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Model Rail Forum recently met up with George Smith, the
General Manager of Dapol. With Dapol flying the flag for British model railway
manufacturing, their recent introduction of an N gauge range of locomotives
and rolling stock has been very well received. George was happy to talk
about the development of the N gauge range and future plans for Dapol.


Interview by
Gary Leigh
December 2005


Dapol have made a big move into N gauge and modellers have welcomed this.
Have you anything interesting to say about your locomotives?
When we decided to enter the N
gauge market we had an advantage; it was that nobody within the company had
ever made or even had experience in the 1:148 scale. Therefore we were in
total control of our own destiny. There was nobody who could say "you can't
do that" or "we tried that in 1982 and it didn't work". We didn't know that
you shouldn't be able to put individual metal pipes around the body of a
14xx. We just did it and, when the model was released and customers
started to say "you have moved the boundaries of N gauge" we didn't know how
to respond - because we didn't know that there were any 'boundaries'. I
always remember my old university lecturer telling me "never believe
anything anybody tells you until you have checked it yourself" and this is
exactly what I did with our products. For instance at the start of the
project everyone was telling us "you must always use 5 pole motors". My
response was "Why?".

I toured around as many motor manufacturers as possible with a specification
sheet and 3 facts became clear; 1) Motor technology was a constantly
changing marketplace. 2) Motors were only as good as the gearing used to
transmit the power to the wheels. 3) To go 'small' you had to embrace new
products. So, when we made our 14xx locomotive we used a Mabuchi 'Can'
micro-motor that they actually specify for the aerospace industry. To date,
having released over 9000 14xx models, we have had precisely 17 motor
failures! I even sent one to a customer who works in an engineering
department at Leicester University as he wanted to run checks on its
compatibility with DCC systems. He responded by saying that it "passed all
tests" and was fully compatible with DCC.

When we released our first 'modern image' loco, the class 73, everyone
commented about the quality of motor and smoothness of operation. Even the
guys who said "see, we told you that the motor had to be 5 pole" were
impressed. The remarkable thing was that we didn't use a 5 pole motor! We
used a low-torque 3 pole motor through high specification gearboxes.
Q.E.D.


In terms of the chassis we made one clear decision. We would make the
smallest we could and, if it was workable, then everything else (being
bigger) would be achievable. We actually started with a 0-4-0 Pug but
we found that the wheelbase was about 1.5mm too small to bridge the frog at
points and therefore it was subject to an unacceptable power loss. The next
was the 0-4-2 14xx and the rest, as they say, is history. It was easy to
then make our 0-6-0 45xx and the recently released 0-4-4 M7 was a natural
progression. The Ivatt Tank that we will release at Warley 2006 will
eventually be modified into the Loco + Tender version and which will then
give us enough knowledge to develop a whole range of 'Tender' locomotives.

However, and for the record, it is our policy NOT to remake any locomotive
that is or has been available within the N gauge market.
And
your N gauge coaches?
We
wanted to offer something different that would provide modellers with
flexibility. Dapol coaches are easily disassembled and this permits
modellers to modify them in any way they want. This was a design decision
that we made. The roof is a loose fit and the glazing and bogies are easily
removed leaving just the coach body. Our new Collett coaches have been well
received and are a nice match for the new Peco Collett loco due out in 2006.
We have already announced that Stanier Coaches will be released at Warley
2006.
And
your N gauge wagons?
The
range of Dapol wagons currently offered is a very good match for our
locomotives. At Warley we announced 4 brand new wagons for the 2006 period.
Again the new wagons recently released have been well received and we are in
now in a position to offer limited edition wagons to N gauge modellers. If
anybody reading this has an idea for a limited edition private owner wagon
then they are welcome to contact Dapol and we can talk!


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What
about track and accessories. Do you see Dapol offering a complete package
for N gauge modellers?
It is
pointless duplicating the products of others as the N gauge market in the UK
is not yet large enough to support this. So the answer is nothing planned
yet!


Moving on to your kit range, which are the former Airfix and Kitmaster
products. Given that your kits are similar to those produced by those icons
of kit collectors are you surprised that Airfix and Kitmaster kits command
large premiums in the collector market when yours are readily available?

Collectors being collectors then the packaging probably has more value than
the contents. I would just remind those who remember Airfix and Kitmaster
kits that we do offer identical products and they are remarkable value! When
you think about it, it is remarkable that we still use the original tools.
Whilst we do constantly maintain and repair them it is always a surprise
when they keep on working! It just goes to show the quality of engineering
40+ years ago. One interesting thing to point out about our kit range is
that they are a "green" product. We have a plastic recycling facility at
Dapol and all plastic waste from our other products goes into our kits. The
kits are not colour critical but keen observers may have noted that the
shade does vary from batch to batch. Now you know why! Furthermore, and
going off at a tangent, we are proud to advise that Dapol operates a 100%
plastic usage policy and that nothing is thrown-away. Whenever we
have plastic that cannot be reused it is sent to a reprocessing plant near
Chester which makes the circular plastic tubes that surrounds newly-planted
trees.
Dapol
have built up a certain following for their limited edition wagons and you
have now extended the range of wagons that are available as subjects that
may be utilised. How is it that you enjoy the success with these that others
don’t?
Quite
simply, because we are based in the UK, we have total control over our
factory and the production. We are not limited by the need or demand for
say, minimum quantities of 500 ot 750 or even 1000 units like our
competitiors. Neither are we restricted by having a factory based in another
continent. We appreciate and understand the demands of the market and that
100 units is perfectly adequate for both customers and Dapol alike. The
policy clearly works due to the amount of product that passes through our
factory every week. Indeed, we even have a customer who makes very good
living out of selling nothing but Dapol limited edition wagons. He does
local research and each year offers around 16 limited edition wagons to his
customers that we produce for him. He has local knowledge of his region and
of the types of wagons that are of interest to his customers.

