Monday, March 7, 2011

Lego Technic 8049 Log Loader Review: Pneumatics live on!

Compared to the massive mobile cranes or shiny Ferrari supercars we've seen among the Technic models in the last years, a classic tractor with a log loader perhaps can't achieve as much stage light. But even if it isn't something Sonny Crockett would gladly be photographed in, it's a set that should not be overlooked, and here is the main reason why.


Pneumatics, of course! This is one of the rare currently available pneumatic sets, especially as the trend seems to be moving in the favour of the recently introduced mechanical linear actuators. Let's be honest: mechanical actuators unquestionably offer some advantages in comparison to pneumatics (among which the accurate actuator control is the most important), but pneumatics don't need complicated gearing and axle mechanisms behind them, while they provide some serious power nonetheless. I think pneumatics should, therefore, not get ignored (or even worse, discontinued by TLG), and this is one of the sets that keeps them a part of the Big Picture.

So what does the set consist of? A nicely shaped tractor of an unsung green colour, with the "Hand of God" roof steering control, and a detachable trailer with a biaxial pneumatically operated crane, that can "grab" the provided log and rotate 360° as well. Though, these two latter functions do not rely on the pneumatics, but on the good old gears instead. You might argue that only the steering might be a bit shallow functionality for a Technic tractor of this size, but there is in fact very little available space for anything else, at least if one intends to keep it looking like a tractor. The crane is controlled by two valve switches on the trailer side, a pneumatic pump and a turntable rotation knob at the back, and a gear on the claw mechanism.

▪ BUILDING, IDEAS AND CONCEPTS

Its mechanical solutions parhaps aren't breathtakingly revolutionising the Technic as we know it, but it is still a nice example of a tidy, sturdy and efficient Technic design with a grain of decoration.

However, "efficient" and "sturdy" doesn't necessarily mean "simple". In fact, this set isn't the easiest to build (most of the time it's actually not difficult either, but a few steps regarding the weaving of pneumatic hoses could be very tricky for beginners), and it takes about an hour and a half to build the first time. But it's  even harder to disassemble as it has lots of tightly neighbouring half-stud beams connected by the axles, a 'feature' I'd cheerfully live without.

▪ PARTS SUPPLY

This set relies on a few non-typical parts, but a vast majority are good standard Technic building material. 525 parts altogether, which will suffice for some cute small-to-medium scale models (as is the 'B' model log loader), but for some more serious building, it will not suffice alone.

It will provide you with six medium-sized and two large offroad wheels, an always welcome turntable and, of course, pneumatics ― consisting of one large (spring-loaded) pump, two cylinders, two T-distributors, two switchvalves and a (drum roll!) rare small pump.

▪ EXPANSIONS

Officially, the 8049 set can be expanded with Power Functions to build its onboard compressor (that's what the small pump is for, which is otherwise unused in the primary model!).

Besides, the log-loading trailer is sturdy enough to be used as a base for some larger, custom contraptions. I guess it could support the crane at least twice the size and capacity, if one had the inclination and the hardware to modify it.

▪ GENERAL PROS & CONS

+ Pneumatics! Two pumps, two cylinders!
+ Fine supply of other parts (wheels, turntable...)
+ Easily customisable
+ Nice to play, well-placed controls

- Not the easiest to build
- Even less easy to disassemble
- The crane theoretically turns 360°, but the hosing gets twisted soon

▪▪ VERDICT ▪▪

Perhaps not the Technic flagship, but nevertheless a cute little playable set that keeps the pneumatic systems in the game, and as such, a great start for people interested in them. Not breaking new grounds in terms of mechanical solutions or functionality, but a good role model of simple and clean design, for a very reasonable price.


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