KEITH'S MECCANO PAGE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- what is 'Meccano'?
- new owner
- finally new product in stores
- confusion of 'Erector' name
- interesting new aspects
- information sources
- info on sets
- Spykee robot info for posterity
- comment on quality
- history of Meccano and parts changes
- related products from Meccano company
Meccano is a 'construction toy' that uses bolts and nuts to hold standard parts together to make models of things like bridges, cranes, machines, and trucks.
It is more challenging than toys using plug-together blocks or parts specific to a single thing like a truck for example.
Meccano has been sold to SpinMaster, a sizeable company producing entertainment toys/games. That may put some spark into development of robotic products, distribution, and promotion, but uncertainty into licensed production of spare parts in the near term.
Deleted old product info and added more info on robotics.
Finally SpinMaster have sets in stores, the bureaucracy was slow to do so.
As of late 2016, sets were in many stores, with more in late 2017 and continuing into fall 2018. And the Meccanoid robots are getting publicity for the Meccano name.
I've recently seen new Meccano in:
- Timeless Toys in Oak Bay
- Mastermind Toys (a chain, one in the West Shore Mall in south Langford. It's offerings included very small Meccano sets labelled 'Bolts', with .
- Princess Auto (often old stock, such as the Evolution series, several additions fall 2018).
- Canadian Tire stores in fall 2018, including a neat John Deere tracked tractor - Walmart, starting at $5. (yes, that's five, the old Pocket Meccano concept, an indication that Spinmaster and the Meccano experts in the French factory are thinking marketing)
So there's hope, Spinmaster is trying new things and promotions, but is a bureaucracy that may not understand the Meccano toy.
(Plus a recent expansion of the Meccanoids concept down into lower prices with a dinosaur version using the same body part chunks to which traditional Meccano pieces can be bolted, with smaller simpler devices called Micronoids.)
CONFUSION WITH ERECTOR NAME
(One confusion factor is that some stores in Canada have had sets labeled Erector and others labelled Meccano. Inside they are now the same - Meccano parts not original Erector which has different screw thread and axle diameter. Parts in current Erector sets are stamped Meccano, even some literature in them is labelled Meccano.) Boxes may say 'Erector by Meccano'. (See later herein for a website that should have links to buy parts for Classic Erector, and used sets.)
IINTERESTING NEW ASPECTS OF MECCANO IN RECENT YEARS:
- the screwdriver for socket head bolts ("allen key") is now much better to hold than the cheap one (which was just a standard "Allen key".
- the wrench is wider where you hold it. (For some years now an end that holds nuts has been provided standard, whereas decades ago it was only in top end sets, introduction of narrow strips necessitated that as it is slim enough to fit a nut inside a narrow double bracket.) (Meccano had switched to hexagonal nuts but returned to square some years ago while continuing to use socket-head bolts (hence the "allen key" screwdriver).
- plastic strips for regular Meccano, with thick edges
- the 'Evolution' series with 1/4 inch hole spacing in strips (back to the 30s?).
- true robotics, "Meccanoids" being the new SpinMaster system that Meccano parts can be attached to.
For younger children, construction sets entirely of plastic with much larger nuts and bolts. Some came in nice rigid satchels so your chilluns can easily put everything 'back in the box' for stowage.
In 2006 Meccano also had what I view as experiements:
- plastic sets called 'Meccano Heroes' with fire, police, and air rescue themes. Not construction sets, they had a vehicle or building with figurines and a few accessories such as a hose reel.
- A variation on Meccano Heroes had castles and gorillas to defend.
- 'youcans', various pseudo-figures of parts that snapped together magnetically.
- 'Meccano City", sets with chunks of vehicles to fasten together, complete with figurines to sit in them, some parts were regular Meccano Junior/Plastic.
My impression from SpinMaster PR including http://www.meccano.com is that users of Meccanoids can start easy with features such as the recording of limb positions, progress through dazzling with lights and sound, and then to actual programming using a computer. It appears that SpinMaster expect users to inform on programming but that seems slow coming. Dave Williams has detailed sourcing of Arduino hardware to control a Meccano model, programming in the common C++ language, but doesn't give his code. (But knowledge of C++ and Arduino hardware is commonly available. See later herein for a link to his Meccano pages.)
Some programming information is available on Meccano in the Classroom and
Information on architecture and programming for Arduino (an 'Arduino library', on the function of the various electronic modules in the robots, on wiring, and the serial data stream format). The protocols document includes a link to update software in the MeccaBrain.
Much of Meccano’s focus in the radio control and robot sets has been on audio. For example, one version of the Tuning Radio Control car set has a speaker in the car, with jack to upload .mp3 audio files. And functions of a series of small robot-looking sets related to Spykee were mostly audio and lights.)
