Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Meccano in 2016

Meccano, but not as we knew it!

Meccano have moved on a leap, again this year, with the introduction of lots of new parts and a complete new range of sets. Aimed squarely at the toy market (where it should be) the new range may have less appeal to a lot of the traditionalists. The use of more plastic parts may also put a lot off too, but don't be too hasty to condemn this move.

If you are a traditionalist and want progressive sets and standard parts, as made by Meccano until the demise of the Binns Road factory in Liverpool,  then you can have it. It is all available in abundance. There is plenty of good quality second hand stock around and it is still being manufactured by third-party suppliers, with Meccano's blessing. Meccano, on the other hand, have turned the clocks back, in marketing terms, and set about making the brand a market leader once more. This transition is not going to happen in a day, a week or even a year, but it will happen.

Over a hundred years ago, when Frank Hornby sat on that train looking out of the window at all the new and interesting things happening around him, the seed of a system that would enable his children to replicate the cranes, vehicles, trains and any other new and interesting subject of the day, was born. It used the materials and construction methods of the day, namely steel and nuts and bolts.

Meccano are now doing exactly that, but in the 21st century. As far as the youth of today are concerned, steel has largely given way to plastics and mechanical engineering has given way to electronics and computer control.  The steel and the mechanical engineering are still there, they are just not the focus of attention and are certainly not as appealing, in isolation, as they were when we were first excited by the Meccano of the mid 20th century.

New for 2016
Today's Meccano and especially the 2016 range has developed into the toy of the future. It has happened slowly, over the past two or three years, but now it it is here, providing a construction toy that will appeal to today's playing and buying generations. One hundred years ago this year, the first edition of the Meccano Magazine was issued, eighteen years after Frank Hornby's original concept was born . The children who had played with his invention created a burgeoning new pastime that was to continue into adulthood and became the adult hobby we know today.

The original system became so ingrained, into the minds of those who grew up with it, change was always going to be a delicate subject. The harsh fact today is that the adult hobbyists that perpetuated the hobby (and the sales of Meccano) in the latter parts of the 20th century are no longer the buying force they once were. What's more, we have not been able to  propagate the hobby to the younger generations over the years. I am sure the hobby as we know it is time-limited and that clock is running out rapidly.

The new Meccano of today bears very little resemblance to the red and green progressive sets we all know and love and that is how it should be if Meccano are going to encourage a new generation of enthusiasts who will take the hobby forward into adulthood. This new hobby will be all about development into the future, not so much about replicating the past. The Meccano clubs and societies will eventually disappear and be replaced with 'Maker' groups, while the Shows and exhibitions will evolve into 'Maker' conventions.

Meccano have embraced this change and are slowly reinventing the product so It will fit into this new tide of creativity while still retaining the DNA that is Meccano enabling all new parts to be totally back-compatible with what has gone before. Over the past year or so Sue and I have had the chance to see and work with these new parts that are just starting to appear in some of the 2015/16 sets. The new sets shown at the London Toy Fair this week introduce a lot more new parts to the system. The fact that they are all totally back-compatible means that they can be incorporated into our 'traditional' model making.

Just remember Meccano always was a toy first and it was that toy that appealed to us as youngsters that we developed into a hobby. The toys of our youth have no appeal to today's kids and that is why we have very few younger members of our hobby today. The new 2016 range is designed to appeal to kids and I am sure it will.


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