Sunday, 2 February 2014

Made in Malaysia: Battlefront Factory Tour

Hi all. I'm Rob's wife, Sierra, and he asked me to do a guest spot on his blog. I've been playing Flames of War for years and always noticed that the products are made in Malaysia. So, when I planned a return to Kuala Lumpur this year, I arranged with Battlefront to tour their manufacturing facility. I was interested to know about the journey of Flames of War items from factory to game table.

I arrived at the factory in Shah Alam, just outside of Kuala Lumpur and spent about an hour with Jeff and crew as their first guest from the general public.
This plain door hides wonderful treasures within
Mat salleh is a Malay term used to describe a person of European decent.
Originally from Ohio, Jeff  has been running the facility in Malaysia for 7 years,
since it's relocation from New Zealand
General Manager Jeff Brooks and his associate Khairul gave me a very interesting tour. Jeff is a fanatical hobbyist and his enthusiasm for the industry really contributed to a great experience for me.
Some Dungeons and Dragons models 
One of the first things that I learned was that Battlefront manufactures more than the Flames of War line. Some of these I was already familiar with, some I was not:

  • Flames of War miniatures, maps, terrain, tokens, display plates, and templates
  • D&D miniatures (Battlefront has a Hasbro license)
  • Gale Force Nine modelling and gaming accessories
  • Spartacus board game
  • Firefly board game
  • Battlefield in a Box for both Flames of War and the Gothic line compatible with Warhammer 40k

They are also a third party distributor for Dust. They do not manufacture any of the items, but do inspect them. The rule books are printed elsewhere, as this facility is not setup for publishing.

The factory has the largest staff among the Battlefront locations, with roughly 100 staff. I was impressed to learn that the factory employs several hearing disabled women for work such as painting; approximately 20% of the staff. This makes Battlefront a popular local employer.

Metal Casting

Partial image of the vast mould library
All of battlefront's moulds and products are designed and made in-house. There is a huge mould library to house every model they have ever produced. The master moulds must be retained so that the moulds used in production are always referenced back to the originals. This ensures the models are consistently the same for each production run.
Circular one piece metal mould
Metal moulds are created as one circular piece so the end product has no seem lines and required no grinding. The metal moulds that Battlefront has designed also produce very little flash.
Spin casters use centrifugal force to create metal castings from a the mould
The mould is placed in the spin caster and then the metal casting material is poured into the mould. The centrifugal force of the spin caster forms and solidifies the item being manufactured. Air must escape during this process, and that is how flash (the extra material attached to a cast product that needs to be removed) is created. Battlefront's moulds are designed with small meandering channels throughout that let the air escape without creating a lot of flash for the end user to clean up. We really appreciate that, Battlefront!

Plastic Casting

The plastic models, introduced in July 2012 with the Panzer IV J Platoon, are cast in unbreakable silicone moulds. Silicone captures cleaner, finer details than the metal moulds and can even lift a fingerprint! The silicone moulding allows Battlefront to store their intellectual property digitally instead of relying on physical metal moulds.

The plastic resin is poured into the silicone mould so that the model is upside down. Since the silicone moulds don't break they can be used over again.
The plastic products are removed from the silicone moulds by peeling and twisting the mould itself away from the item cast within it. In this short video, I remove a German sd kfz 251/7d Pioneer from a silicone mould to illustrate how flexible and reusable this type of mould is.
The casting 'shelf' is removed before shipping
A grinding machine is used to remove the casting 'shelf'

When the model is removed, there is a bit of a 'shelf' at the bottom created from the casting process that must be removed. This is done with a grinding machine before submitting the model for final quality assurance.

The plan is to eventually move every product to plastic, however, the plastic models are not yet cost effective for mass production.  Since the silicone moulds are very expensive as opposed to the metal moulds, Battlefront must consider popular items to produce in plastic first, so they can recover the cost.

