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Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

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Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby theJudeAbides » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:10 am

So, we're told over and over again that new molds cost money. How much money? Not a little bit, oh no, A LOT of money. The time and money it takes to build these machines is so great that even a multi-billion dollar company such as LEGO can only afford to produce a handful of new ones each year.

Since they have such a high cost, one would imagine that LEGO would want to make the most out of each new machine. One would imagine them producing parts from them until they were practically falling apart, which, given the initial quality of them, should take a long, long time.

So why then, inquiring minds would like to know, was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used in exactly one set? A set, mind you, that undoubtably had a smaller production run due to it's nature (being targeted to AFOLs as opposed to children).

This piece is the largest windscreen ever produced by LEGO and is a fan favorite, highly sought after by many to the point that it's average price is well over $40 on Bricklink. How is it possible that LEGO could find no other uses for this piece? They could not have incorporated it into a single other set?

At the risk of sounding crude: WTF, LEGO? It makes absolutely NO SENSE to me. At all.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Draykov » Mon Jun 29, 2009 9:56 am

Well, one of the easiest answers is that the UCS X-Wing was released in 2000...an era when LEGO was much less careful about cost efficiency regarding new molds. Lots of BURPy type pieces came out of this era. Why they haven't used it sense is a mystery to me. I supposed it's possible that the production process for this part was different enough to allow a very limited production run while still being relatively cost effective (i.e. different molding process), but it seems a little far-fetched to think LEGO planned on releasing a single part for only a single set from the get-go...but if they were gonna blow a one-shot mold on something, I can see this iconic set being a likely contender.
Last edited by Draykov on Mon Jun 29, 2009 12:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Solo » Mon Jun 29, 2009 11:30 am

Oh, this is easy.

The X-Wing was the first UCS right? (Along side the Infiltrator of course) It was a huge set geared towards collectors and nothing in the existing inventory would look good for the canopy - so to pull it off an make the set worth while it necessitated a new element. That's why we have it in the first place. Now, why it was only used in the X-Wing is most likely due to the size. I think it's safe to assume that this is not a cheap element to produce, and the scale of it doesn't mesh well with the typical system designs TLG comes up with. Plus it doesn't have any clicky hinge connectors, so it's harder to integrate. There just doesn't seem to be much incentive for set designers to use it, assuming they've even got a pile sitting around their design lounge to bother messing with. For all we know it could have been retired after the Xwing went out of production. And like Draykov said - it was from the pro-BURP era, so they might have planned for it to be a single shot part all along. What do they care about aftermarket prices? It's not like they could try and toss it in a new set and tack$40 on the price just for the windscreen, FOLs would go nuts.

Lastly, it's not like this is the only part that's appeared in a single set. Dig around and I'm sure you'll find plenty (though admittedly few on this scale). Those Hailfire wheels come to mind.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Iare Tosevite » Mon Jun 29, 2009 11:51 am

Yeah you can find one of a kind parts in pretty many sets. For example space shuttle set have two of dark bley 1x2 plates with side rails. What's ironic is that they had no reason to color it dark bley, seeing that it was very hidden at bottom of shuttle...
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Draykov » Mon Jun 29, 2009 11:58 am

Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison though, since the 1x2 modified plate actually does exist in lots of other sets/colors. In the case of the X-Wing canopy, we're talking 1 part, 1 color, 1 set.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Classicsmiley » Mon Jun 29, 2009 12:50 pm

I wouldn't completely give up hope, though. LEGO set designers have recently been pulling out all kinds of pieces that have only been used once or twice in years past. I see it as a big part of their commitment to be more frugal with new molds, and one reason why they've been doing better financially.

Examples:
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Scala Tile 6 x 6: This Scala piece was used between 1997 and 2000, and is now used in the Venator set.

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Technic Action Figure Scuba Flipper: This one was used in exactly one set, in 1997. It has made a reappearance this year in the Galactic Enforcer.

I know there are other examples, but those were two that immediately came to mind.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby theJudeAbides » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:23 am

Just to clarify, my question isn't why they created the piece in the first place (that much, as Solo said, is obvious). My question is why they never used it again? It just seems insanely inefficient. While I don't know the exact number of UCS X-Wings sold or the precise profit per unit, I find it difficult to believe that LEGO could have made that much of a profit after calculating in the price of the new mold.

What's even further aggrivating is that unlike many other one-shot pieces LEGO has developed, this one is actually good looking and could be extremely useful. I would love to see this on some of the larger "command ship" style vessels in lines such as Mars Mission, Agents, or the new Space Police. Heck, I would even buy some Bionicle if they included this piece.

Perhaps this can be chalked up to the "bad business practices" LEGO was infamous for during the early oughts (00's?). There may even be a small chance of seeing it again. But to me, the fact that LEGO has yet to utilize this piece to it's full potential is a travesty, and I think we AFOLs deserve some answers.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Draykov » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:26 pm

theJudeAbides wrote: But to me, the fact that LEGO has yet to utilize this piece to it's full potential is a travesty, and I think we AFOLs deserve some answers.


So long as you're prepared for the possibility that there is no good answer. ;)
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Puddleglum » Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:58 pm

Maybe they didn't turn a profit on these sets, maybe they did. Either way it's pretty ancient history. The travails of LEGO during that timeframe are well-documented, but I find it hard to believe they would produce a new mold for a set if they knew ahead of time that it would directly result in them losing money.

