Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TBs GuestBlogger 03 - Are Trains Becoming Technic?

It was just a few days ago, that RAILBRICKS 10 was issued. Besides the fantastic material that we are already used to, this edition also features an article by Didier Enjary (renown French AFOL), where he discusses the idea "Are Trains Becoming Technic?"
Being this a Technic related topic and given the difference between the audiences from TBs  and RAILBRICKs, we saw no potential conflicts and decided to include the same article here, with the category 'Guest Blogger'. 

I do not know if this is the case for everyone, but for me "Technic" is a very specific set of LEGO parts and models. "Technic" elements are parts with axles, pins and holes. Beams, gears and connectors are Technic parts. Bricks, plates, tiles ans slopes, unless Technic-ally modified, are not. They are System parts. I have to underline that the LEGO Company do not make such a differentiation.

Technic models make an heavy use of Technic parts. For me, Train is not Technic. They had their own 9V System motor, different from the 9V Technic motors.

But things are changing. The new train motor comes without wheels, and you can attach any part coming with an axle hole. The train wheels have an axle hole. Train wheels are Technic parts.

"Train wheels are Technic parts."

This minor change does not make trains Technic models. As previously said, Technic models make heavy use of Technic parts. That is not the case here. However, the new motor and wheels are not the only Technic parts that an official LEGO train model can use.

The idea to motorize LEGO trains with Technic parts (motor, beams, gears and axles) is not a new one. Basically, it consists in a gear train incorporated in the wheel truck (bogie) as demonstrated by Brickshelf user BUCHI [1]. The wheels are driven through the truck's vertical axis  by a motor placed in the engine’s body.

To implement this in the space of a regular LEGO train truck, a 4x8 box, is tricky. Moreover, the mechanical design of this build has an intrinsic flaw. A side effect - a torque between the truck and train base - causes derailments on switches. However, with this method of Technic-ally motorizing LEGO trains, you are not limited to the two-axles train motors and you can create a variety of axle configurations in shape and size. You can even use all kinds of larger wheels, such as those from third-party companies like Big Ben Bricks.

Technic motorizati on is not easy to set up, and may appear unusable for modern trains, but it is an interesti ng idea for steam trains where the truck is not articulated. The Emerald Night Train (10194) is to this day the unique example of such a Technic-ally motorized LEGO train endorsed by The LEGO Company.

So, you can motorize a train with Technic parts. But that does not make the train a Technic model. Technic is all about function.

Esben Kolind agrees and shows us how to build a train with automatic doors which open at the station [2]. This function uses Technic parts, such as axles, gears and usual connectors, but more impressively, makes use of the universal joint to operate all the doors with one single motor, in a very compact and hidden mechanism.

"Technic is all about function."

In fact, Esben has for long been a supporter of functions in trains, as demonstrated here on a previous sliding-door study, integrating PF lights, motorized doors and folding step.

Still, the train is not a Technic model. Technic is also about structure. Trains are made of plates and bricks, not from beams and liftarms. But some people are open-minded (at least more than I used to be). That is the case of Tim Gould, who once shared this flat car (which you can download the build instructions from the RAILBRICKS website).

From the Bill of Material, it is seen that almost 75% of the parts are of the Technic kind (only 6 different parts have studs). The result is quite convincing, and is as realistic as a LEGO model can be, and it is a true Technic model.

Examples of everything Technic are out there: structure, function, and motorization. A LEGO Technic train is possible even at the width of 6, though I do not think this is an easy task. Technic models are, in general, bigger than the usual 6 or even 8 wide train - and I do not think the theme will become mainstream. I do know, however, that creativity and imagination are limitless.

"A LEGO Technic train is possible..."

Article by Didier Enjary in RAILBRICKS 10.
Pictures and Photos courtesy of BrickLink and BrickShelf.


RKC62 said...

Good article.
One other point is that trains (and System) are usually even numbers of studs, but Technic is typically built in odd numbers.
I'm fascinated by the concept of Lego trains, but I don't have room to keep my Lego as it is - where do people find the space to set up Lego trains?!

KEvron said...

i dunno; that train boarders awfully closely on technic. my first technic set (and my final set, until i revived the hobby ten years ago) was 851, farm tractor, and it relied heavily on traditional elements and methods. okay, apples and oranges, you might say; today's models have evolved into the studless-beam construction that currently defines the theme. but style will continue to change over the years. the constant has been the emphasis on mechanism.

my own mocs (is that redundant?), too, rely heavily on the traditional lego construction idiom, but i couldn't consider them anything else but technic mocs.


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