Frank Angstead of Intermountain has written an open letter to customers to try and clarify and explain how production of model railroad products has changed in the last 10 years. Why? Well, we’ve seen a lot of product announcements from a variety of manufacturers where the actual delivery time of the product is at least a year out or more. As modelers and customers, we get excited about new products, especially with the detail levels, DCC, sound, paint quality and numerous roads and numbers being produced. But when 1-3 years pass from the time a model is announced and it finally reaches our hands, it is easy to understand how frustration sets in. Add in the mix of  manufacturers producing products that we may want and that’s a lot of anticipation for models that often see big delays or even cancellations.

For companies like Kato, which typically only produce one or two road numbers for a given locomotive (and usually of a very popular prototype), the production run projections can be easier and the model gets put into production before the model is even announced. For Kato that means the announcement of the product can be timed to coincide with the launch and the time to market is much quicker. But for companies like Atlas and Intermountain which typically produce a large number of different roads, unit numbers and some of the rarer prototypes, the production numbers are much tougher (especially in N scale) to figure out. The idea of “pre-ordering” product is a great way for a manufacturer to gauge potential production numbers, but there are a number of people that don’t like the idea of reserving a product sight unseen – which is understandable.  Manufacturing is a business and the tooling these days of a single locomotive can push into the $100,000 range. Some road names of certain locomotives may sell less than 50 on a single production run. The manufacturer needs to sell a lot more than 50 to break even, let alone make a little money on the project. So they produce a variety of paint schemes and road numbers to try and maximize the investment. On a locomotive like the SD40-2, it is a lot easier to produce a profitable project since there were thousands of these locomotives in service on a vast number of railroads. But it would be virtually impossible to produce an SDL39 model (of which only 10 of the prototype were ever made) and hope to sell enough to cover production and tooling costs.

Add in the steady march of increasingly higher levels of detail, individual grab irons, DCC and even sound in N scale and it is easy to see why these models are getting more complex, complicated and expensive to produce. Production on a lot of these models moves to far away countries to try and keep the price in check despite the customer’s ever increasing expectation for detail and features. As consumers we’ve gotten used to having a lot of consumer products that are quite frankly inexpensive for what you get. Yes, in many cases quality isn’t what it used to be, but prices have remained flat on a lot of general consumer products despite increasing technology and features. If that’s the customer’s expectation, then the constant push to keep pricing in check means finding cheaper places to produce the products. Cheaper production can also mean less skilled labor or labor that needs to be trained to make something they haven’t produced before. That in turn means growing pains and can manifest itself in products with issues and problems. It is all a bit of a vicious cycle that doesn’t have an easy solution. Consumers make demands or have expectations and companies have to adapt while trying to stay profitable.

Franks letter below explains Intermountain’s position in all this and how they will attempt to label the status of various projects so that expectations can be adjusted better for customers. This transparency isn’t always common in manufacturing and I think Frank and Co. at Intermountain are genuinely good guys with passion for what they do. More importantly, they want customers to be happy. Hopefully their new system helps to clarify things in the future.

You can find Intermountain’s latest N scale production schedule online HERE.

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