Odds & Ends

Building on Legos

This photo of a retired Lego mold sparked a lively discussion at a recent MT standup. The mold supposedly birthed 120,000,000 bricks over its career – an astronomical output considering that many sources claim Lego tolerances in the microns. Chet was impressed but a bit skeptical (imprestical?), since injection-molded parts typically have tolerances more in the range of +/-0.15 to +/-0.05mm. But everyone agreed that producing a billion parts per year that can each fit with any other part ever produced is an astounding feat. And they all snap together with just the same amount of force! But wait, Tom interjects, some of the Hsiu clan’s ancestral Legos don’t fit quite as well as newer pieces! Naturally, this left Mike no choice but to Google the unlikely phrase “ancestral legos,” eventually learning that not only can Legos survive across generations, they’re even used by some as an investment vehicle. Meanwhile, Sam reminisced about how his team used Legos in a project class, since the tolerances were so good that it was harder to do much better with machined parts. And Elisa mentioned a link she’d recently shared for adapters between Legos and other building sets. People have struggled in particular with Legos, however, since 3D printers can’t match the unusually fine tolerances of the production pieces. Heck, maybe it’d be easier to make a rapid prototype machine out of Legos rather than vice versa. Since 3D printers can’t yet compete on tolerances (or cycle time or per-part cost or material properties…), their current advantage comes down to enabling quick changes. Which is why we were initially wowed by the 3Doodler project that Greg found, though on further consideration it didn’t seem that useful for making things anyone would actually want to keep around. Yeah, Jerry chimes in, who’d want to litter their home with a plasticky stream of hilarious cat ornaments and seemingly plausible but in fact useless avante-garde kitchen utensils??, failing to convince anyone that that isn’t exactly what he wants, especially since he’s already placed a personal order for a MakerBot.

In conclusion, MindTribe loves digressions. Legos are pretty cool too.