Similarly the lower priced Micronoid Code units from Spinmaster are limited. For example, the Mincronoid Code series can rotate its body, flash lights on front, and make sounds. Much of that can be recorded by moving its body or pressing buttons. It can connect to a computer to program those actions, but it isn't clear how to get the programming software - the download appears to be for updating the larger MeccaBrain in M.A.X and Meccanoid robots, it requires a fancy computer (I've advised Spinmaster who promised to look into that).
Manuals are not always correct. For example for set 8952 blue RC car, it omits some strips and a plate, and the antenna sleeve (which the manual does not show installation of but it shows in the illustration of the finished model.
Manuals are downloadable from http://www.meccano.com.
A good support service is that missing parts can be obtained by filling out a warranty form found on the web site (fulfilled by a third party company that also sells parts).
Dave Williams' good Meccano site, updated URL, with a page of links to other people.
Erector Construction Sets (SCMEC is a good club for both classic Erector and Meccano)
Electronics in Meccano with link to a source of modules and software.
Russian copy of Meccano, circa 1991
Very nice Meccano site (New Zealand)
BC Meccano Modellers web page People whose main interest is building models.
Wikipedia's article on Meccano
Wikipedia's article on Erector, which has some shared history
Article on Keith's enjoyment of Meccano as a boy - to come
I have several new copies of this poster, received in trade.
You could purchase one or more, or trade for Meccano - contact me.
GENERAL INFORMATION ON SETS:
Various themes sets have beenproduced, including well-known buildings & monuments, ferris wheel (evoking Erector), steam locomotive, and Crazy Inventors (goofy transportation apparatus, from old car to space ship), and spefici model sets including cars and a John Deere farm tractor.
You may get a feel for later variants at http://www.amazon.com (ensure your young child narrows the search to the Toys section as searching the entire site for "erector" will produce some "interesting" products whose educational impact you may want to defer to a more discerning age - you might also look in Books) or http://www.thesourcecc.com (and muck about to find comprehensive information).
Meccano sold a number of radio control automotive sets, one of which had a connection for an MP3 audio file player that it may have a carrying place for. However the functionality of those R/C sets was limited - speed and steering are "bang bang" controls, which is crude, I hear they later offered proportional control.
Meccano has been producing a large number of different sets, of varying colours, often each is themed to a particular model though can build others, however there is a line of sets called MultiModels. Some sets are quite small, selling for under $20, recently there are Bolts sets, so named, very small using narrow strips, Mastermind was giving them away one day. (An interesting marketing approach is a series of six or so very small sets with bonus parts in each, get all six and you can make a sailboat.) The relatively recent Evolution series had 1/4 inch spacing on strips and many black fasteners (the extent not seen since the Korean War time, though Army and Highway sets in the 1960s had some), discontinued by SpinMaster.
In the U.S. the product is now branded Erector, but the parts and even the included brochure now say Meccano and are Meccano. Some interchange with traditional Erector is possible, due to half-inch hole spacing, but other parts such as screw threads are different. There may be some new parts that resemble traditional Erector, such as the long flanged plate shown in the ferris wheel illustration in the brochure. A few theme sets were produced, such as Empire State Building (if you want many flat plates that's the one for you, it was not a big seller so you may find one cheap).
(As well, someone is selling sets referred to as 'classic' Erector or such. I have not seen the parts so do not know if they are fully compatible with old Erector - I expect they are as that's the apparent purpose, or just look-alike in colors and themes as some of the really-Meccano sets like Ferris Wheel are.)
An ironic history aspect is that Erector began as a copy of the Meccano concept, after a legal fight over intellectual property rights Meccano began producing in the US and A.C. Gilbert went his way with Erector.
In the 1920s there were subtle differences between UK and US production of Meccano in parts and the cover of boxes and manuals, but parts are compatible. Oddly, early US production used the more economical method of making strips - ends not semi-circular, which reduces amount of scrap from metal sheets - while British production did not embrace that until the 1980s or so.
I doubt that traditional large sets remain available, though Meccano's dedication to those has long fluctuated, in any case a different assortment of parts might be more appropriate to take advantage of newer parts shapes. (And perhaps a large set could be produced plus packs of parts to suit different interests such as electrical or gears (remember gear sets and motor packs?) or large plate areas like ships. Say, mebbe Meccano still has some of those Empire State Building sets that could be relabeled (they had many flat girders but didn't sell well).
(Independent dealers have been selling spare parts, and there are third-party sources of special parts not produced by Meccano, though many of those entrepreneurs are aging out of their business. See web site links above for leads.)
An interesting sidelight is special distribution arrangements over the years, such as:
- a trapezoidal box sold only by Marks & Spencer stores (a small set in the style of the 6-pack series whose boxes were rectangular which falls over on shelves more easily).
- a MultiModels set distributed by Costco, a discount store popular in the northwet US and southwest Canada.
Such gets exposure, as do the nostalgia sets (one sold by Lee Valley Tools), those evoke an era but the combination of colours and parts are mixed.
