Saturday, May 27, 2006

Question Hour

by Tom Bozzo

(An occasional series of posts discussing search terms that lead visitors to this blog.)

I saw a Site Meter record the other day indicating that someone had visited the blog via the search term "Lego Factory Bad." My first reaction was "No! LEGO Factory good!"

I've now received and built two LEGO Factory sets, one of my own design (previously mentioned here), and the other by a prominent builder in the grown-up LEGO building community.* Word is that the pieces for the custom sets are picked and bagged in Denmark, shipped in bulk to the U.S., and then boxed and shipped to the end users in Connecticut; given that, the two week total fulfillment time was not unreasonable. The relatively small price premium for customization is more of a surprise. The conventional LEGO packaging process is highly automated, and they've either developed a means of adapting that to single-set runs, a la computer controlled milling machines, or they're taking a bath on each set. I'd suspect the former, which if nothing else would be the forward-looking technology.

As for DIY set design, it's very much a matter of garbage-in, garbage-out. Running a blog and all, I can't get too high-and-mighty about others' uses of vanity presses. A limitation of the system as it stands is that there's no easy way to be directed to work of particular merit, versus kids just slapping a few bricks together (not that there's anything wrong with that) — though unsurprisingly the online community partly remedies that.

Good builders can produce good creations with the system, even with the current assortment limitations.
At upper left is Chris Giddens's Space Scooter X-19 (173 pieces, about $20, astronaut not included), which is sturdy and swooshable. My black airspeeder (250 pieces, about $28) came out mostly as intended, though I'd omitted a structural connection between two segments of the upper fuselage; I'd overlooked it in the absence of simulated gravity in the CAD program. A couple ordinary bricks from my collection fixed it easily. Compared to its conventionally-built inspiration (at right), sturdy the airspeeder ain't, though; it's for static display rather than toddler play.

An interesting question is how they'll deal with customer service questions related to model design flaws. Dealing with my own error was not too annoying, but suppose it wasn't me? In the unlikely event anyone other than me would want one, I uploaded a less-flawed replacement model using six additional pieces. I'd assume that the sort of person buying someone else's creation at this stage of the game knows something about the wilds they're getting into. If not, I expect there's something in the Terms of Service I quickly clicked through.
Agreed: Lego Factory Good.

Ah! I'm so mad at myself for forgetting to ask to see your prized Lego creations! I've could've seen them in person!

(Well, that is if you allow strange people to gaze upon your good Legos.)
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