As far as the part ever being used again . . . maybe they still have the mold, maybe they don't. But I highly doubt LEGO is going to go put it in a set because a couple of AFOLs said they wanted it. I personally wouldn't be surprised to see another UCS X-Wing one day, but it's anybody's guess if they would use this part or another for the canopy. Good luck getting answers!
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby ThinkingImpaired » Sat Jul 04, 2009 11:46 am

Puddleglum wrote:maybe they still have the mold, maybe they don't.


They keep all their molds.
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Joedward » Sat Jul 04, 2009 12:15 pm

Really? How would you know that?

Don't old molds get worn out after billions of uses?
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Draykov » Sat Jul 04, 2009 12:45 pm

Joedward wrote:Really? How would you know that?

Don't old molds get worn out after billions of uses?


Yeah...why don't they whip us up some monorail? ;)
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby Iare Tosevite » Sun Jul 05, 2009 1:53 pm

They do keep all molds, due to protection of design from other companies. Even if molds go bad.

Didn't one article state Lego used old molds as filler for concrete bottom for new factory?
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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby legodavee123 » Thu Jul 16, 2009 1:30 pm

theJudeAbides wrote:My question is why they never used it again? It just seems insanely inefficient.


So, this probably isn't the case here, but there IS a limitation on elements that are deemed sufficiently "Star Wars". For example, Lego can't use a Stormtrooper helmet in a Creator set (unless maybe they gave some licensing money to Lucasfilm), because the element itself is too reminiscent of Star Wars, and is effectively considered a licensed part. Some things like lightsaber handles are generic enough to pass into other themes, and that's probably the case here-- but there's an off-chance that it falls into that category.

The bigger issue as I see it is that the X-Wing canopy is REALLY specific, considering those funky angles at the base. If Lego used it in a set, it would most likely look a little out of place. It's not a good generic canopy, even though as a model builder, you can adjust your models to use it, and make it look good. Anyway, I expect that nobody in their model department is interested in using it in their sets.

But, now we get to efficiency. Even if model designers ARE interested in using the element, they're only allowed to use a certain amount of "budgeted" parts in a given theme and/or production run. If they use the part only for ONE set, then that particular set's budget is reduced in order to 'afford' using that element. They can reduce this 'cost' if multiple sets use the same piece-- if (say) it showed up in a Star Wars set and a Space Police set, then the cost would be divided between the two, making each set cheaper to produce. And again, there's where the specificity of the element comes into play-- you might think it's perfect for YOUR set, but convincing other model designers that they should similarly use the same piece in a set that they're currently making is difficult. So you either USE the piece and have less budget for your set, or you use a slightly more generic canopy (that other sets are using), and have a bigger budget to make your set better.

There are other speculations you could make as well-- but they're purely shots in the dark. Like the fact that Lego changed its molding process in 2006 or so to inject color into the elements during the molding process rather than using pre-colored ABS pellets-- and perhaps this mold doesn't work as well with the new process. Or perhaps the mold was unreliable. I know both of my two X-Wing canopies were slightly warped when I got them so that the cockpit wouldn't close perfectly. It was a minute issue, but it could be that it was deemed acceptable for that set, but is generally too error-prone to be molded again. Could also be simply that no designer's even thought twice about using it ever again, since the canopy was so large-- it was probably designed about 11 years ago now (in "production" 9-10 years ago), and could easily have slipped off most designers' radars as a piece they'd consider using.

Anyway, I wouldn't hold my breath for seeing it again. And if we do see it again, it might not be in clear, either-- it could be in trans-green or something, which is probably even less useful to you as a modeler. My advice to you would be to be happy that they released it at all, rather than doing what they did with the UCS MF and UCS Y-wing, which was NOT to make a custom canopy.

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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby bluemoose » Sat Aug 01, 2009 12:35 am

Iare Tosevite wrote:They do keep all molds, due to protection of design from other companies. Even if molds go bad.

Didn't one article state Lego used old molds as filler for concrete bottom for new factory?


Yes, a lot of old, worn-out molds were used in the foundations of one of their newer LEGO buildings in Billund.

When I visited the factory in Billund a couple of years ago, we were told that there are two "grades" of mold - the 'traditional' molds which are used for bulk items and can produce millions of bricks before they are completely worn out (although they need to be refurbished from time to time), and a lower grade of mold that can only produce a few 10's of thousands of elements before it is completely exhausted. These 'custom' molds are used for short production runs of special elements (e.g. one-off minifig heads, the 'Fawkes the Phoenix' from one of the Harry Potter castles, etc.). The 'bulk' molds are horrendously expensive to manufacture; the 'custom' molds are a small fraction of the price of the 'bulk' molds to produce, but work out more expensive per-element that they produce. I suspect the X-Wing canopy was produced from one of the latter type of molds.

There may be a storage bin or two full of these canopies in the storage warehouse in Billund, but its more likely that if there were any left over from the original production run that they've been disposed of - LEGO periodically have a clear out, to get rid of pieces from storage that they don't think they will need again. There are different mechanisms for disposal, but being 'licensed' elements I suspect these would have been recycled.

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Re: Why was the UCS X-Wing canopy only used once?

Postby speaknspell » Fri Sep 04, 2009 8:10 am

more to the point, the piece was created specifically for this set and probably had an agreement along with it that it wouldn't be used anywhere else. sometimes for very specific sets elements are created to fit a specific need in spite of being either "not being in the LEGO system" or being deemed exclusive and therefore unusable by others.

I wouldn't expect to see this part again simply because it was so specific to that set. also, I don't know if you had a bunch of them (I scored about 10 when consumer service cleaned out old stock) but they weren't very consistent in their production and I imagine they were developed not to ever be lined up and only used in that one specific instance.

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