Iron Wind Metals is known today for its Battletech miniatures and its continuation of some old Ral Partha miniature lines. Today, roughly a third of IWM‘s income comes from distribution and wholesale, another third from its online store, and another third from producing or fulfilling miniature lines for other companies.

Iron Wind Metals was formed from the remains of famed miniature company Ral Partha. The history of IWM, Ral Partha, and the Battletech miniature line is somewhat convoluted. Here is a small portion of the story, ignoring many other product lines and ignoring many other versions of the Battletech licenses, such as RPG, CCG, and electronic:

1975

Tom Meier forms Ral Partha, together with Jack Hesselbrock, Marc Rubin, Rich Smethurst, Glenn E. Kidd, and Chuck Crain. Ral Partha pioneers certain productions processes and produces popular miniatures under a D&D license from TSR.

At the time, Tom is in junior high-school, only 16 years old. The company is founded to promote and produce his sculptings. He remains the only sculptor until 1980, and the primary sculptor until he starts a new company in 1988.

1979

Citadel Miniatures, a subsidiary of Games Workshop, acquires the UK Ral Partha license. Citadel promotes Ral Partha in the UK, and in turn Ral Partha promotes Citadel in the US.

1980

Jordan Weisman forms FASA, a company that will eventually acquire Ral Partha.

1982

Michael Noe, eventual factory manager of Ral Partha and of Iron Wind Metals, joins Ral Partha.

Also at this time, Citadel forms a US division, using Ral Partha as manufacturers for their miniatures.

1983

Fantasy Productions (FanPro) is formed. FanPro works into our story later on.

1984

Ral Partha takes over the Citadel US division, marketing them as Ral Partha products. FASA creates the Battledroids board game.

1985

Ral Partha begins producing Battledroids miniatures for FASA.

Tom Meier, as a result of some disagreements over copyright issues and a deal with RawCliffe Pewter, begins looking for alternate venues to market his miniatures.

1986

FASA renames Battledroids to Battletech, owing to a trademark dispute with Lucasfilms. Minifigs acquires the UK Ral Partha license, as well as a Battletech license.

1987

Ral Partha drops the Citadel US line.

1988

Tom Meier forms Thunderbolt Mountain Miniatures to do personal projects. He continues to work for Ral Partha on a freelance basis. He continues to retain stock until the company is dissolved.

1989

FASA creates Shadowrun, a fantasy RPG system.

1991

Ral Partha begins producing Shadowrun miniatures. Over the next several years, Ral Partha earns numerous awards for its Battletech and Shadowrun miniature lines.

1997

Wizards of the Coast acquires TSR, shortly thereafter ends Ral Partha‘s D&D license, and orders all existing D&D molds destroyed. Pthhhffft. Revenues from other Ral Partha lines also begin to drop, leaving it with only one successful line: Battletech. Update: Shadowrun and fantasy were still making some money, too.

1998

In desperation (Update: or for personal reasons), Ral Partha sells itself to FASA and Zocchi Distribution.

1999

FASA gains sole ownership of Ral Partha. Hasbro buys Wizards of the Coast.

2000

While still at FASA, Jordan Weisman founds WizKids to sell MageKnight, which becomes massively popular.

2001

FASA unexpectedly ceases operations. Various explanations are given as to why, such as exiting the market while things are good. The licenses remain valuable commodities.

WizKids buys Battletech and Shadowrun licenses, as well as many of the original Battletech and Shadowrun miniature lines, although Tom Meier keeps control of many of his lines. WizKids licenses BattleTech and Shadowrun to FanPro LLC, a US division of FanPro.

WizKids spins off Ral Partha, which, owing to various legal issue, becomes Iron Wind Metals. IWM continues to create Ral Partha, Battletech, and Shadowrun lines, as it still does today. IWM‘s management includes Michael Noe and Marc Rubin.

2003

InMediaRes forms. ImResMedia creates BattleCorps in order to create BattleTech branded fiction. WizKids licenses Battletech to InMediaRes for this purpose.

Also at this time, Topps buys WizKids.

2005

InMediaRes creates HoloStreets in order to create Shadowrun branded fiction. WizKids licenses Shadowrun to InMediaRes.