Anybody
(even Model Rail Forum!) can come to us and order a limited edition wagon.
Wagons have been produced as gifts for wedding parties and for corporate
events. We will provide an image that permits the customer to advertise the
wagon and take orders and 8-12 weeks after the order has been taken the
wagons are delivered to the customer. Normally the wagons are pretty much
sold out by the time the customer receives the order! If anybody wishes to
set up a business selling limited edition wagons relating to their region of
the country then we can certainly help with the supply of the wagons. What
we do not do is keep an official record of limited edition wagons made and
so we are unable to respond to requests for lists of these. Our website does
provide information relating to recent wagons that have been released or are
planned.


Following on from the Pendolino do you have any plans to extend the range of
OO gauge locomotive and DMU/EMU subjects?

Definitely not! The Pendolino was the right model at the right time and we
have learnt a lot from the production of this model. We may well make
another Pendolino batch but fellow OO gauge manufacturers can sleep easy at
night (for the moment)! We would prefer to commit future resources into N
gauge products.
How
do you react to the sort of feedback you see published on the Internet these
days?
Railway
modellers are getting exceptional value these days and if they understood
how much it costs to develop a new model and how Dapol have to compromise
with the materials that we are working with then it would be seen that we
are working miracles! If a new loco costs £100,000 to develop we have to
sell 10000 examples to recover £10 of the development cost across each loco.
And this is without production costs and packaging.

With N
gauge we have to consider such things as plastic thickness and even paint
thickness and whether to use plastic or metal for detailing parts and
how best to represent detail within a model and give it strength so that
modellers can remove a body without damaging it. We do the best job we can
with the materials that are available and the fact that 99.9% of our
customers purchase again and again suggests Dapol are doing something right!
As with
all businesses, you truly cannot please everybody all of the time and
sometimes, criticism for nothing more than criticism's sake does make
everybody feel 'down'. We really do try our best to make something that
gives pleasure to the buyer and we don't make products under a 'that's wrong
but let it go' policy. However you cannot loose sight of the fact that what
we make is 'The best possible representation' and NOT 'An exact copy'. As an
example, we recently released our Dogfish wagon. The top leading edge of the
body is actually 0.92mm wide. For it to be an exact 'copy' size it should be
0.28mm. However at 0.28mm the model looses its structure integrity and the
edge bends out of shape. We undertook extensive model tests and changes and
the size we now use is the absolute minimum that can be attained to produce
the model. Despite the model having probably the finest level of detail and
decoration and a maximum retail price of about £9.00 (without VAT) the
moaners have already started with "the top is not accurate". Come on guys,
give us a break! You will think nothing of going our for a curry that costs
you £10.00 and by the next morning is nothing more than indigestion, and yet
for about the same cost, something that will probably last you 20 years is
criticised.
How
do you determine the choice of liveries and subjects for your N gauge
locomotive models?

Basically we look for gaps in the market. The British outline market is not
yet a big market. It is much bigger in the USA and where runs of 10000
identical models will sell. If we did a run of 10000 models of an EWS Class
66 loco then 9000 would be left on the shelf. The ideal loco for a UK
outline model manufacturer is one that has lots of liveries and was produced
in large numbers. This lends itself to a number of limited production runs.
The Class 66 for example is an ideal loco and every Dapol model will have a
production run of just 250. As a manufacturer with a factory in Britain we
have the flexibility to do this.



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There
has been a lot of interest in your new 2006 catalogue. Can you deliver all
that you promise?
Yes! We
will deliver our new models on time and as scheduled in our catalogue. This
is the benefit of manufacturing in the UK. I believe we are the only one of
the big manufacturer who can promise this. This enables our customers to
plan their spending throughout the year.
The
other thing we can do when we produce the new catalogue is announce that we
will be producing a series of similar wagons with different numbers. This
means that Dapol customers know in advance that they can build up a rake of
wagons all with different numbers and they can be ordered in advance and
they will be delivered on time.
And
finally, what happened to all the Doctor Who props that you had?
The BBC
owned the props and Dapol had a licence to utilise them until 2000. They
have all been returned to the BBC. Whilst accepting that Doctor Who is again
very popular and filmed in Wales, railway modellers can be certain that
Dapol, in future, will be focusing on model railways and not Daleks!

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The Dapol 10th Edition Catalogue 2006, presenting
current and future products, is now available from Dapol and authorised
Dapol stockists. Click the link below to visit the Dapol website and order
one. It is free!




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[TD] [/TD]
 

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