KEITH'S MECCANO PAGE
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.
Links to Meccano information on robot architecture and programming added./P)>
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 the Meccanoid robots are getting publicity for the Meccano name.
I've seen new Meccano in:
- Timeless Toys in Oak Bay
- Mastermind Toys (a chain, one in the West Shore Mall in south Langford
- Princess Auto (old stock, most recently the Evolution series).
- 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)
- on the ToysRus.ca website, which helps you check stock in individual stores
So there's hope.
(Plus an expansion of the Meccanoids line down into lower prices with a dinosaur version using the same body part chunks to which traditional Meccano pieces can be bolted.)
(One confusion factor is that some stores in Canada have had sets labeled Erector and others labelled Meccano. Inside they are 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.)
My early impression is there are now three packaging colours about, in order of vintage:
- light blue background (last production under Tamiya ownership, labelled Made in France (production had been moving back to France from the Orient due to a shift in cost balance).
- darker blue background (probably early production under SpinMaster ownership, Calais France on the label, sets seemmuch like the last Tamiy production).
- white background with Meccano name in red.
Interesting new aspects of Meccano:
- the screwdriver for socket head bolts ("allen key") is much better to hold than the cheap one.
- 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).
- true robotics, "Meccanoids" being the new SpinMaster system that Meccano parts can be attached to.
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 progress to actual programming. It appears that SpinMaster expect users to inform on programming, 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 were mostly audio and lights.)
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.
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.
Availability of Meccano:
** NOT ALL ENTRIES CHECKED LATELY
- BC Shaver & Hobbies on Fort St. in Victoria weren't interested in handling the brand anymore, having been burned by SpinMaster's high minimum-order quantity and lack of desire from other small retailers to collaborate on a large order..
- Science Works on Oak Bay Ave. in the Victoria B.C. area closed due to business challenges and the owner's interest being primarily in telescopes. There was a home-based seller of scientific toys in the area.
- Down the block Timeless Toys is serious about stocking Meccano, both plastic and regular, it's a general toy store not an antique store.
- Lee Valley Tools has had a nostalgia-invoking Meccano set for sale, shown in their Christmas catalogue. The parts are in the style circa 1930, braced girders but no flex plates, red-green colours though technically more like 1950s shades. However, the bolt heads appear to be the hex socket type used in recent years, thus compatible with regular sets now in other stores. (The illustration shows a wrench for the traditional square nuts, whereas in recent decades Meccano has vacillated between hex and square nuts - there should be a wrench in each set.) That set was shown on the web sites of Borgfeldt and Lee Valley Tools in past years. I've also seen it in Science Works in the past. It's shown on Lee Valley's web site in late 2016 but they didn't answer my query for verification it is current.
- The Chapters/Indigo chain of bookstores was offering Meccano, at least on their web site, but no longer.
- And...ToysRUs stores have Meccano in early 2016, web site lists Meccano in late 2016.
Meccano's web site provides the manual for each recent set so you can see what parts are included. Private sites provide some manuals including in French.
ANOTHER NEW OWNER:
The Meccano product has been sold to SpinMaster toy company of Toronto. What Meccano needs is an owner with ample pockets who is an enthusiast with good sense of business and both traditional markets and new ones like robotics. If anyone has such money and good values I am open to offers to manage the enterprise. ;-o
(Spinmaster was slow to spin up to get product into stores, they have produced a reasonable robot with a name reminiscent of Meccano (Meccanoid) and attachment holes for Meccano parts, and are getting publicity. There is hope.)
GENERAL INFORMATION ON SETS:
A 2004 brochure showed these sets:
> Meccano Heroes, fire rescue and castle sets with people figures, age 4+
> Yoocans, magnetic pieces that make cartoon figures and transportation vehicles, age 3-5
> plastic Meccano, in Construction, Creation and City themes, many sets, ages 4-8 (the Meccano concept but in larger pieces)
> real Meccano in a number of attractive sets, labelled Design or Multi Model, ages 8-14
> Special Edition sets, including well-known buildings & monuments, ferris wheel (evoking Erector), steam locomotive, and Crazy Inventors (goofy transportation apparatus, from old car to space ship)
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 sells a number of radio control automotive sets, one of which has a connection for an MP3 audio file player that it may have a carrying place for. However the functionality of those R/C sets is limited - speed and steering are "bang bang" controls, which is crude, I hear they now offer 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. (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.)
In the U.S. the product is 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 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.
There are subtle differences between UK and US production of Meccano in parts and the cover of boxes and manuals, but parts are compatible. Oddly, 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 shows 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.
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 does not kink 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.
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).
And one area that Meccano has advanced in, though not enough to suit market demand, is electrics and remote control. Perhaps the new owners will increase development in those areas, as they are in the remote control toy business, but they seem very slow (sadly, not competitive with other toys including a metal construction set sold by Radio Shack in the US and Lego Mindstorm).
Mind, Meccano had electrical sets years ago, including:
- a radio receiver set
- a lighting set, in part for the autombile sets
- the Elektron set, 20s/30s vintage IIRC
- the Elektrikit set in the late 60s, with solenoids, relays, and photocells.
- 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 is dwindling 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 hte focussed on building rather than collecting, Jim Picton is a key person in that.
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 and a chemistry set.)
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