Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We All Live in a Yellow Crane: Lego Technic 8053 Review

Though I'm rarely building the original Lego models according to the schematics, I'll be the first to admit that they are often a fantastic source of tricks and ideas. And the larger the set, usually the more tricks one can expect. Therefore, I've had lots of expectations from the 8053 Mobile Crane ― while not a flagship model, its size and almost 1300 parts nevertheless place it firmly in the upper Technic echelon.

Let's begin with a brief description and features. The massive chassis houses eight wheels, each with its rack & pinion steering. All of them are operated by one large longitudinal steering axle, rotatable manually from the rear. The inner four wheels steer less than the outer (as they should), what makes the crane both very easy to steer and really stable in a curve. In case you've considered using it for racing...

The chassis also offers four extendable "butterfly" stabilizer arms. They can be easily extended and retracted through a clever system of gears and ball-joints, and each has an adjustable "foot", just like the real cranes. Nice usage of friction connectors and worm gears! The chassis also carries a basic cabin. It's cute, but offers no special functionality. But hey, it's Technic ― it doesn't have to, does it?

To simplify the construction process, the superstructure is built independently from the chassis, only for the whole lot to be easily connected together in the last steps.

It rests on a Technic turntable and, thanks to a well-judged balance above, rotates quite easily. Here we will find three separate systems, all handled by their proprietary gearboxes ― rope winder with a set of rings and pulleys, linear actuator that raises and lowers the crane, and a crane extender (it can almost double in total length). Interestingly, all three functions are operated through the same axle; it's up to the user to activate the functions he wants to control, with levers that move the underlying dog-clutches (stuff usually seen in the gearboxes). Plenty of gears and various moving parts, but nevertheless everything runs smoothly. It's not the easiest model to build, but isn't overwhelmingly complex either, and provides lots of fun.

So that's it with the general information, let's focus now on some specific areas of interest, which I suppose the avid "Technicians" will find more relevant.

Although there are no groundbreaking new ideas or concepts in this model, it is still a fantastic demonstration of highly efficient Technic design: sturdy, compact, well-packed with features, cleverly using a wide array of parts and yet not overencumbered by extreme reinforcements where unnecessary. And as such, it is a great source to learn construction techniques from.
Worth noting are the long steering hub arms for the four inner wheels that reduce the amount of steering; using the rare worm-rack gear combination to extend the crane; two dog-clutch gearboxes that allow the crane to run two operations (lifting and pulling the rope) simultaneously using the same driver axle; a quadruple butterfly arm mechanism combining the rack gears, "plus" gears and ball joints; using the friction pin to fix the rope somewhat, to hold the lifted weight without unwinding; and a truly modular design that allows the superstructure and the chassis to be built completely independently and connected only in the very final stage of construction.

Great for anyone looking for standard universal Technic "raw materials" ― plenty of beams, pins, axles, gears and a nice assortment of some little extras. The design is almost completely studless, with the exception of several long 16-stud old technic beams that are required to form a flat rail for the crane extension to slide over. It also features a modern technic turntable (though not driven with gears in this model), and a linear actuator, which lifts the crane. Eight nice off-road-friendly wheels are welcome, too.

The crane can be combined with the Power functions set to electrify the main driver axle ― it's nicely shown in the instructions, and the model itself has the cradle ready for the purpose, where the power components can fit quickly and painlessly. It could be build also with different wheels, or featuring sa longer crane (and its extension).

Thanks to the steering and stabilizer controls being mounted at the rear of the chassis and all the superstructure controls coupled near its middle, the crane is quite easy to handle. However, due to the high ratios in the gearing, it takes plenty of tedious spinning of the driver axle to get anything done. It may be a subtle motivator to buy the Power functions set, which does everything much faster.

Besides the mentioned occasional muscle workout required to extend or retract the crane in full length, and butterfly stabilizers that are somewhat fragile, no complaints. Some components are tricky to disassemble, but I'd classify that rather as a consequence of a strong, sturdy design, than a disadvantage in itself.

8053 is a fantastic set, whether you like playing with the original model, learning tricks from it or collecting the raw material and occasional special parts for your other designs. Although we've seen a number of various Lego cranes throughout the years, this one easily manages to feel fresh. Two thumbs up!

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