Spykee Robot update 2010
Spykee has departed, replaced by Meccanoids as described earlier herein, I keep this here for people who find used ones. Was a rebranded Tamiya product, no parts compatibility, no longer offered as Meccano.
Heavy on audio/communications & lights, computer interface to setup, Internet access capability to check on your place, humanoid/insect appearance, about 32 cm tall. Check Spykee World for some details (click on different areas of the page for different versions, at least four). I cannot judge how great it is for robotics - many neat features, the home security robot application does seem very capable. Regardless, it showed some action by Meccano to embrace modern technology, especially programming by personal computer, and may raise awareness of the Erector/Meccano product line. Unfortunately it is not the equal of Lego Mindstorm, which is getting the buzz that Meccano had generations ago, with contests and use for the original purpose of Frank Hornby's efforts" - education (the "Mechanics Made Easy" start). [Beware that the name is spelled two ways on web sites covering it, Spyke and Spykee.]
There are smaller Spykee sets, appearing limited to audio functions, selling for well under $100.
Spykee has little in common with other Meccano sets, it is a renamed version of a device from the new owners of Meccano, Nikko.
It has been replaced by a more compatible series of robots called Meccanoids and Micronoids, from Spinmaster.
Comment on quality:
Contrary to what some people suggest, the finish and quality of Meccano production in recent years has been comparable to the Meccano of your youth - though the Speed Play robot, a product of recent owners Nikko, is poor quality in design and packaging. (If you had Meccano in the late 30s or late 60s and early 70s you may find that today's finish is more durable; if you had Meccano in the late 60s you may find that today's packaging is much more attractive as a gift. (And look for the molded plastic cases that can be used to store the parts after opening the package - years ago only the top end sets had cases (and very few people could afford those huge sets).) Plastics have been used well (gears run quieter, flex plates don't kink from bending - and besides plastic there is a new metal type that can be formed to stay in a shape without kinking as easily, and remote controls have been introduced. Motors are now DC for battery power, safer but perhaps not as powerful as the old AC motors with exposed workings.
History of Meccano and parts changes
The introduction of flexible plates, including triangular ones, especially the thin plastic plates, helped reproduce the more curved surfaces of airplanes and modern automobiles. (The Meccano braced girders and the braced configuration of traditional Erector strips reflect the beam and column configurations standard in bridges, buildings, and cranes at the time of introduction - separate flange and web (still seen today in roof beams of warehouse-style buildings, but not in bridges).
A wide range of parts have been produuced in the last few decades, some more broadly useable than others (the neat oriental dragon parts, for example, are rather specialized). But hey!, your grandfather may remember the ships funnel, loom parts, digger bucket, and railway parts from the 1920s, as well as the automobile and airplane sets (some having different screw threads than regular Meccano).) Not to mention Meccano X, with wide strips and rows of closely spaced holes (not to be confused with the X conversion sets circa 1970s (like the old A sets) nor numbering of some American Meccano sets circa 1920s).
Mind, Meccano had electrical sets decades ago, including:
- a radio receiver set
- a lighting set, in part for the automobile sets
- the Elektron set, 20s/30s vintage IIRC
- the Elektrikit set in the late 60s, with solenoids, relays, and photocells.
- IIRC a sizeable battery
- the Electrical Control set in the 70s, with a few parts similar to some in the Elektrikit, as well as a 4EL set that included electrical parts.
Meccano began as Mechanics Made Easy, intended for education, crude compared to Meccano a decade or two later. I have to look up the name used for a short time between MME and Meccano.
The B.C. Meccano Club was quite active again with meetings a few times a year in the Greater Vancouver BC area, but has dwindled with negligible pre-planning of meeting dates for no good reason, and contradictory policies. Thanks especially to Linda Chow and Sam Chow for their initiative and ongoing work which resurrected the club and kept it up for a few years. (And to the memory of Al Barton the departed co-founder, IIRC with Sam.) It can be an enthusiastic bunch with much knowledge and leads to more, but suffers from having some troubled members so will be gone within ten years. I no longer associate with it, because it is not properly set up.
The BCMC newsletter is long defunct, the effort to produce a 20th anniversary edition floundered - material was given to an individual who has disappeared, hopefully some day the articles written for it will be published (some of us kept a copy of what we wrote).
(Good newsletters are produced by several groups around the world, including one in Ontario (Canadian Meccanotes?) and the Southern California Meccano and Erector Club - check the Internet (some links above).)
There is a loose group in the lower mainland of B.C. focussed on building rather than collecting, Jim Picton was a key person in that but has faded, Sam Chow knows of it.
The 100th anniversary of Meccano and the 20th anniversary of MCBC have past.
Other toy products were produced by Meccano company. Dinky Toy cast vehicle models are the best known, but there were others like Bayko building blocks, IIRC a panel building set, Hornby trains, clockwork-powered speedboats, and even chemistry sets. (Hey, an old historian said that every boy needed a Meccano set, a chemistry set, and a history book. Today girls play with Meccano too.)
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