Member Profile: Michael Elsholz

As Manager of the Model Shop at Steelcase, Mike oversees a large team of model makers.

Submitted by Sue Wellman 

Although Mike began his career in engineering, he is now responsible for a group of 29 model makers at Steelcase in Grand Rapids, MI. His career in model making began when he accepted the role of Manager of the Steelcase Model Shop. When Mike was going to school for engineering he didn’t realize that model making was a career option. He found this out only when he was hired by Steelcase and began working with the model shop to have prototype models built for the projects that he was engineering.

Mike got his degree in Engineering at Central Michigan University and did his internship at General Motors.  After graduation he accepted an engineering position at Steelcase. Early in his career he frequently had models/prototypes built in the Model Shop, including file cabinets, desks, locking systems and panel systems.  As the engineer he would often assemble and/or modify some of the models for design reviews and testing. They had a small exploration model shop with some basic equipment for the design teams to use and make changes to their models. Mike says “this was always something I enjoyed”.

In addition to being an engineer at Steelcase, Mike also worked as a project manager and test lab supervisor before taking over as the Model Shop manager. Steelcase had just been through downsizing, so with a much smaller team Mike had to change the business model and how they worked. Mike says his current role has been his favorite job. “In this position I get to see every new development project that comes through the shop and help support my model makers to ensure that they have the right tools and materials to be successful”. 

According to Mike, he manages “the best team of model makers” who build a wide range of models to support new product development, provide customer mockups and showroom displays. In describing the Steelcase Model Shop, Mike states “Over the past 10 years our environment has evolved into being a collaborative environment with the model makers being part of the development teams, providing input for the design as they learn from each prototyping build.  This environment took many years to change but with the support from my floor leaders and hiring model makers with this mindset we were able to make this transition, which continues to evolve. Currently my team consists of 29 model makers in a 30,000 sq. foot shop.”

There are five position levels for model makers at Steelcase. Associate Model Maker, Model Maker, Senior Model Maker, Principal Model Maker, Senior Principal Model Maker. Mike outlines the levels this way. “An Associate Model Maker is an entry level position. These individuals will be placed in the apprenticeship program that we have outlined which requires a number of classes to be taken at the local college and 8,000 hours of work experience divided into different areas within our shop. A Model Maker position would require a minimum of five years of model making experience, apprenticeship completion or an associate or bachelor's degree in model making or related program. A senior-level model maker requires 10 years experience and the appropriate degree or apprenticeship completion as well as the ability to manage large-scale projects, mentor other young model makers and direct others to complete a project.  A Principal Model Maker is one that is recognized and used as an expert in their field throughout the corporation and outside the corporation. They also are someone that is heavily involved in growing and promoting the model making profession, possibly someone who has been or is active in the APMM. They research and make proposals for new technologies and improvements within our shop.”

Mike’s advice to someone just entering this field… “Be willing to learn and research new technologies.  Be able to collaborate and listen to your customer to understand their needs.“Don’t be too attached to your model, it’s a couple weeks from the dumpster”.


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Association of Professional Model Makers
Winter 2019 Newsletter