Sunday, 31 March 2013

Much better now!

I managed to get VirtualMec 2.0.2 to work much better with a lot of help from the VirtualMec Team - Thank you! and completed several small drawings including the roundabout. The whole idea, as far as I am concerned, is to design using VirtualMec and then build what has been designed.

In reality I found that building the models highlighted a few things that needed modifying. things that are easy in the virtual world sometimes don't work in reality. Bending in VirtualMec does not take into account that Meccano has holes in it and cannot be bent so easily in the real world. This is not a criticism, just an observation. The roundabout I showed being designed, in a previous post, has now been finished and Sue built the model to prove the plan.

Steam toy roundabout
It has been designed to be driven by a steam engine or hand operated. It is only a very simple model (intended for sale as a kit of parts for our steam customers over on ) The finished drawing has a few modifications incorporated after Sue finished the real model to account for the design changes deemed necessary during construction.

The finished drawing
VirtualMec is a very useful tool, I wish we had embraced it years ago. The learning curve is very easy to negotiate and a few hours work will have you up and running with a good level of competence. I have been using it for a couple of weeks or so now, and it is getting easer all the time.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

VirtualMec - Problems?

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the VirtualMec software and my first impressions were good ones. I bought the programme now because it has been expanded by the inclusion of  a lot of new parts - there are still a lot missing but it is a start and I thought, by buying a licence, I would encourage and, in a small way, help to propagate more development. Keen to get going, I built (if that is the right word) a little hand cart using parts that cover the best part of 100 years. The spoked wheels date from the beginning of the last century while the triangular plates, that support the handle shafts, are bang up-to-date current parts and new in the VirtualMec parts list. Good fun to build and took no time at all to pick up the basics.

First little mode was fine...
I started to use the software to design some very simple and small models for some little steam driven kits we are developing for our e-shop The first simple model was easy. A double steam hammer of a few parts, nothing complicated, no bent parts just straightforward bolt-together standard parts.

Double steam hammer kit
With the drawing complete, I can now list the parts and make up the kits. Not wanting to add just one kit, I decided to design a simple roundabout. This model is complicated by the use of  bent parts, a more demanding use of VirtualMec. With a bit of help, from other users, I soon managed to get the hang of using the software - it is pretty basic stuff once you get to know its little foibles. However it seems that it has a far more disagreeable trait...

As my demands on the software increased - not by very much, we are still talking only a handful of parts here - it would suddenly announce, in one of those irritating windows7 semitransparent boxes, that it had stopped. It will then restart. experience has now encouraged me to save the file frequently but it is still a major pain in the... well you know where. 

The roundabout under construction - it was at this point it all started to go wrong
I am now a bit disillusioned with VirtualMec. I will battle on and see how it all turns out... I will let you know how I get on. I hope these issues can be rectified. Earlier 'selection' problems were solved by installing a new graphics card. I happened to have one laying around (as you do!) but is would not have been the end of the world if I had to buy one as they are only £25-30 and they improve the specification of the computer for other video hungry software and websites, of which there seems to be more and more about these days. 

I am confident that these problems are software related this time. Others are having similar problems, over a wide range of computers,  indicating to me that this is not a hardware problem. I don't think it is down to my inexperience with the programme, although in some ways I wish it was, as somebody could tell me not to do this or to do that. Unfortunately I think the problem is deeper than that. I am convinced there is a bug in the software somewhere - but hay, what do I know. Let's hope the news is better next time I post something about VirtualMec.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Smaller and smaller...

Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not so long ago we were messing with the huge Watson Loom that now dominates the Meccano room. Last week we were building small red and green models from the smaller sets (see previous posts). Over the past few days I have been getting to grips with VirtualMec and while I was looking through the member's Gallery, I found a rather strange little cat sans head! On further investigation I discovered a picture of the complete model (with head) and an explanation for the strange drawing. It seems that although the VirtualMec team have added a lot of new parts, there are still lots more parts missing from its inventory. This seems to be the biggest complaint, regarding the software, at the moment. I don't know enough about it to know if the owners of VirtualMec are just not bothered about adding additional parts or if the process is far more complicated than it appears - I strongly suspect the latter is true...Whatever the reason, there is still plenty of new parts included in the new version and more than enough to keep me happy.

