Series 3/3: For the Love of Lego – This series reflects on the role Lego can play in understanding and tackling engineering problems.
In my final year of university I was researching the impact of the span rise ratio (bridge length over height) of masonry arch bridges on its capacity. This was a complex challenge and involved creating an excel model based on the equations of different geometric forms. The excel model predicted the force line throughout the structure and compare it with the material properties. This was a complex procedure and was able to provide a great deal of insight into the problem. After testing thousands of different bridges I was able to provide updated curves to the current standard which improved the accuracy of current methods and increased capacity by up to 40%. This could present enormous savings in the cost of detailed bridge inspections. The problem was this was all theoretical and experimentation on masonry arch bridges was costly. How do I test the theory in a quick, accurate and simple manner?
Experimentation can often be seen as complex procedure involving hefty equipment and never ending health and safety checks. This is not the case, experimentation can take any form and testing paper bridges is one of the simplest structural experiments you can do. If you have ever wondered why bridges come in all different shapes grab some paper and pennies and try loading different types of paper bridges. This is exactly what I undertook for my research and enabled me to test hundreds of different bridges with different span rise ratios and paper thickness. Creating a modular loading rig out of Lego made testing the different bridges a simple and fast process. With a large data set I was able to confirm that the results from the theoretical model were correct.
Lego wasn’t at the center of the solution but it did provide me with the creativity required to design the solution. When undertaking research the task may often seem complex and endless. It is easy to loose sight of the challenge and get caught up in the complexity of the detail. Innovation is about persevering and staying focused. There are many challenges around modelling a scale masonry arch bridge instead of trying to create the perfect model, I created a simple model that enabled me to respond to the challenge I had set. The best innovations can rise up from simple and creative insights into complex challenges.
Series 2/3: For the Love of Lego – This series reflects on the role Lego can play in understanding and tackling engineering problems.
When I bought my wife an engagement ring she was so happy she allowed me to take her to the Lego Land Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre. Entering Lego Land we felt like giants, this was not so much caused by the armies of Lego men but by the large groups of toddlers. We quickly learnt that the sets were designed for this age group and we were far away from the refined world of Lego Architect or Mindstorms Series. Yet among this we surprisingly had a great time learning about the manufacturing of Lego bricks, identifying the different buildings and their location and testing structures on an earthquake testing rig!
The earthquake testing rig took me back to when my dad would help me build the biggest tower possible out of Duplo. For some reason the tower had to incorporate a working lift which made the challenge that much more difficult. It took a long time to perfect the tower and enabled me to gain an understanding of different structural forms and their strength. The earthquake testing table added to the challenge, after building a tower you could increase the intensity of the shaking until the building fell down. It was interesting to see different structural forms react and eventually collapse. My research led me to not recommend Lego or Duplo structures in an earthquake prone zone.
Lego is not only a tool for creativity but a great way to understand and explore engineering design. Lego Mindstorms is capable of presenting complex manufacturing technology in an elegant and accessible manner. It breaks down the engineering design stages to provide an insight into engineering solutions. In doing so Lego provides a platform through which young people can engage with engineering and gain an insight into the different engineering principles.
Series 1/3: For the Love of Lego – This series reflects on the role Lego can play in understanding and tackling engineering problems.
A couple of months back I got a message from my sister advising me that Transport for London had made a Lego bus stop outside the London Hamleys store on Regent Store. Immediately I started looking for conferences or training opportunities that would give me an excuse to get down to the City. Lego has always been a passion for me and growing up I constantly had Lego trains driving round my room. It was a daily challenge trying to lay out a Lego track and try and use the room as a functional space. It is therefore not a surprise to my family that I decided to become a civil engineer and have always had a passion for railways.
Quite often we can see engineers as Lego designers setting the instructions and restricting what we can achieve. The truth is far from that’ an engineer’s role is to expand and change the scope of what we believe to be possible. Every challenge presents a new set of problems, the role of an engineer is to find creative and innovative ways of overcoming these problems. We do set constraints based on health and safety and we map out these constraints. The role of an engineer is to challenge these boundaries; creating breakthroughs with new materials and methods. An engineer has to stay within the boundaries of what is feasible but create the extraordinary.
“LEGO SERIOUS PLAY taps into the human ability to imagine – to describe and make sense of the business at hand, to initiate change and improvement, and even to create something radically new”
Lego Serious Play is a great example of the power of creativity and constraints. The philosophy of serious play lies within the power of the imagination. It uses Lego construction to tell a story, presenting a catalyst for people to connect and exchange ideas. It is a simple idea and its strength lies within the constraints of the physical bricks. The constraints enable the untold story to unfold guided by the available resources. These ideas are also present in Lego Creationary where upon selecting a card you have to present an object with limited bricks. The game forces the player to be creative by using the Lego bricks for different uses other than originally intended. This is a core value of innovation and aligns with the idea that true innovation is born from the necessity to overcome challenges with limited resources.