Something for Christmas perhaps…

11 Dec 2012 3min read

As a dad and an engineer I was heartened a few weeks ago when my son asked me to help him swap out an engine and gearbox from one of his vehicles to another. Not bad for a ten year old I thought, though we were working on the AT-AT Walker and the Clone Turbo Tank from Lego Star Wars.

Lego is amazing, always up there in polls for the best toys and perfect for budding engineers. There are others which claim this of course, including Meccano and Airfix, but I wasn’t too impressed with the last Meccano set I bought and – judging by the moulding flash – I reckon that Airfix are still using the same tooling for the Spitfire and Hurricane that they were 35 years ago. Lego, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength, literally. A recent BBC story reported that load testing at the Open University Engineering Department demonstrated a compressive strength for a 2×2 brick of over 4000 N! This explains not only why they don’t break when you stand on them in the middle of the night, but also why a 32 metre tower of Lego built in Prague is miles away (2.14 miles away) from being tall enough to crush the base layer of bricks under its own weight.

So, thanks to the Open University, we have another entertaining Lego fact to add to the many others already in circulation, along with all the other urban myths (eg. Lego achieve standard tolerances of plus/minus five microns; suites of high precision, high volume tools are shipped around the world to manufacture parts in situ; Lego are the world’s largest tyre manufacturer, with over 300 million per annum).

Lego’s appeal is so broad, and the brand so strong. Brand loyalty is one reason, along with good IP lawyers and ongoing technical development, why Lego remains so popular despite the main patent expiring back in the late eighties. No patent cliff or take-over by the generics here.

What I really like about Lego is how simple it is, but also how flexible; how it teaches, through trial and error, the basics of robust construction; and how, with a bit of consideration and imagination, you can create some really cool stuff! The gloriously extravagant Great Ball Contraption (below) shows how it is possible to get a tiny bit carried away with Lego. I’m still pondering whether or not to share this with my son, especially as Christmas is just around the corner.

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