Attract public like no other

Demonstrate your HMI in action on a LEGO assembly line that works like a real one

Display a realistic LEGO model of your machine

Taking part at a fair can be very expensive, especially if you have to bring and install heavy bulky machinery to a trade show. You could avoid bringing the real machine, showing a video of it in action. But it is difficult to attract the attention of prospects and then communicate the value of their work to them through the usual boring video on a screen. There is nothing worse than wasting money and then being ignored because your stand is anonymous, like many others.
But what should you do to attract public to your booth instead? There is a way, even if it seems incredible!
Read on, my story is almost unbelievable, and revolves around a programmable LEGO brick.

A LEGO industrial model was the real star of the show

I’ll tell you a true story. In 2010, I was working as an R&D engineer for an automated warehouse logistics company. We were going to participate to INTERPACK, the most important trade and packaging fair,  and the company would have spent a lot of money on the set up of the stand: robotic cells for palletization and wrapping, big heavy automatic forklifts, food and wine, dancers/singers and other off-topic attractions.

I proposed to the CEO and the head of marketing to design and build a scale LEGO model of a small working warehouse logistics cycle, with a 4DOF anthropomorphic robot that would pick and place colored balls by dividing them by color into various gravity racks, and an automatic line following forklift (AGV) that would move the balls from the end to the beginning of the loop.

The CEO and owner were enthusiastic about it, the people in sales and marketing were like: “Real machines do sell, not your contraptions! To attract the public, we already have the singers and Italian food!”

In the end, I was given a month away from the usual R&D job to develop this scale plant using LEGO bricks, LEGO Technic elements, LEGO MINDSTORMS components and other electronics. This is the video I shot in the office at the end of the test before packing the model and sending it to the fair.

My LEGO warehouse model outstaged the real machines

The people swarmed to admire with big eyes my LEGO prototype at work, ignoring the massive real machines (and the singers) that were just a few meters away!

It was embarrassing, because the marketing people were definitely annoyed by the unexpected success that my LEGO model was enjoying, which a few weeks earlier they did not hesitated to call a “toy”. Eventually, they came to recommend that I invite my audience to talk to them about closing any business deals. One of the company’s salespeople even proposed to become my agent! Incredible, but true.

It was this extremely positive experience that gave me the idea and the upsurge to start my own business to create automatic LEGO models on commission for all companies: hardware manufacturers or software developers.

a working LEGO industrial model of a warehouse showing simulation of a logistic process

Custom made LEGO scale reproductions of real industrial machines

For simulations, testing, training, marketing and promotion of your company at trade fairs or events, we create truly functional custom-made LEGO models that reproduce all kinds of industrial processes on a small scale: warehouse logistics, assembly of objects, painting, baking , stamping of metal parts. The models are working for real! The LEGO reproductions of real machines can work in stand-alone mode (fire and forget), or integrated and interfaced with your proprietary management software. Exhibiting your product made with LEGO at the fair could make a difference! We are not talking about large static LEGO sculptures, but working reproductions of real industrial plants made with LEGO.

For example, you may find an industrial LEGO model very useful for demonstrations or testing if your company develops software such as Industry 4.0 applications, Human Machine Interfaces (HMI), Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), Product Development Process (PDP), Product Data Management (PDM), Product Life-cycle Management (PLM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), like SAP, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) or Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM).

A LEGO prototype can help you save money

  • Show off a prototype of a still non-existent machine at work
  • Drastically cut the costs of transporting heavy machinery, renting an exhibition stand which is large enough to contain them
  • Cost-effective solution to improve your presence at trade shows, , compared to the rental or transport of real machinery
  • Showcase a working model of a real industrial plant that you might otherwise only show on video because it is big, heavy, bulky or expensive to take to the fair
  • Train your employees on Industry 4.0 with a working detailed model without the need of real plants, avoiding potential damages in case of errors
  • Each model can generate data from sensors and processing phases for subsequent analysis and process optimization
  • You can test and demonstrate your UI/UX design applied on a working LEGO industrial model
  • Hassle-free installation and operation
  • Complete troubleshooting documentation
  • Easy interfacing with your own software

Services included with your custom LEGO model design

  • Free 30-minute consultancy call to discover if your needs fit my services, no strings attached
  • Low-cost initial feasibility study is amortized in the final cost
  • Production and insured delivery of turnkey working LEGO model
  • Remote and on-site model support
  • Model customization and company branding (UV-printing on LEGO bricks)
  • Realistic renderings of the custom LEGO models for your communication media

LEGO Robotic Stamping Cell interfaced with a real ABB robot

In early 2016, the Press Automation division of ABB Robotics (Sabadell, Spain) contacted me to realize a set of LEGO modules for a robotic cell model to be showed during an upcoming series of events and fairs in United States and Europe. The same model can also be used for robotic cell training. The project was part of the market launch of a new ABB software package, aimed to simplify the setup of robotic stamping cells, reducing the setup time from days to hours. After a feasibility study, ABB shared all the details about the project, in particular to interface teh actual ABB robot controller with custom-made electronic boards to drive the LEGO motors.
I built two identical sets of LEGO modules, one for the United States, the other to remain in Europe. The robotic cells were shown during ABB Value Provider Conferences, on 8-9 June 2016 in Atlanta (Georgia, USA) and on 28 June 2016 in Stockholm (Sweden).

Metal stamping process simulation with LEGO

A robot manipulator and a collection of machines or peripherals is referred to as a robotic workcell, or simply a robotic cell. A typical cell might contain a parts feeder, a molding/stamping machine, and a robot. The various machines are integrated and controlled by a single computer or PLC (Programmable Logic Controller). In this case, the peripherals of the robotic cell are made with LEGO bricks, and controlled by custom electronic boards, while the robot is a real ABB IRB 1200-7/0.7 arm.