3D Printing
3d printing allows for rapid prototyping, but is not cost effective for mass production yet. Battlefront has experimented by designing a prototype type using a 3D printer, instead of sculpting it per their normal method of operation. Unfortunately, 3d printing cannot yet capture the details that a silicone mould can.

ID Boards
ID boards for some of the FoW tokens and dice sets
ID board for the BTR-50PK Vietnam era tank
 ID boards for all of the items manufactured here are located throughout the facility and are used to identify which items belong together. Staff refer to the boards to ensure that the proper items and quantities are packaged together in blisters and box sets.

A kick ass gaming table in the main office
Hand painted vineyards
Latex paint is used for added durability and also lets the rivers retain the flex and self leveling that a polymer added to the resin allows
It was really cool to see how things were diligently hand painted. This totally changes my perspective when placing terrain on my game table, because I've seen how it's painted and appreciate the open and play aspect to the items even more now. 
Houses and natural terrain features are already painted and ready to play
There is an airbrush department as well that adds some finer details, such as current to rivers. 

Laser Department

Shiney! Customized artillery template in unique colour
The laser department produces tokens and other cool stuff, such as acrylic artillery templates, which are laser cut and etched here. You'll forgive me for forsaking the rest after Jeff and Khairul gifted Rob and me each with a personalized artillery template and a range finder!

Quality Assurance
The QA team checks over post-production items and moulds
A close up of one of the items the QA team was checking
Battlefront puts an experienced team on quality assurance to look over samples during a manufacturing run to ensure that there are no defects before the items are shipped out to customers.

Sealing and Packing
Most things have already been packed up as this is the tail end of this manufacturing cycle
Jagdpanthers nestled in their wrecked buildings, ready to be sealed and boxed
The card backs are sealed on one side with heat-activated glue
Jeff and Khairul demonstrate how the blister sealer works
Staff use ID cards to pack an Open Fire! box set and a Finnish Fokker CX
A model, already packed in a plastic blister, is cradled, open end up in the blister sealer, followed by the card back, glue side down. Once the drawer to the blister sealer is closer and the machine is activated, the card back is sealed to the plastic, creating a blister pack .

This pallet is ready to ship to one of three distribution centres
While Battlefront is considered a relatively small operation, they nonetheless ship 50,000 to 60,000 units in a typical month, all made to order. Part of Jeff's job is order prediction; he must know what the distributors will need at the end of the 4 week manufacturing cycle. The factory deals in export only, so they do not conduct any sales. This is the only manufacturing location and is responsible for all of the painting, final assembly and shipping. The products are packed, wrapped onto pallets, and then shipped directly to their distribution hubs.
Shout out to WWPD! From left to right: Jeff, myself, and Khairul 
Thanks to Battlefront and John-Paul Brisigotti for letting me take a peek at the operations, and especially Steven MacLauchlan for arranging the tour. Much gratitude goes to Jeff and Khairul for taking time out during their work day to satisfy my curiosity. They spoiled me and even let me in on a little secret they will be doing with the box sets in the near future. It's going to be really fun!


  1. Take me with you next time, Sierra!

  2. I'm glad to see they're still putting out great work!

  3. Thank you for the nice write-up Sierra :)

    It was a pleasure having you over for the visit. Do come back again and bring your army along this time. We'll have a grand battle!!

  4. Wow, that must have been like Alice falling down the rabbit hole (in a most wondrous way

  5. Great article, that was a great look on the inside of things!

  6. Thanks for a good article. It is nice to see behind the scenes.

  7. Cool article. Very interesting to see inside the factory.

  8. Employing so many and with wide backgrounds, battlefront just jumped up the ladder on equal opportunity employer in my books, I am sure they pay well too.

  9. Very beautiful pictures. I really liked your post. Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. You can head to the Petronas Twin Towers, which are the tallest twin towers in the world. Taman Negara, Batu Caves, Gunung Mulu National Park and Kuala Lumpur Tower are some of the most sought-after destinations of Malaysia.Check out best Malaysia tour packages ever.