UGears STEM Lab Counter
157 parts, | Ages 8+ | $19.90 USD
UGears (for Ukraine Gears) is a company that has been around since 2014, and got notice in 2015, when it made a Kickstarter to make what became their product line: wooden mechanical models. Their first Kickstarter set funding at $20,000 but yielded over $400,000 in pledges! This was the first step in UGears becoming a toy producer.
In 2016, Dmitry Zverev, an engineer, bought a UGears set as a present, but was so impressed with it, he eventually left his job to become the US distributor to UGears, and now Pixio and Unit Bricks (which will be covered later here). In the time that he been selling the sets, his favorite sets are the Antique Box and the Dream Cabriolet.
For the past few years, UGears has been at NY Toy Fair, displaying and demonstrating their models. This year, they started a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) series of kits for students, and BrickJournal got one to review: the STEM Lab Counter.
Building the Counter
The packaging is pretty nice – the box is in a sleeve that is snug, but once it’s out, the box opens to present the contents:
4 wood sheets, and instructions. There is a box in the kit that has a bag with rubber bands and wax – you need these! I didn’t realize that until I noticed the instructions had a wax instruction, and I looked for the wax!
The instructions are pretty clear. Important assemblies are highlighted, such as gear placement. In terms of assembly, most of the time, it’s a matter of moving one part into another – pretty linear. The kits use wooden pieces as fasteners, so sometimes it’s lining up parts and then pushing through a fastener.
as seen here.
The parts come out pretty easily, with the wood acting as a sprue. Just push, and most of the parts snap out. Smaller parts may take a little more effort, and UGears provides a tool to help with getting parts out and measuring the rubber bands.
The first assemblies are the number dials, with some gearing between. The dials are fun build – it’s a littler tricky to put the sides together after the numbers are set in place, as they all have tabs that need to fit in the loose side, but once the first one is done, the others are easier to do. And thanks to some waxing, they all spin!
The next assembly is the undercarriage, which has the gears that turn over the numbers. You’ll learn in the book how the gears work together. The undercarriage has to stay in place for the gears to work correctly, but also allow to be realeased so the numbers can be reset, so this is all hinged and kept in place with a rubber band.
The instructions give the dimensions of the rubber bands, but you need a ruler to find the lengths – the tool provided only gives measurements for the widths. The rubber bands are three lengths, but at this point, there are only two lengths. The thickest width gets cut to make ‘feet’ for the counter (which is pretty clever). Setting the rubber bands take some effort – they get stretched pretty far, but not enough to get close to snapping.
The building of the housing and undercarriage are what make up the main mechanisms of the counter.
What is left is the button for the counter and the counter hood. The plunger is an easy build and uses two rubber bands to keep the button up.
The hood is linked to the undercarriage, so opening it disengages the gears to allow resetting. Very nice design.
You can see it at work here:
Here’s some photos of the completed counter:
Once it was completed, the counter looked pretty sharp, but it had to be used a few times to get everything functioning properly. The plunger gear needed to settle in for it to consistently work. Rapid pushing of the plunger doesn’t really help either.
The rear panel was also loose, so if you did hit the plunger too fast, it would work itself off. This is because the holes on the back plate may be just a tiny bit too big for the attachment clips on the side and top pieces. I solved this problem by cutting some splinter-sized shims and pushed them in the connector’s gaps. After that, the set was complete and ready for use!
There’s also and app you can get on the Apple App Store or Google Play for this, and I spent a little time with it. It’s an AR app, so you scan the model with the app and it projects the model on the your screen on a surface….which is odd since you should have the model there already. You and zoom in and out and rotate the AR model, but again, you have the real model, and it’s not that big.
Tap the model once on the screen, and the plunger goes down and it works. Tap again, and it opens the front and works. Third tap puts a die press behind the counter set up to hit the plunger every time it makes a cast, showing it in a real-world context. But you can’t rotate the open counter and look to see the undercarriage, and you can’t get out of the die press easily. What would have made the AR much more effective would be to show an animation of the internals working without the frame. I wasn’t able to find that though, and it’s a missed opportunity.
On the other hand, the app also has a study guide that gives a lot of information behind the Geneva Drive and how counters were used and made. Having this document was a nice add-on to further understand the significance of this machine. Fortunately, this is also downloadable, so it can be printed out – it’s tough to read on a phone!
So overall, the building the counter is a lot of fun. For those who are younger, it’s a way to learn how gears can work in different ways. For those who are older, it’s a good way to see how mechanical counters function. The machine that works the counter is called a Geneva drive, and it’s something that I find a lot easier to understand after building it.
Some things to keep mind of: You do need scissors and a ruler for the set, and check fitting as you go along. There’s no big challenges in the set, so it’s age group (8+) should have no problem building this with a little adult supervision.
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