This robotic cell model simulates, in a small scale, the automatic process of stamping metal with a large hydraulic press. A real metal stamping cycle includes the following steps:

  1. the operator loads a blank metal sheet on a turntable that separates him from the dangerous inner part of the cell;
  2. the operator presses a button, the turntable rotates by half turn to bring the blank part inside the cell;
  3. the ABB robot arm is authorized to pick the blank part from the turntable, and drop it on the tilted centering table;
  4. the blank part slides down to the bottom corner of this table, so it is aligned automatically by gravity;
  5. the robot arm, equipped with a dual vacuum picker, picks up the aligned blank part, removes a finished part from the C-type press, and simultaneously drops the blank part into the press bed;
  6. once the robot arm exits the press working area, the PLC authorizes the press to execute its stamping cycle, while the robot drops the finished part on a conveyor, which brings the part out of the cell;
  7. the part that has just been stamped remains inside the press until the next cycle of the cell, triggered by the operator with a button press before.

The LEGO devices of the robotic stamping cell

The set of LEGO modules includes four devices:

  • A turntable of a 40cm diameter with a see-though wall in the middle. The turntable can rotate by half turn back and forth.
  • A centering table which is a passive tilted table (with no actuators or sensors) that allows the blank parts to be squared-up by sliding down to the bottom corner of the table edge.
  • A C-type press that can exert the enough force to stamp a message on a blank visit card. The press incorporates a self-inking stamp with weakened springs, equipped with a custom-made matrix. The press ram moves up and down smoothly thanks to a position, speed and acceleration controller that drives the LEGO MINDSTORMS servomotors.
  • A linear conveyor that carries the finished cards out of the cell, into a basket.

In real-sized robotic stamping cells, the robots and the metal parts to be moved are big and heavy, so there’s a potential hazard for humans. The press itself can exert tons of pressure. Instead, all the LEGO devices of the robotic cell model are inherently safe, the torque of the motors is low, and the press “tonnage” is just few kilograms. This makes this robotic cell model ideal for safe training of operators.

Design requirements

The challenge in designing these devices was to interface them with a real industrial PLC, and that we could swap them with real peripherals in a plug-and-play manner, being them compatible at electric level and at hardware connector level. Also, the various devices were designed to look uniform in shape and color scheme with the real ABB machines. In particular, the key specification for the press was that it should look “sexy”, so I designed it as curvy as possible. 

Meet the LEGO designer

freelance LEGO designer Daniele Benedettelli with his robot CyclopsMy name is Daniele Benedettelli, I am a robotics engineer, known worldwide for his LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robotics creations. My Youtube channel counts more than 8 million views, and my robots have been demonstrated in several events and conferences, shown in TV shows (including RAI, SAT.1, National Geographic) all over the world since 2007. From 2006 to 2012 I collaborated with The LEGO Company as consultant and programmer to develop the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT EV3 products for educational robotics.

The past experiences as teacher and speaker include:

  • Lecture for teachers and workshop for students “Using LEGO Education products for STEM” at Lakeside Edu Lab, Klagenfurt, Austria (7-8 Nov 2019)
  • Teachers training for MINDBRICKX, Male, Maldives (25-29 March 2018)
  • Lecture about educational robotics @ Memorial University, St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada (25 July 2014)
  • Robot Show @ EMP Museum, Seattle, WA, USA (20 July 2014)
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Programming workshop @ Saint Augustine, Florida, USA, during the Bricks4Kidz annual conference meeting (11 November 2013)
  • Keynote speaker and workshop holder @ 6th Annual Exploring ICT in Education (College of North Atlantic, Qatar, 2-4 March 2013). 
  • Seminar “Learning Robotics in the Open Source era” @ AMA International University (Salmabad, Baharain, 25 Nov 2011);
  • Robotics lecture host @ Australian College of Kuwait (23 November 2011)
  • Opening speaker @ WRO 2011 International Symposium of Robotics in Education (18 November 2011, Abu Dhabi);

I wrote five books on educational robotics. My LEGO portfolio includes autonomous robots, control systems, AI-enabled unsupervised learning robots, industrial plants models; LEGO RUBIK UTOPIA, the first LEGO MINDSTORMS robot that could solve a 3×3 Rubik’s cube in less than a minute (2007); LEGONARDO, an half-bust automaton that can draw live portraits (2009); Cyclops, a complex robot that can walk, gesticulate, talk, act, understand speech and interact with people, remote controllable using an upper-body LEGO exoskeleton (2011); Duck Maker, a duck robot that can replicate itself, laying eggs containing ever-different chicks built with 6 LEGO bricks (2014). In 2018, I started building purely mechanical LEGO automata for fun: one can play a tune on a glockenspiel, and others can perform magic tricks, and even draw!

I work as a freelance LEGO designer, making models on commission for international education companies that hold summer camps, extra-scholastic courses and laboratories (Bricks4Kidz, BrainVyne, Create & Learn and others). For international companies and research institutions (Elettric80, CEA LIST, Hermes Reply, ABB Robotics) I realized detailed working scale models of automatic industrial plants: LEGO Car Factory (for CEA LIST, 2015), a desktop scale model of a car factory, used as a test bench for the Papyrus software; LEGO Car Factory (for Hermes Reply, 2016); a set of LEGO peripherals to integrate with a real PLC and robot in a robotic cell model that simulates the metal stamping process (ABB Robotics, 2016). 

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