Why LEGO Is An Awesome Engineering Tool
I remember as a kid that pretty much my only “toy” was LEGO. Whenever there was a chance, such as birthdays or Christmas, I would ask for LEGO. I had this strange ability to be able to read and understand the instructions and build models rapidly and accurately. This started when I was 4 /5 years old. As I got older, my mum (bless her) even took me to Legoland in Denmark AND at Windsor!
I think this was the start of my engineering career – building and designing grand scale projects and ideas (yes I spent a lot of time by myself as a child!) and then in 1994, when I was 11…The *amazing* 8880 Technic Set (shown below) was released. It had steering, gears, shock absorbers and all sorts of cool and new components!
I thoroughly enjoyed building this set and I think my fate as an engineer was sealed from this point on.
Sadly, I no longer have this set as almost my entire LEGO collection disappeared (worth at least £2000 – it was literally a TV box FULL of Lego pieces) and so this rare and apparently very collectible set has disappeared from my ownership. But, the principles I learned from Lego and Technic still sit with me today.
Even as a space engineer now at 32, I still have some bits of Technic that I use to visualise concepts before making them in SolidEdge (my CAD program of choice) and now I see a wonderful range of LEGO robotics available, especially in the Mindstorms range.
The fact that you can build an unlimited amount of designs and write your own programs and scripts (and now have mobile phone apps, etc) means that efficient prototypes can be built for engineering tasks! Principle proving ideas can be created and shown, and then at the end they can be dismantled and the parts are ready to be built into an entirely new model!
Whilst Lego would not be entirely feasible for making prototypes for thermal or structural testing, for exploring moving parts and mechanism ideas (for example solar panel deployment) can be tried out without having to spend a fortune on parts every time you have an idea – that can be saved until the concept phase has been completed!
But you may be thinking – “this is a toy and has no place in the adult, professional world.”
Well, yes this is true but only to a certain degree in my opinion. Turning up to your CEO with a Lego construct may raise a few eyebrows, but for the laboratory working with team members etc, I would argue it is a fantastic engineering tool. That and its very durable and 99% of parts feel like they are nearly indestructible!
And also great fun, of course!
But not only is this great for work, but if you have a family, then it is a fantastic opportunity to share this with your children. I remember quite fondly when I was younger and my dad would sometimes join in and make things with me. Not only did he teach me engineering principles, but we also made cars and space ships and had fights with Lego armies.
So Lego: not only a wonderful engineering tool in my opinion, but also a great toy for families and bonding. I will definitely be looking into the Mindstorm sets to help me with my engineering work…
Let me know what you think of Lego. Do you think it has a place in the engineering world? Do you have any fond memories or a favourite set when you were younger? I would love to hear from you!