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Abstract

Introduction

Theory/Background
In today's world, building blocks are quintessential children's toys. They teach basic principles of
geometry and physics as they pertain to structures, while also providing amusement to make
their use enjoyable. This satisfies the parents' expressed desire for toys that are both
educational and enjoyable. Furthermore, use of building blocks can spark an interest in other
subjects, such as art, mathematics, or physics and other sciences.
At the time this report was written, LEGO was a particularly successful brand of building block. It
made use of injection-molded plastic blocks that used friction between depressions and
protrusions to fasten the blocks together. The injection molding made the manufacturing
process cheap, quick, and efficient. Furthermore, the low tolerances in their manufacturing
processes are renowned for their ability to make separation of attached blocks a difficult task.
Yet another merit of their methods is that pieces are all designed around a certain set of
dimensions, yet there is still a colossal variety in the pieces they produce. In many ways, the
presented solution sought to emulate that design, that paragon of efficiency, compatibility, and
aesthetics. However, it should be noted that, despite its many merits, LEGO blocks sacrificed an
accurate simulation of certain aspects of architecture for simplicity and aesthetics. The solution
presented in this report sought to address those shortcomings as well.
There is also a wide variety of building blocks that dont use fastening systems, instead using
friction between the flat surfaces of the blocks to hold them in place. These blocks are also very
limited, as they cant accurately simulate architecture on their own (Without some form of
adhesive or other form of attachment). The presented solution sought to overcome the
shortcomings of that design as well. Furthermore, those blocks would usually only use blocks
and wedges, and any arches would simply look like arches without simulating the mechanics of
a true arch, using a single piece rather than many archstones. This shortcoming is permissible,
however, because use of adhesives to accurately simulate these principles would not only ruin
the reusability aspect of the product, but also present an unacceptable safety hazard, as many
building blocks of this type are intended for small children. This, of course, raises the question of
what form of fastening would provide adequate support without being permanent or
endangering the users.
The form of fastening used in the presented solution is a hook-and-loop fastening system. While
not a perfectly accurate simulation due to the duality required for such a system, it provides
adequate support for the chosen material (antimicrobial foam, a material chosen not only for its

relative safety, but its light weight.), is easy to separate if that is intended, and uses a common
attachment system to build familiarity with its workings.
It should be noted that there are already blocks using hook-and-loop fasteners on the market,
specifically those offered by Velcro. However, those are primarily designed for aesthetic appeal,
not an accurate simulation of building structures. It would appear that their sets are intended for
a single configuration, rather than being a set of blocks that can be assembled in numerous
configurations, as the presented product is.
Market research indicated that there was a significantly valuable market for construction toys, as
shown by LEGOs success. LEGO is currently the best-selling toy brand, earning the equivalent
of $5.4 billion in revenue in 2015. While much of this can be attributed to success in other
ventures, such as their LEGO-themed amusement parks and a highly successful film, their
success predates those instances of diversification.
The presented product would most likely only capture a small part of that market share, but it
would still be a very valuable portion, and the benefits of inspiring children to pursue science
and engineering, the primary goal of the product, are also worth quite a bit.
Methodology
The objective for the presented process was to create a practical, marketable toy that inspired
some aspect of science or engineering. The method in which it inspired science or engineering
was not specified, so a multitude of possible solutions were available. Each of the 5 members of
the team was told to produce 15 ideas of possible toys, which would then be discussed as
possible solutions. The high quota of ideas was meant to ensure that even unusual ideas would
not be ignored, thus bringing a greater range of ideas to provide more options and adding more
originality to the pool of possible solutions.
When the ideas were to be presented, each member of the team was told to evaluate their own
concepts and select 5 of them to present. 3 of the 24 presented ideas (one member of the team
opted to present only 4) were selected through evaluation using a Pugh comparison chart with 7
criteria assessed by the members of the team (see Appendix 1). They were as follows: ease of
use, durability, learning factor (which had twice the weight), engineering aspect (which was also
weighted twice), safety, originality, and ease of making. The Pugh Comparison chart was meant
to be a way of evaluating the concepts by the chosen criteria in a relatively unbiased manner.
However, a pugh comparison chart requires that something is chosen to serve as a standard
against which all others are compared. The standard in this case was the science circle, a toy
that was extremely strong in learning factor and unusually weak in durability (any criterion where
the average value was more that +-.5, +-1 for the categories with doubled weight, was
considered an indication of abnormal strength or weakness for the science circle), thus causing
possible inaccuracy in evaluating toys with lower learning factor or higher durability values.

