zephyr1934

A review of the first elements from the FX Track system

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On 2/16/2021 at 4:19 PM, michaelgale said:

@fhurlbrink Thank you for your comments.  From our perspective, producing the R40 curve would really be commercial suicide.  Let's look at the economics of producing a R40 curve product:

Capital Costs:

  • - Mold tooling:  $10k USD
  • - Inner rail metal tooling: $4k USD
  • - Outer rail metal tooling: $4k USD
  • Sub-total:  $18k USD

Production Costs:

  • - Per unit production costs:  $1.50 USD
  • - MOQ production run:  5000x units
  • Sub-total: $7.5k USD

TOTAL:  $25.5k USD

Number of product SKUs (8 units per box SKU):  625

Breakeven retail price:  $40.80 USD 

Note that these numbers are representative estimates and actual costs will vary; however, even errors of 50% won't change the outcome.

The BREAKEVEN retail price for a box of 8x R40 curves would be about $40 USD.  Even with a thin retail margin of 25%, there is no way anyone would pay $50 USD for a box of 8x R40 curve tracks--or more to the point, there is definitely not 625x customers who would pay $50 USD per box ($6.25 per unit).  Remember, we're competing with a plentiful supply R40 curves on Bricklink which sell for $1-$2 ea.

We have a limited amount of time and money to invest in making products.  Therefore, we have to make choices based on what people want and what we think will recover enough revenue to not only pay back its capital investment but also fund future investment.  Choosing the which products to make and what order to make them is a very strategic decision.  The wrong strategy will kill us.  The product release plan we have announced to date has the simple goal of building enough momentum in revenue to help sustain on-going product development.

The ONLY circumstance where we would make a R40 curve track product if if someone else commissioned us to do so.  We have CAD models for EVERY possible track element in the system already developed.  Thus it is theoretically possible for us to make the ENTIRE Fx Track system of 19x elements TODAY if we had the money.  It really would be like turning on a light switch with money!

 

@michaelgale, I have to say, while I was super excited for the revival of rail powered train components for the possibilities of adding DCC to LEGO trains, at your proposed pricing, I will be strongly reconsidering just sticking with battery trains. $70 (double Bricktracks pricing) for an 8 pack of track seems a tad excessive.  

Looking at your pricing formula for R40, and figuring the capital and production costs (per 5,000 units) are abut the same for other track pieces, it sees you are trying to make back all of your capital costs in the first 5,000 units.  However, it would seem if you spread the capital cost recovery over say 20,000 units you could greatly reduce the retail price.

For example, figuring:

$18,000 capital
+30,000 production for 20,000 units  ($7,500 per 5,000 units x 4)
$48,000 / 2,500 SKU's  (20,000 units / 8 units per SKU)
=$19.20 breakeven price

Unless I am missing something. a $30-32 retail price per SKU would seem to be more reasonable.  I think selling 2,500 SKU's over the lifetime of the mold would easy to do, particularly with straight track, especially with a more reasonable price point, and once the complete system becomes available.  I think your current price point will turn a lot of people away, and risk the new FX track system not being the success it could be.

Just my two cents.
Sal

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@legoboy3998 Thanks for your comments.  The numbers shown to explain why producing the R40 curve was not sensible were merely representative and simplistic.  The idea was to show the order of magnitude of what it required to make these type of products.  As you can imagine there are many other factors which determine not only the cost to develop and manufacture these items but also where we set our MSRP.

Our decisions about MSRP are different for every product.  Sure, the quantity produced is a big contributor, but we don't have to make the lifetime quantity of each element all at once.  Our molds and tooling are good for many 100000s of cycles and therefore support a long production lifespan.  Furthermore, we take the long view on cost recovery, recognizing that our overall goal is to offer a complete *system* of products--each contributing to the overall health and sustainability of our company and the hobby we serve.

We believe our price is very reasonable considering the overall size of the market, the quality of the product, and the challenges we face with manufacturing and logistics. Sure cheaper is better, but then again, some things are just worth paying for!

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@michaelgale, I guess if that is the case, I will stick with plastic track and battery power.  I think you are going to end up pricing yourself out of the market.  With Bricktracks being half the price, I can buy double the track from Bricktracks and build more trains. 

Sal

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@legoboy3998 Ultimately, the market will decide the fate of our track products one way or another.  We believe our product is fairly priced for what it is.  

One key thing to remember is that comparison's to all-plastic track on the basis of price is somewhat a false-equivalence.  The incremental increase in price for metal track corresponds directly to the increase in value you get.  Both the value in literally getting more than just ABS, but also precision metal components; and the value derived from a better operational experience from energizing and controlling trains from the track.  One could also make the economic argument for all the accumulated savings derived from not using batteries anymore.

Based on the anecdotal feedback received from the market so far, there definitely is an appetite for our product and a recognition of the upside value it offers.

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I don't think the pricing is out of line.  It was a touch higher than I was guessing, but not by much.  Unfortunately for all of us, none of us are in a position to be truly mass-producing tracks; either mine nor FX.  If we were selling our stuff in every Walmart and Target and every other big box retail store, where we're moving hundreds of boxes a day, then sure, it could be and would have to be a lot cheaper.  But we're unfortunately a small niche within a niche, with barely enough demand to warrant tooling (and even that is often questionable).