2007

Jim Fox forms Fox Miniatures to produce certain Tom Meier lines of miniatures. [Update: Tom says: I'm making a 1/48 WWII line for him he's not marketing them for me. I'm selling the copyright to him, they will be his completely, I'm just doing the sculpting and initial mold making.] While IWM pimps itself at GenCon and Origins, Fox Miniatures jointly pimps their own products together with IWM at other game conventions. Tom also creates figures for Dark Sword Miniatures, who outsources production to IWM.

FanPro LLC loses the licenses for Battletech and Shadowrun. InResMedia creates Catalyst Game Labs to acquire these licenses to create game expansions. CGL includes employees from FanPro LLC.

Also at this time, Tornante buys Topps.

2008

Near the end of the year, Topps shuts down WizKids, citing the economic climate. A scramble ensues to secure the Battletech and Shadowrun lines, as well as other important WizKids lines.

2009

After wrangling, Topps decides to keep the Battletech and Shadowrun licenses for themselves, and sell the rest of WizKids to NECA. Catalyst Game Labs and Iron Wind Metals continue to license Battletech and Shadowrun.


Michael Noe of Iron Wind Miniatures

Battletech

Battletech is a story about combat in a fictional future universe. Several companies license the rights to create products in this universe, including fiction (BattleCorps, a division of InMediaRes), war / role playing books and technology descriptions (Catalyst Game Labs, a division of InMediaRes), and miniatures (Iron Wind Metals). In the past, there have also been a CCG, cartoons, and other products. An online gaming version is being handles by Smith & Tinker, headed by Jordan Weisman.

IWM creates the figures to match new technologies, arms, humans, and vehicles as defined, described, and illustrated by Catalyst Game Labs. In the past, such as when IWM was working alongside FanPro LLC, IWM would have to figure out what was new by looking at the new product catalogs put out by FanPro LLC. Nowadays, CGL gives IWM a heads up over what’s new before their new products hit the public.

To me, it seemed like a natural idea for CGL and IWM to cross-promote each others’ products, but somehow this hasn’t happened, yet.

IWM also does work for Wyrd Miniatures, Impact Miniatures, Dark Sword Miniatures, and Crocodile Games, among others. Oh, and you see those words “Paints and Accessories” in the logo at the top of this post? They tried that, but they don’t do that right now; Reaper Miniatures apparently did/does it better.

Spin Casting

Iron Wind Metals uses spin casting to create miniatures. Starting from sketches, a “green” model is sculpted from hard resin or another material. Larger miniatures might be broken into components, with multiple models for each component. The pieces are all cast separately, and must be assembled and painted by the consumer.

Impressions from the green models are stamped into a heavy rubber layered disk mold. Grooves are scored from the impressions to the center of the mold, so that when pewter is poured into the center of the mold and the mold spun, the pewter travels along the scores to the impressions.

The pewter is heated to a scant 600 degrees. While spinning the mold, pewter is poured in, hardens, and cools in less than a minute. Each piece is inspected, and any pieces not exactly correct, and any extraneous pieces of metal, are tossed back into the pewter soup.

The figures are sorted, sealed into plastic boxes, boxed up for shipment, and FedEx arrives once a day to carry the products to distributors, stores, or partners.


A design released this week, the Oppie, a Battletech vehicle.


Parts of the “green” model for the Oppie, as received from the sculptor. The green model is used to make the molds.


Creating molds from green models. The model is placed between two hard rubber disks and pressed. The shape of the model leaves a permanent impression in the mold. This is done several times, so that each mold can create several figures at once.

All the equipment you see here is fairly old and was manufactured, and amazingly still supported, locally.


One half of a completed mold.


Two complete molds, created using several models. After creating the impressions, lines are scored between the end of the mold to the central hub, into which the pewter will be poured.


A stack of molds done for Wyrd Miniatures.


The archive, containing thousands of molds. I estimate around twenty thousand molds, give or take.


Bars of pewter.


Melted pewter, ready to be poured into molds.


The two rubber disks of the mold are clamped between two silver disks. The disks are spun and the pewter is poured into the center. The pewter fills out the impressions in the mold though centrifugal force. The minis are ready and cool within a minute.


A minute after pouring in the pewter. All the pewter, other than the final product (the disks as the end) is chucked back into the pot.


Plastic boxes and items are placed into this machine to be sealed into shippable products.


Order fulfillment.

(Edit: Shadowrun spelling)