Monday, July 18, 2016

Lego Technic Therapy

My mind goes to a different place when I build models with Lego Technic and Mindstorms. This week, as I recover from surgery, a dose of Technic seemed like a good idea.

I decided to work on my Lego Technic design aesthetic. Yoshihito Isogawa produces wonderful Technic books that demonstrate a pleasing balance of form and function. He presents each model as a series of pictures: there are no words to explain the thinking behind the design.

I love to stare at the pictures and figure out why a model looks good.

I decided to build one of Isogawa's models, a "gripping fingers" mechanism. While building it, I would ask myself questions about the design choices.

The first step was to collect together all the parts needed to build the gripper. I needed ten triangle beams, but only had nine.

Isogawa encourages his students to adapt the designs to the parts available. However, this exercise was to understand Isogawa's aesthetic, not mine.

I looked at a bag of mixed Technic parts a friend from junior school had mailed as surgery day approached. I couldn't believe my eyes: the bag contained two triangle beams. I now had enough to build the model while maintaining color consistency and symmetry.

The Trunnion Moment

I've always called the triangular Technic part a trunnion. The reason goes back to when I was a kid in the 1960's building models with my beloved Meccano.
The yellow part on the left is a Lego Technic triangle beam.

The green part, in the middle, is a 1960's Meccano flat trunnion. Much of my pocket money bought individual parts like this at a store in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, one at a time.

The nickel-plated part on the right is simply a trunnion in Meccano parlance. It was first introduced in 1921, and was in my father's Meccano collection when he was a kid in the 1920's.

While I was building the Technic grabber I found myself thinking about why Isogawa had used so many trunnions.

When building a Technic model, I aim to use as few parts as possible, consistent with good function. Isogawa had taken it to the next level and used as few types of parts as possible. The repetition of one part enhances the visual simplicity and consistency of the model, resulting in a well-integrated whole.

I couldn't get the word, trunnion, out of my head.

Of course, I should build the Meccano equivalent of the gripper.
The silver nickel-plated pieces and the brass gears are from the 1920's. Almost a century later, there was still joy to discover from my father's childhood.

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