Start small: lessons from a Transformers RC

Updated: Apr 9


Sometimes I build miniature models of my ideas to test feasibility.

If an idea shows merit at small size, then it's worth exploring further at larger size.

Recently, I was engineering a multi-stage unfolding mechanism for a 1:24 scale RC Transformers Optimus Prime robot.

I needed to understand how the arm components would tuck under the windshield in the 'collapsed' state.

I had sketched a few ideas which showed the fenders and cab doors as the forearms, and the cab sleeper section as the biceps.

The concept sketch seemed to have merit.

Now, this is normally when I would dive into CAD for several hours and get my 3D printers humming.

But something was puzzling me about the joint design. I felt like I was missing something obvious. The design seemed too simple.

I figured the solution would come to me once I had real parts in my hands.... So I started making parts.

I walked back to my workshop and started cutting on the bandsaw.

In five minutes, I had cut a small chunk of wood into several pieces that represented the main mechanism components.

The dimensions really didn't matter, so I don't measure anything. I was just trying to make sure all the components would line up the way they did in my sketch.

I quickly realized the fatal flaw I had overlooked in my sketch. The 'shoulder' joints on each side of the truck were taking up more real estate than expected.

Back to the drawing board!

Seeing parts in real life is a good way to confirm my assumptions. I've learned to trust my gut when something seems puzzling.

Working at small scale reduced the labor and material costs of my prototype.

I could have built the wood model at the full 1:24 scale, but I would have learned the same lesson.

I like to start small/cheap when the design is uncertain and risk is high, then increase prototyping investment as my design gets better.

Have a great week!


Call me if you have any questions on your next plastics project: 763-229-9516


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