Through the previously mentioned process, the 3 selected ideas were: a concept for a
reprogrammable, remote-controlled, miniature submarine; a reconfigurable, reprogrammable,
miniature airplane/helicopter; and foam building blocks with attached hook-and-loop fasteners.
The later stages of the design process required further evaluation of these 3 ideas, and the
eventual selection of a single idea for the creation of a prototype, as the small size of the team,
the similarly small size of the given time frame, and the even smaller size of the budget made
development of more than 1 toy impractical.
The next stage of the process was evaluation of the 3 concepts using feedback from a group of
children and parents within the targeted age groups for each toy. Through this process, the
concept of hook-and-loop fastened building blocks was removed from the running for its lack of
appeal to the focus groups, which consisted of mostly male children around the age of 10 and
their parents, who found the submarine and reconfigurable aircraft ideas much more interesting,
although they voiced concerns about issues such as waterproofing and cost. However, it should
be noted that the estimate of the target demographic for the Lockin Blocks, as they were later
named, was later reevaluated, reaching the conclusion that the focus group was, in fact, too old
to fall within the set range for that product.
After the focus groups evaluation, the team was instructed to produce sketch models of each
product. These sketch models were to be full-size and show what the toy was supposed to look
like when it was completed. Since the blocks were removed as a possible solution, only sketch
models for the submarine and aircraft were necessary. However, it became apparent during the
sketch model phase that there was much more difficulty in the process of designing aircraft than
was originally anticipated. Research had to be done to find the proper placement of the engines
on the wings, the length and shape of the wings, and the placement of wings and tailfins on the
fuselage. These concerns were only nominally resolved during this stage by finding an
appropriate wingspan-to-fuselage length ratio and a deciding to use a 2-engine design.
The final sketch model was made of expanded polystyrene foam, which we shaped with a foam
cutter, X-acto knives, and sandpaper. However, during this stage we also encountered an issue
with finding an appropriate attachment system to keep the removable parts in place. It was
decided that that would be resolved at a later stage, so a simple system of wooden dowels was
used to keep the wings and fins attached to the fuselage of the sketch model. Finally, the sketch
model was coated with spackle, which provided a smooth, solid surface to the otherwise uneven
surface of the foam, so that the sketch model could be painted. The result was a
spackle-covered EPS plane sculpture with removable wings and spray-painted camo
decorations (see Appendix 2 for more images).

(Above): The aforementioned sketch model of the plane concept.


The submarine encountered less difficulty with design factors, as the critical issues of
waterproofing, remote signal, and water pressure didnt need to be addressed yet. However, the
thoroughly tedious process of sculpting the submarine shape out of a stack of cardboard sheets
caused significant difficulty in making the sketch model. The final result was a submarine
sculpture made of a stack of cardboard sheets hot-glued together, which was then covered with
duct tape to more accurately simulate the final product (see Appendix 3 for more images).

