Factory kindly bought me lunch at a tasty local Chinese place, then we spoke about wargames and the community for a good deal of the day. I missed the last Ferry back to Hong Kong so we ate at a nice Italian restaurant and then I was driven all the way back to the border. Thanks very much to my kind hosts for a real experience - it was amazing being able to see a functional factory in the workshop of the world and is an experience that I'll be able to refer to for my whole life as I was fortunate to be in the right time and place to witness a little bit of China's continual industrialisation first hand.

I thought I'd take a moment to outline plastics in a bit more detail as well, as we often see people on here getting very confused and a single accurate point of reference would probably be quite useful. I've spoken to a lot of people in the industry and any numbers I quote are generalisations, not the prices for any specific manufacturers, including Wargames Factory.

The headline figure that most people talk about is how GW sell a $40 boxed set which has about 50c worth of plastic in it, so I thought it would be helpful to break that cost down a bit. An average plastic tool for a single wargaming infantry sprue runs $8,000-$17,500 (depending on detail, bits, etc). Sculpting for plastic on top of that is expensive due to the highly qualified people needed, often salaried, but more often outsourced for thousands of dollars per model. Manufacturing requires either heavy equipment and all the costs that go with it, or you have to outsource it to someone who takes their cut. As such, price per sprue can be anything from $0.80 - $3.50. Add on shipping, marketing, warehousing, distribution and retail costs, etc and that $40 gets cut down very quickly, even if the raw material price is pennies per sprue. Typically 5000+ copies of a sprue have to be sold just to break even. Beyond that things become quite profitable quite quickly, but it is a massive gamble for non-GW wargaming companies (like mantic and hawk wargames) to take so we should certainly support those who take the risks and be thankful to kickstarter for enabling so many companies to take a chance where before they would have only been able to dream about it.

People also quibble a lot about materials these days as there are so many options out there, so here are the main ones:

Plastic - Polysterene is the stuff that Games Workshop use on their sprues, specifically HIPS. This is the only type of plastic that can be glued by plastic glue (polysterene cement).

Plastic - Restic/PVC - This is the stuff that CMON, PP, Mantic, Fantasy Flight (X-Wing) and many others are using as a plastic on a lot of their stuff. Technically it is plastic, but it is not the same that we are used to with sprues. The detail tends to be a bit softer as the material shrinks a lot when it sets, warping sharp edges on things like weapons and bending staffs and swords if it dries at an uneven pace. Cleaning up mould lines can be tough. There are chemicals that will clean mould lines but they give off poison fumes so are not readily recommended by companies that use it.

Plastic - ABS - This is what Lego use for their plastic. I've not seen it used on any wargaming models that I can think of, but some model tanks and similar use it.

Resin - There are a huge variety of resins and even more ways to create things with them. They are usually more brittle than other materials, require competent casters to prevent bubbles and issues, and have a very high per-model cost with moulds decaying over as few as 100 models or so, leading to high moulding costs. Most resins shrink a little when setting as well, but by much less than PVC. A single resin model can cost as much as $7-8 to produce.

Metal - There are lots of metals in use as well, typically tin or pewter alloys, with lead being used back in the day and by some small producers still. Metal can be tough to clean but is easier than resin to work with. The raw material cost can be higher than most resin so it has been phased out by most producers. Metal shrinks a bit when setting as well. Final detail is typically less than resin due to shrinkage but better than PVC.

I hope the above has been interesting and informative and thanks again for the tour of Wargames Factory!

Check out our new, fully plastic tabletop wargame - Maelstrom's Edge, made by Dakka!
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Ollanius Pius - Savior of the Emperor

Gathering the Informations.

That's really cool Lego. Thanks for sharing!

Also that skyline is magnificent.
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Badass "Sister Sin"

Camas, WA

Great post!

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Otiose in a Niche

Hyderabad, India

Great post, thanks!

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Confessor Of Sins


This setup is quite high-tech and clean.

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Old Sourpuss

Lakewood, Ohio

In regards to the ABS plastic that Lego are made from I believe (I believe) that some of the talks that Wyrd were doing involved them settling on that type of plastic for their plastic models.

Fantastic writeup Lego! It was really cool seeing WGF 'in the flesh'


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Decrepit Dakkanaut

London, UK

Wyrd's stuff is Polystyrene for sure - I saw and handled it at gencon.

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Old Sourpuss

Lakewood, Ohio

 legoburner wrote:
Wyrd's stuff is Polystyrene for sure - I saw and handled it at gencon.

I know, experience wants me to say that as well (as I own quite a few wyrd plastics), but I'm trying to remember where I read what plastics they said they used. EricJ over on Wyrd's forums has a breakdown of the plastics in the business and which ones they were looking at.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2013/09/16 16:13:49


Ask me about Brushfire or Endless: Fantasy Tactics 
Made in us
Bounding Assault Marine


Thank you for the post. Also, the skyline is pretty good, but that ferry is more impressive to me.

