Thursday, 15 October 2015

A tall story...

A couple of years ago, Sue and I had a meeting with a couple of guys from the new owners of Meccano just a few weeks after they acquired the brand. At that meeting, among other things, we discussed the introduction of what was referred to at the time as a 'connoisseurs' set. This was to be a set aimed at the enthusiast to show that the new owners were absolutely going to support the hobby. They also said they they were going to introduce a now product they had been working on before the acquisition. That 'product' was Meccanoid.

They explained that although they wanted to support the enthusiast, they were not going to take Meccano back to what it was. The market and the retail environment has changed and Meccano had to change with it. Lots of things were discussed at that, and subsequent meetings.

The 'connoisseurs' set was discussed at length and a questionnaire was circulated via the clubs and societies. Of course, there was the call to re-issue  the No.10 set but, if you think about it rationally, the cost would be phenomenal and, let's be honest, even if they did how many would they sell? Very few I suspect. It is perfectly possible to buy good, even unused 10 sets today at far less than it would cost to make one, let alone what the retail price would have to be. After much discussion it was decided to go back to the original Frank Hornby principal and to supply parts to make a model of a current icon of our age. Looking out of the office window in any great city and you will see a tower crane. Indeed, looking out of my window here I can see one.

The production set box
The tower crane was conceived and developed with the enthusiast in mind. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that in our posts regarding the London Toy Fair15, There is a box showing the crane with a tower made from narrow strips. This was deemed to be impractical for several reasons but as far as I was concerned, building it with standard strips and angle girders would put lots of standard building parts back into the set making it far more versatile.

The tower from the test/display model
Once the initial design was done using all sorts of parts in all sorts of colours (just like we do in our hobby due to lack of parts to hand) a comprehensive parts list would have been produced, any injection mouldings would have been commissioned and test shots (usually in white) supplied to build test and display models - so don't you believe that the models are not tested - they are, over and over again. The Tower Crane set Sue and I have been displaying at recent shows is one of those test builds, some of which were used at the toy fairs to show prospective buyers.

The problem

It is very easy to look at a problem in hindsight and say that it should never happen, but it does. The crane had been designed and built using real Meccano. I know from first hand experience that the models are not designed using CAD as many others have stated in recent weeks. As I have explained, the crane was prototyped and built using actual Meccano parts. Any parts that do not exist in the range are drawn and then 3D printed so they can be used to provide the part in a real model. Don't forget, you can click on any of the pictures in our posts to enlarge them. most of them will have been made to a larger size than the Bloger software will display them within the post.

The problem - miss-alignment of round holes
The problem that has come to light here is one of manufacturing tolerances that have always been present in the range. The prototype models went together correctly. The girders fitted together and there was not a problem. I have removed some of the bracing so you can see inside one of the pre-production model towers.

as you can see it fits perfectly on this test model
The production sets contain standard girders that have obviously been manufactured to the opposite extreme of the tolerance than would have been helpful. You will find if you test the narrow girder against your existing stock of girders that it will fit some perfectly and others it will not. I have tried it with girders from all eras and found in all cases it will fit some and not others. The original test/display models were built with girders that had been produced to favourable tolerance. 

The narrow girder bolted to two angle girders from our own collection.
the one on the left is French production from the 1980s/90s and the one
on the right is Binns Road production of the late 1960s/70s
The narrow girder, supplied in the set, is an existing part that first appeared in the Evolution Tow Truck first announced at the 2013 London Toy Fair. This part was designed by the previous owners and took no account of the manufacturing tolerances so long associated with traditional Meccano. If it had it would have been manufactured with slotted holes on one face as it's larger cousin the standard girder. If it had been manufactured with the slotted holes, this problem would not have arisen. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here for the future.

Standard girders are connected through the round holes - it should not be possible
The variation of tolerances in the manufacture of these girders is well documented and even used to its advantage. The Steam Wagons I have built in the past couple of years exploit this anomaly of tolerance to the full by suggesting in the instructions for the chassis that two 12½ inch girders are bolted together through their round holes to extend their length. The only way it is possible to achieve this is to exploit the fact that these girders did and still do vary from one to another. Click on the picture above to enlarge it and you will see the joint, circled.

Okay so now we know what has happened Meccano have told Ralph and Sue's Meccano News that:

"We are aware of the problem, working on it now 

and will offer the solution by early next week."

So we know it will be sorted out for existing customers and future sets. Let's look at a few alternatives that can be implemented right now for those who want to build it without waiting for the solution to be rolled out.

The first suggestion to be made was published on the Rust Bucket forum by our good friend John Hornsby. This is the one I will use on our production model we have here in the office awaiting to be built. It entails using a few standard and narrow strips (that most of us serious Meccano nuts have in abundance) bolted to the inside of the girder. To be honest, even if there was not a fitting problem I would probably have adopted this route to free-up those girders for use in other models.

A simple solution for now
Another way to get around the problem is to go outside the the official range of meccano parts and use some of the extended range of narrow girders that are available from third party suppliers. These will bolt directly to the girders supplied in the sets.

Extended range parts fit nicely and are another work-around
I realise that there will be those of you out there saying that it shouldn't happen and that this is down to 'this' or down to 'that',  but I assure you, nobody is more upset when things don't go to plan than the guys who actually design the sets and models and I know they are doing whatever they can to put it right.  The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but I am totally confident that this problem will be resolved soon and everybody will be happy... Well almost everybody!


Good News!

If you have bought a Tower Crane set and need replacement girders please contact customer service via the website (link below)

Follow this link:

Claim your parts by calling or send an e-mail to the Meccano support team and your replacement parts will be sent to you.

Please pass this information on to any other people you know who have purchased the crane set in recent weeks. This problem has now been rectified on the production sets and all new sets will contain the correct parts. 


Thursday, 8 October 2015

The new face of Meccano...

As you may know, Sue and I can be seen at all the big shows with the latest Meccano boxed sets and usually the models too. We usually have prototypes of future releases. This year we had the pre-production model of the Tower Crane and a disobedient G15 KS at Skegness.  We even had the box for the new Thunderbird 2, that we announced HERE back in June, this year. I should have one of the production models next week to show you.

The big news story this year has been the Meccanoids. Love 'em or hate 'em they are poised to be a big seller this Christmas. The robots themselves are entertaining enough but what is making me think is the potential of this new venture for Meccano. We have spent a lot of time over the past few months with these guys.

The new logo has the words MAKER SYSTEM incorporated and is instructed to be used only as a whole. This logo will become very recognisable over the next few months as Meccano roll-out the publicity machine on the lead up to Christmas. The two robots are now being seen in all the big shops and as the name suggests (the 'G' stands for Genesis - the origin of something) This is only the beginning. Extension packs are already starting to appear in the American stores and will be available to all via the internet.

The first of these packs is the smart servo assembly shortly to be followed by the battery packs. This is only the beginning, we are looking forward to getting stuck into this new development in our hobby and seeing how we can combine this high-tech new kid on the block with the classic Meccano we all know and love. Even though Meccanoid and the new Meccano Tech is state of the art 21st century toy, it is still 100% compatible with all the meccano that has gone before. The DNA of Meccano is still there, ½ inch hole spacing, 5/32 BSW threads and square nuts.

As the new developments happen we will bring you the news first. In the mean time we will be experimenting with what we have already and building some new and exciting programmable gadgets and models.

Don't fear, there is plenty of new classic Meccano to keep us busy too, now the Tower Crane set is becoming available, through the internet, we have got our hands on one and will be playing around with that to see what else we can build with it and discuss a few of the problems that have been reported regarding the fitting of the narrow girders inside the standard ones...