(Above): The aforementioned sketch model of the submarine concept. Note the circular piece
on the front, which was meant to indicate where the camera would go.
After the sketch model phase, the development of the submarine and aircraft concepts was
accelerated, which revealed the true difficulty of designing such equipment. In the case of the
reconfigurable aircraft, there not only had to be remote control, reprogrammability, an
attachment system that could withstand repeated use, as well as sustain minimal damage from
the stresses of flight, materials that would be similarly durable, electronics that would be
relatively cheap and lightweight, and custom-designed wings and propellers. Due to the lack of
aerodynamics knowledge, fast-approaching deadlines, and woefully insufficient budget, the

feasibility of the concept was reevaluated, and the aircraft project was scrapped before the
mockup phase began.
Preliminary research revealed that the mere evaluation of air resistance would require
mathematical skills far beyond what the team had. None of the team members had knowledge
of calculus or time to learn enough to evaluate the aerodynamics. Furthermore, the issues with
electronics and materials remained mostly unresolved, so, in the face of insurmountable
difficulty, the teams limited time and even more limited resources (available material, money,
skills, etc.) were shifted to a more feasible concept.
After halting development of the aircraft concept, efforts were refocused on the submarine toy,
but difficulties were plentiful with that concept, too. Waterproofing was the primary concern, but
concerns were also voiced about the strain that the electronics and programming would put on
our quickly-dwindling resources. The provided $50 budget was grossly inadequate for such an
advanced machine. Furthermore, the promised remote control feature would also prove difficult,
as water causes interference for radio waves, so a solution would have to be devised to avoid
this interference or at least minimize its impact so that we could deliver this crucial feature. The
issues of water pressure, materials choice, and cost were also mostly unaddressed.
Eventually, the submarine idea was also scrapped, this time at the mockup phase. The
electronics and programming proved too difficult to complete within the given time frame, as
most of the team was lacking in programming expertise, the electronics were deemed too
expensive, and the issue of waterproofing remained unaddressed. It was decided in the face of
these difficulties that a satisfactory product for this concept could not be delivered with the given
time constraints and funding. However, the funding was non-negotiable, and the time
constraints were only slightly more flexible (see Appendix 4 for more images, or appendix 6 for
a spreadsheet of our budget).

(Above): The electronics required for the submarine, the purchase of which was the single
largest purchase made by the team. That expense alone was over $40 over budget.

However, throwing out the submarine idea meant that another idea would have to be developed
to replace it. After the difficulties of the aircraft and the submarine concepts, it was unlikely that
anything incorporating electronics or programming would be selected as a replacement, so the
team focused on selecting one of the lower-tech ideas. Ultimately, the velcro-secured building
blocks were reevaluated, leading to their selection. The idea was not only inexpensive to
implement, but also required minimal time and skill, which would allow its development to fit
within the given timetable.
Development of the building blocks proved much less difficult in many ways. Firstly, the costs
were miniscule compared to the other ideas, even to the point of almost being able to fit within
our unreasonably small budget. Secondly, there was relatively little time required, as the
abundance of test material meant that field tests could replace time-consuming mathematical or
computerized simulations. Finally, this product, unlike the other concepts, did not rely on
technology creep, a process by which products within the same niche become increasingly
technologically advanced in an attempt to outdo competitors. Instead, this concept relied on an
alternative method of attachment to make it distinctive, and focused on weaknesses of other
products in the field to outperform them in their weakest areas, rather than attempting to
challenge their greatest advantages.
For instance, LEGO products have more of a focus on aesthetics and simplicity, so they usually
forgo trusses and completely ignore accurate arches in order to make simpler, more elegant
designs. However, the velcro-secured building blocks would include arches and trusses, which
would feature prominently in its designs, in order to challenge the LEGO products in their
weakest field, accurate simulation of construction, rather than trying to challenge them in their
stronger fields, such as durability and aesthetics.
Normal construction blocks, on the other hand, are meant to provide an accurate simulation of
construction, but they are usually simple, ignoring trusses and arches completely and making
structures much more likely to collapse, since their blocks are heavier and theres no way to
keep the block in place except with the weights or normal forces of other blocks.
When the velcro blocks were developed, there was little time before mockups would have to be
presented. As a result, the main issue of dimensioning would have to be addressed
immediately. Fortunately, a quick fix was suggested: dimension the blocks to fit the velcro. Since
the velcro strips were .75 in wide, but the inch was too difficult to use for smaller dimensions, so
the dimension was approximated to 19 mm. As a result, the column was made a 19x19x44mm
rectangular prism, as it was meant to be as tall as 2 cubes stacked on top of each other. Cubes
were 19x19x19mm cubes, and an extra 4mm was added to the height to account for the size of
the velcro connection, which was about that size according to our measurements. The
dimensions of the cube were used as the standard units against which all other pieces would be
measured (see Appendix 5 for more images).