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Huge Hierodule

North Bay, CA

Excellent post. Quite informative and interesting.

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Hurr! Ogryn Bone 'Ead!

Great post and I loved the facts!
Thanks for sharing!

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Regular Dakkanaut

Washington State

That was excellent and answered many of my questions.

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Agile Revenant Titan

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Awesome article, thanks for sharing, very informative! Sounds like your hosts were very nice indeed. At the risk of sounding corny, it's always good to see such kindness in the world.


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Shas'ui with Bonding Knife

Toronto, Canada

The points in the article are one of the main reasons I don't complain too much about pricing (even if GW is well established and has high profit margins).

Too many people out there think you just buy a machine, push a button and marines start spewing out.

Calibrating these machines and managing miscasts can be a nightmare for any miniature company.

- Thanks for sharing

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2013/09/16 16:51:50

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Blood-Raging Khorne Berserker

Los Angeles

Wow, this is great. Thanks a lot for sharing.

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Dankhold Troggoth

Shadeglass Maze

This was fantastic and informative, thanks lego!! Exalted
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Very interesting, thanks for posting! Complex looking equipment, looks like they are making Terminator T-800 CPUs in the one shot!

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So, they didn't show or tell you anything that would then force them to kill you, so that's good!

Thanks for sharing!

Made in gb
Wrathful Warlord Titan Commander

Ramsden Heath, Essex

 Alpharius wrote:
So, they didn't show or tell you anything that would then force them to kill you, so that's good!

Thanks for sharing!

Or they tried and couldn't defeat him.......ergo the midnight flit to the border.

A most excellent report/piece of espionaging. Thanks for sharing Lego.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2013/09/16 18:12:12

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Nice article.

2012- stopped caring
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Longtime Dakkanaut

44.328850 / -73.110190

Very informative, thank you for posting that. It offered me a much different (i.e. educated) perspective on pricing based on design / manufacturing / distro. I'll never be 'happy' about shelling out (insert retail price here) but at least I know a reasonable amount of the purchase price makes into the pocket of people doing the grunt work.

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Thermo-Optical Spekter


That was quite interesting, thanks for that.
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Painting Within the Lines

Enjoyable read, thanks for posting and sharing the pictures.

I would love to know more about the business side of things as to what goes into determining choice of materials. I can assume it factors in sales volume, but it's interesting to say the least.

Made in us
Longtime Dakkanaut

Underneath the factory I imagine it went a lot like this

My Armies:

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Infiltrating Prowler

Thanks for the report Legoburner! Take it you were in Canton then? Was in Hong Kong over a decade ago with a friend who grew up there and we traveled to Canton which was across the bay on that type of ferry. Very cool and fast ride.

Very impressed with what I have heard and seen about WGF since it was taken over by the owner of the Chinese factory. It's clear he sees the value in the market and while a niche, it can be a profitable niche. Looks like they will be the go to manufacturer for any small company wanting plastic figs.

Also thanks for the cost breakdown for of the sprues. Having to sell 5000+ copies of a sprue is not really easy for a lot of companies. Heck, some of the numbers from the CHS lawsuit showed GW doesn't even sell 5000+ units for some of their Fantasy kits.

*edit* Just curious, did you have your digital camera checked when you came and went from the country? At a previous company I worked for, we were forbidden from bring and digital items (cameras, phones, laptops) with us to China for the fear of malware.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2013/09/16 18:31:15

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Last Remaining Whole C'Tan

Pleasant Valley, Iowa

Great post. I could read stuff like this all day.

There is a video here from the Proxie Models guy that shows you how the injection molding machine works:

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Infiltrating Prowler

Just wanted to add one more figure to the sprue calculation costs. Back in 2010, Poots of Kingdom Death posted to the Forthers United forum with some production questions. He let it be know he was paying his sculptors $1,000 to $2,000 a fig and a similar number for concept art. He was roundly mocked for that number and told he was being ripped off. Sadly, Forthers migrated to a new forum this year and the thread was lost.

Given Poots is now sitting on one of the most successful Tabletop kickstarters out there and is able to transition to Polysterene plastic, I would say the investments were worth it.
Made in us
Dakka Veteran

Awesome! Thank you for posting... almost feels like I was there and it is great to see some shots of the shop. FYI Poots was not exaggerating, when I shopped for digi sculptors to see if it was a viable option to pull in some help, I came back with $1500 to $2500 for a digital sculpt of a standard trooper model. I would hate to think what the bill would have been for something like my Leviathans or APC model.

Any resemblance of this post to written English is purely coincidental.

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Dankhold Troggoth

Shadeglass Maze

Lucky that you could do them yourself, then

Must be cool to see your own work in the factory like that! Now it just needs to make its' way from there into my hands
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Novice Knight Errant Pilot

Fantastic post!

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