Anything but Child's Play

2 Feb, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

College student Sev Starner uses Autodesk Inventor to recreate LEGO version of V12 engine

Sev Starner
Sev Starner
At age 21, Sev Starner is discovering the magic of LEGO all over again. His LEGO initiation began with the castle set he received on Christmas morning many years ago. When simple building blocks no longer satisfied his curiosity, he moved on to LEGO Technics, a more sophisticated product line with mechanical features.

Last year, when Starner's drafting instructor at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon, asked him to create an assembly in Autodesk Inventor, he turned to his childhood toys for inspiration.

"When I was 15, I bought a huge LEGO set with the money I earned during a summer job," says Starner. "It was a 2ft-long Formula 1 race car." As he looked around for objects to model in Inventor, he stumbled on the V12 engine under the hood. With his calipers, he measured the individual LEGO pieces, recreated them in Inventor and presented the assembly to his class in an animated, exploded view. "The teachers and students went crazy over that," Starner recalls with relish.

Second Time Around
But due to a computer crash (which Starner refers to as "nasty business"), he lost his project. So, when another instructor asked him to provide the files for posterity, not only did Starner recreate the engine from scratch, he added a major improvement. "The crankshaft just had an up-and-down position," he says. "I didn't like that -- it wasn't realistic at all." Soon, he found himself sketching an original part in AutoCAD. "I figured if I wanted to make it a lot more detailed, I'd have to redesign some of the parts and come up with some new parts that LEGO doesn't make."

Sev Starner used Autodesk Inventor to recreate the V12 engine inside his LEGO race car. (Hardware used: 3.8GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, NVIDIA 6800 GT video card, Logitech MX 1000 mouse and keyboard combination.)

Starner even had his own method for product data management. He kept separate folders for assembly, parts, drawings, presentations and so on. To manage versions and revisions, he used code words he and his brother had invented.

"I grew up playing with a pile of LEGOs on a bed sheet lying on a floor," he explains. "If I needed a part, I asked my little brother, Cameron, to look for it. So my brother and I came up with code words for different LEGO pieces. That's the naming scheme I used." It was an ingenious scheme based on the grid system LEGO uses for block stacking. For instance, "1 x 1 x 1" for the smallest cube, "2 x 7 x 1 with 6 holes" for a slender piece with corresponding number of bumps and gaps on its profile and so on. Starner recently acquired a license for Inventor 10, with Inventor Studio. "I wanted to do all those cool camera motions and animations in Studio, but no one here [at the college] knows how to do them, so I'm up against a wall," he laments.

Sights on Automotive Design
He has aspirations to pursue a career in automotive design and engineering, but he faces the typical hurdle of a novice: "I go on interviews and people want to see experience, but I can't get experience without a job first. I'm hoping that people will see what I can do and rethink that. I'm not just some kid that pretends to know what he's doing."

The LEGO assembly he submitted is proof that he does know what he's doing.

It looks like a LEGO piece, it fits inside a LEGO assembly, but you can't buy it from LEGO, because Sev Starner designed it himself.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!