Prototyping

Lets say you want to test out an idea for a robot car, DVD changing robot arm, automatic card sorter or something similar. Machining your own parts would be time consuming. So what are the options for rapid prototyping?

Lego Mindstorm

The best known option and a huge community

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Easy to find help and wide variety of parts. You can get hold of lego mindstorm in almost any toystore. The downside is that lego is its own world. Lego parts don’t mesh naturally with regular industrial components. You are typically limited to using parts made specifically for lego.


Meccano

Readily available and works quite well with non meccano parts from industry

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In Norway you can find Meccano at:

It is slower to put together things with Meccano than with Lego but the benefit is that the same approach for connecting things as “real” objects: screws and nuts. So you can more easily connect it to standard industrial components.

It also give a more solid construction, which you could keep as the final version if you want to.


Fischertechnik

Plastic parts like lego, but designed mainly for prototyping machines and engineering structures

Fischertechnik Rover

The way pieces are fitted together is very different from Lego. It is similar to how industrial prototyping systems such as T-slots works. In fact it can be combined with OpenBeam aluminium T-slots. This makes the system one of the most flexible ones covered on this page. Unlike Lego and Meccano pieces do not need to be fitted together at fixed points. The main downside fischertechnik is that:

MakerBeam

A T-slot system for small hobby sized constructions

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T-slots used in the industry is usually 20x20mm, which is impractical for a hobbyist. MakerBeam is 10x10mm which is far more practical.

It is not sold as a toy like Lego, Meccano and Fischertechnik however. Using it requires more knowledge. There are no ready made kits with instructions.MakerBeams are really just beams, brackets and screws. There are no ready made kits for building particular models. You have to buy industry standard motors, gears etc to make something usefull.


OpenBeam

MakerBeam’s bigger brother

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At 15x15mm OpenBeam is the same size as a standard fischertechnik building block. OpenBeam’s main advantage over other forms of T-slots is that they have been designed to be used with regular nuts and bolts. Other T-slot systems have custom nuts and bolts which are harder to get hold of and more expensive.