(Above): Several cubes, columns, and an arch piece (the wedgelike piece on top) stuck
together.
At first, there were only cubes, columns, and floors, which served as a foundation for a
structure. However, that limited variety only allowed for post-and-lintel construction, which was
so simple that it could be done with normal building blocks. It was apparent that more types of
pieces would have to be introduced in order to distinguish the product from its competitors.
Hence, the arch was developed. As arches made of multiple pieces were nonexistent in the
competition, including that feature was deemed the best way to create a distinctive product with
an advantage of some sort over the competitors.
The arch would not only allow the product to offer a more accurate simulation of construction,
but would allow for a greater variety of architectural features, such as barrel vaults. As a result,
arches were given priority for development over trusses. However, there were issues with
integrating arches into the existing set, as the dualistic nature of velcro would require either that
a capstone piece be designated (which would increase the difficulty of use without any real
benefit), or that each floor be changed to have alternating hook and loop parts. The latter was
chosen, as it wouldnt require a significant increase in difficulty. This new pattern, dubbed the
checkerboard pattern for its resemblance to a checkerboard, was intended to be the model for
all future floor pieces. However, due to dwindling resources and time, as well as a change in
materials, only 1 piece was ever made.

(Above): The aforementioned checkerboard floor piece.


Results/ Analysis
Through the process described above, it was determined that the reconfigurable aircraft and
reprogrammable submarine were beyond the teams means to design, so both ideas were
eventually scrapped. The Velcro blocks, despite their initially poor showing in the focus group
phase, were probably not fairly evaluated because they appeal to a much younger audience
than the team interviewed.
However, the cost per unit projections, which are based on rough estimates of material
requirements, vary widely, with the most optimistic being $11 to produce a set, not including
labor costs, shipping, R&D, the packaging, or marketing. This isnt exactly feasible, as the most
optimistic estimate of labor requirements is 2 hours per set, as the task has been performed by
hand until now. That would add another $14.50 per set, reaching a total of $25.50 per set, which
is still not including packaging, marketing, shipping, or R&D.
In light of these cost estimates, it is unlikely that the presented product will ever reach the
market without numerous changes in materials and manufacturing processes. However, the
other products would not have been able to have complete designs within the given time frame,
much less working prototypes within the given budget. The cost estimates for the submarine
were $200 per unit at the most optimistic (still not including marketing, R&D, shipping,
packaging, or labor costs, and assuming that the electronics initially bought would be sufficient
by themselves for the submarine), and the calculation for that was done before any of the critical
issues were addressed, such as waterproofing and wi-fi connection. That alone would incur a
$150 deficit, which is only as small as it is because some resources were given by the school for
this project. Those resources would not be available if the concept were to go into mass
production, increasing costs by $50 per unit at the very least. The cost estimates for the plane
werent even estimated, as the likelihood of being able to complete even part of the design for
such an advanced product would be far beyond the teams abilities.
The next step in the design for the lockin blocks was to

Summary

References
http://www.velcro.com/products/blocks
http://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/lego-group/annual-report
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-03-13/lego-builds-new-billionaires-as-toymaker-t
opples-mattel

Appendices
Appendix 1: Pucc chart

In the Averages column, the average values for each category were evaluated. The boxes
marked in red indicate unusual strength/weakness of the standard.

Appendix 2: Plane sketch model

Appendix 3: Submarine sketch model

Appendix 4: Submarine mockup

Appendix 5: Lockin blocks mockup

Appendix 6: budget spreadsheet