Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Toy fair 2017

Meet M.A.X. He is asleep at the moment...
For the past few years, Meccano products have been moving away from the hobby buyers and moving towards the toy market. I have made no secret of the fact that I believe this is the only way forward in today’s market. Meccano are not making Meccano for us aging enthusiasts, they are making toys for today’s kids and are competing in an ever more competitive and diverse market that is built around box-shifting.

Today’s retailers are a far cry from the independent toy shops of the past. They are global brands, such that have outlets in countries all around the world. They are not geared up for selling parts; neither do they stock a full range of sets. Buyers will often cherry-pick the range and that results in differing selections of sets from one seller to another. You will also find that most of these sellers show much larger selection of sets on their websites.

The other, perhaps more important, shift has been in the way parents and kids buy toys today. In the past, we would buy brand. When asked what we wanted for Christmas or birthday, we would ask for ‘Meccano’, that is not the case today. Most kids are not as brand-aware as we were. Even Lego becomes a suffix as in “Can I have some Star-wars Lego?”  Today’s youngster is more likely to ask for a ‘thing’, a motorbike, a car etc.

Walking onto Spin Master’s stand yesterday was a bit of a surprise, even for us. We had not heard of any new exciting products in the way of sets, as is usually the case. Nothing had leaked out prior to press day and we had not been working on any new products ourselves. We were confronted with many of the models we had already seen. A fair number of which were on display last year and still on the inventory. This is due to a deliberate slowdown in what the trade refer to as ‘refreshing’. For the first few years of Spin Mater’s ownership, Meccano were releasing product twice a year, once in the spring and again in the autumn, to coincide with the release of the Argos catalogue, as most of the mass-market UK toy trade manufacturers and importers tend to do.

Last year saw some of the products refreshed twice with some sets being sold through in half the time we would have expected. Sets like the Safari Animals and Dinosaur sets were replaced by new sets before the year was out.

New style packaging for the robots

What’s New?

Well, as this is a blog about Meccano as a hobby, for the enthusiast the honest answer is probably not a lot this year. The Meccano branding has changed yet again as the marketing guys tailor it to more reflect the direction in which they see themselves going. The ‘Maker System’ branding has been replaced with ‘Engineering & Robotics’. The ‘engineering’ part seems a bit strange. It was explained to us some time ago, that Meccano would be exploring the materials and engineering used today. This seems to have manifested itself in the form of automotive engineering and the greater use of modern materials such as plastics, if this year’s offerings are anything to go by. 

MeccaSpider is coming
The robotics side of it has gone down the toy route offering ‘Closed system’ toys, with the introduction of M.A.X. and MeccaSpider, a totally new toy that has nothing to do with the combination creature built using a Helicopter set and a Meccanoid 2.0. - See HERE.

The Meccanoids were nowhere to be seen on the stand and when we asked about them it appears that they are to be used more on the educational side of things. I get the impression that the ‘Tech’ series will become central to the future of educational development between Meccano and the schools. I have not pushed for details on this as the guys, responsible for Meccanoid and its technical development, were not here in London this week. I will contact them after the madness of Toy Fair season is over in a month or so, and see what I can discover.

I suppose you could say this is a modern day car constructor set...
...A long way from what we think of as Meccano
Apart from M.A.X. and MeccaSpider, the only new items we had not seen before are a couple of new static model cars and another remote control model. The two new cars are yet another step away from traditional Meccano with lots of formed body parts and fewer holes. The remote control car appears to have the new proportional control, as first seen on the Lamborghini Huracan that appeared in late 2016.

Simplistic remote control car
So, not a lot to excite the enthusiast, but I was half expecting that. Meccano have moved on. The product has changed more in the past few years than it did in the previous few decades. For the company that is a good thing. Meccano sales are very strong are outstripping predictions. Building a global brand (or rebuilding in this case) is not an easy thing to do but Meccano, under Spin Master’s direction, have moved on to be an exciting and innovative TOY company. Selling product that today’s kids want. For Sue and I, that is exactly where it should be. As far as we are concerned, we have plenty of dealers selling the more traditional parts we need, and if there are parts in the new sets that will expand our options, that is a bonus.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Automatic Slag Dumper

Want to see it in more detail?
Click on any of the photographs to enlarge!

The truck starts to tip as it reaches the top of the slope
In 1948 when this model first appeared as model 4.20, it was a far more innocent time. The title of this model would not have raised an eyebrow, as it may do today. To confirm what we are referring to here the Cambridge Dictionary gives the meaning of 'slag' as: "Waste material produced when coal is dug from the ground or a substance produced by mixing chemicals with metal that has been heated until it is liquid in order to remove unwanted substances from it." If you are not familiar with the contemporary slang use of the word, I am not going into it here - look it up!

Now we have cleared that up, the reason I am mentioning it here is that I have just built a version of the model for the 2016 Christmas Challenge that has just finished on the Spanner II list. The challenge is run each year with a different set of rules. This year the requirement was to produce an improved version of a manual model without detracting to far from the look of the original. The full rules can be found HERE, and all the entries are collected together in one gallery HERE on the NZ Meccano website.

Model as illustrated in the 1948 set no.4 manual
This simple model's main feature is the action of the tipper wagon that automatically tips its load as it reaches the top of the ramp. Most of the 'improvements' to the model have been made by redesigning the truck. The chassis and tipping mechanism are all new. and the four 1 inch pulleys have been replaced with small flanged wheels. The shape and dimensions of the tipping body have been retained.

The modified tipper truck
The automatic tipping is achieved by the tightening of a short length of cord (arrowed in the picture below) that is attached to the front edge of the tipper at one end and to the cross-tie of the track at the other. The cord used is Ralph's String, fine. It is available in cut lengths HERE.

The body starts to tip as the truck approaches the top of the slope

At the top of the slope, the cord that propels the truck up and down the slope, runs around a ½ inch Pulley that is held in place using rod connectors slid onto a 3 inch rod. These also retain the rod within the rails negating the need to use spring clips or collars to prevent the rod from sliding out of position, as arrowed on the right-hand side of the picture above.

The tipper body is fully raised as the truck reaches the top of the slope
 Although keeping its original dimensions the winding house is modified by using angle girders at the corners and some bracing is added under the redesigned roof which is attached to the tops of the girders using hinges. the shallow pitch of the roof is achieved by using the relatively new narrow obtuse bracket that is set at only 22½º as opposed to the usual 45º of its standard width cousin. Two flanged base plates, joined with 5½ inch Perforated Strips were used to make the floor, onto which the winding gear, built pretty much as the original model, is attached.

The modified winding house
The original instructions made good use of cord to make driving bands. I was never a fan of this as a kid, but in recent years I have made good use of it. In this model the crank has a 1 inch pulley attached to the far end that is used to drive the 3 inch Pulley via a loop of cord. it works very well, even negotiating the knot with ease. The cord that propels the truck up and down the track is wound around the other 3 inch Pulley a full turn before being attached to a spring under the modified truck.

The truck returns to the bottom of the ramp to collect another load
The modifications made to this model have been mainly cosmetic, apart from redesigning the tipper mechanism to be more prototypical. The finished model is rather pleasing and it has only taken me about fifty-five years to get around to building it. If it was not for the Christmas Challenge, it would probably still be waiting to get built.