My new cat - grey like Smokie was...
I decided to have a go at building the little fellow as he looked like he would make a good companion for the small M&S, Christmas special, robot of a few years ago. His real head is made from a 'Suspension Outer Bracket’ (P/N A419) with a couple of those 'rubberised' bolts for eyes. I think he looks really good with his new-found robot friend. Those of you who remember out little fellow, may be suprised to know the he passed away a year ago now. The place is so quiet without him.

Fly - smallest model?

Even smaller

Now, just to get down to the smallest model I think its possible to 'build', I have made the Fly. I believe this model was first built in the 30s and featured in an early French manual. It was also built by by Jean-Francois Pabion of France and entered in the Spanner II Christmas challenge of 2010. The rules for that particular challenge limited the builder to a set number of parts excluding nuts, bolts, washers and spring clips. For this reason, Jean-Francois, claimed that tis was a zero-part model! That aside, I would say it is the smallest model because I think that to be a model it must have at least two parts. My single part entry to a SELMEC challenge a year or so ago was Meccano ball ball bearing representing a shot-put. But it has not been put together, so, in my book it is a representation not a model. Whatever you call it, I still think it is amusing to build these quick micro-models.

Nano Helicopter
Meccano did produce some Micro-models of their own. they were sold under the Nano series name and were nicely made and at a sensible price point of £2.99. It is a shame that Meccano did not continue to produce the Nano kits. The little Robot, in the picture above, was the seventh model in the series and was only available from M&S. A year or so earlier, Meccano had released six other models. My personal favourite was a little helicopter. Several new parts made their first appearance in these kits, not least of all the ½ x ½ inch narrow bracket and the 3-hole, 1 inch, narrow strip.

As soon as we saw them we thought it would be nice to incorporate them into a small model and it was that thought that set us on our way to building a whole series of miniature fairground models. The first of which was a miniature roundabout incorporating the first six Nano models. Full details of how we built the Nano Roundabout can be found HERE.


Monday, 18 March 2013

Now you too can be a Geek!

It has been around for a while now, but recently the people at VirtualMec (the virtual Meccano building software) have introduced a whole range of the new parts to their inventory, making it far more appealing to me and other less 'traditional' builders who, like me, embrace the modern parts.

Not only is it useful for designing models and mechanisms, before you physically start building, it is really handy for illustrating a point in an e-mail, blog or forum post. I have only been a VirtualMec user for a few days and a couple of hours of working through the tutorial and most of the basics can be understood... 10 minutes if you are under 20 years of age.

You can, of course, realise all those dreams of building models with parts you don't actually own (yet!) In fact, you don't have to own any Meccano you can just build in cyberspace and become a Meccano Geek instead!

Gear wheel replacement for part No.168
My first real usage was only a few hours after buying the software. I was asked how to gear-drive a Meccano ball thrust race (Part 168). The answer is to replace the sprocket plate with a 3½ inch gear wheel. In the past I would have gone off and found the parts, set up a quick photograph and tried to show the assembly - not that easy. Because VirtualMec has no 'weight' the assembly will just hang in space at any orientation making what is being illustrated crystal clear.

You can play with VirtuMec for free using the Demo programme and there are then three levels of licence limited by part-count. For more information visit the VirtuMec website HERE 

I have only just started plying with VirtuMec, so far the learning experience has been almost painless. There is a bit of a way to go yet but I will keep you posted on progress.


Small manual models - great fun!

After man-handling the Weston loom around I decided to build a bespoke table to stand it on. So, on one of the rare dry days we have had this year, I spread a tarpaulin on the lawn and set up the saw horses. A couple of hours later the loom had its own stand and now sits behind the door in the Meccano room awaiting our attention.

Sue has been digging around in our stock of old tatty Meccano and building Manual models. The first of which is No.4 set model, Racing Car. It is amazing how good old Meccano looks with a bit of a clean up. All the parts were washed in warm soapy water, then carefully dried and polished prior to assembly. The only exceptions were the tinplate wheels which were cleaned with WD40 to avoid the risk of trapping water between the hub and the tyre. It was an interesting challenge and made me wonder how many of today's kids would have the skills to build it.

Sue's car - looking good!
Not to be left out of the fun I decided to apply the same technique to a small No.3 set model Crane to try out some cord we will be selling on RalphsShop All good fun and if you want to read more we have been talking about the models on the Rust Bucket forum. 

Follow the links below to see more pictures and details

My little crane
We have piles of Meccano but I can get just as much pleasure from building these small models as I do when completing one of our big projects. Build some more of these small models or get on with the loom? Hmmm we'll see...