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6 hours ago, legoboy3998 said:

@michaelgale, I guess if that is the case, I will stick with plastic track and battery power.  I think you are going to end up pricing yourself out of the market.  With Bricktracks being half the price, I can buy double the track from Bricktracks and build more trains. 

Sal

I think one other definite factor that you have to take into account is that Gale isn't just paying off his investment in the track molds... The whole system is also pretty dependent on him making motors too, which is probably quite a bit more expensive than just track. I think he's mentioned it before that you can't have one without the other. In the US, LEGO 9v motors are $100 on bricklink for something used with who knows how much life left in it. The tracks alone are a very niche market that only gets smaller without the motors.

I have no problem paying what he's asking if he's able to develop motors too. And I'll make up the difference in what I would have spent on AAA batteries to keep the train around my Christmas tree moving for half the season.

@coaster You'll also still be getting more of my money than I should probably be sending you, regardless...

SD

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I came out of my dark ages Right as the 9V system retired, so my train investment is almost exclusively in plastic track and Power Functions.  More recently I've invested in a 3rd party control system.

Here's how I see myself using this, and the thought is really intriguing to me.  Much like the way DCC works on HO/N model trains, I can see putting the full 9 volts on the track and using a wheel set to pick up that voltage and feed it into the Power Functions system.  A lot of electrical calculations would need to be done before doing this, but I could see sacrificing a PF extension cable to make a converter cable for example, and then run trains as normal with PF/PU/3rd party battery operated control where the "battery" on the train would never run out.

I think, too, it would theoretically be possible to run more than one train simultaneously.

 

Edited by JWBDolphins
addition

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1 hour ago, JWBDolphins said:

Here's how I see myself using this, and the thought is really intriguing to me.  Much like the way DCC works on HO/N model trains, I can see putting the full 9 volts on the track and using a wheel set to pick up that voltage and feed it into the Power Functions system.  A lot of electrical calculations would need to be done before doing this, but I could see sacrificing a PF extension cable to make a converter cable for example, and then run trains as normal with PF/PU/3rd party battery operated control where the "battery" on the train would never run out.

You mean a little something like this ? :innocent:

I totally agree ! I finally have some room to continue this line of tinkering now that my 12v collection has been sold. :classic:

Definetely gonna buy some of this track once it's available in Europe.

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I too wonder about the feasibility of using Fx track in conjunction with things like Power Functions. If a suitable pickup, wheel or otherwise, gets developed to where it draws the power from the track, but we can also still put batteries into the models as a backup for shorts in the track/low voltage/ off-9v running, I will see to perhaps purchasing some myself. I always felt that the 9v system was more realistic-ish, now all we need is the rails in rust brown to complete the look! :iamded_lol: I do also have a question regarding the PFx stuff you got @michaelgale . I've been seriously considering using the sBrick controller for my latest build, just due to the sheer number of outputs it has. With the PFx controller, is it possible to have both outputs be on the same channel, but opposite each other? By this, I mean that the motors on one of the outputs are spinning, say, clockwise, while the other output's motors are spinning counter-clockwise, but they're all controlled by the same thing, the brick just flips the output. I've taken a look at your system, and what it all has going for it, which does actually meet what I want to do with my latest build. I'm just very curious as to how close we can get to DCC with it. Thanks in advance!

Edited by High_Admiral

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26 minutes ago, High_Admiral said:

... With the PFx controller, is it possible to have both outputs be on the same channel, but opposite each other? By this, I mean that the motors on one of the outputs are spinning, say, clockwise, while the other output's motors are spinning counter-clockwise, but they're all controlled by the same thing, the brick just flips the output. I've taken a look at your system, and what it all has going for it, which does actually meet what I want to do with my latest build. I'm just very curious as to how close we can get to DCC with it. Thanks in advance!

I had the same challenge with my PF-trains using two train motors. They have to be put under my tender so that the power cables run right to the middle of the wagon, so I required something to change polarity for one motor. The solution was a PF switch 8869: I connected one motor directly to my power source, the other gets connected via the PF switch. But of course you need some extra space to store the switch.

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Hey, just wanted to say that I'm mainly interested in power pickup wheels, too. I can see that it's hard to unify them - some might want to use 9V just to charge the trains, so a pickup to rechargeable battery adapter would be good. Some might want to power IR receivers directly, so a PF output would be good. Also, a "dummy" for the pup hubs would be good.

Maybe it would make sense to work together with keybrick one?

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6 hours ago, High_Admiral said:

I too wonder about the feasibility of using Fx track in conjunction with things like Power Functions. If a suitable pickup, wheel or otherwise, gets developed to where it draws the power from the track, but we can also still put batteries into the models as a backup for shorts in the track/low voltage/ off-9v running, I will see to perhaps purchasing some myself. I always felt that the 9v system was more realistic-ish, now all we need is the rails in rust brown to complete the look! :iamded_lol: I do also have a question regarding the PFx stuff you got @michaelgale . I've been seriously considering using the sBrick controller for my latest build, just due to the sheer number of outputs it has. With the PFx controller, is it possible to have both outputs be on the same channel, but opposite each other? By this, I mean that the motors on one of the outputs are spinning, say, clockwise, while the other output's motors are spinning counter-clockwise, but they're all controlled by the same thing, the brick just flips the output. I've taken a look at your system, and what it all has going for it, which does actually meet what I want to do with my latest build. I'm just very curious as to how close we can get to DCC with it. Thanks in advance!

You can reverse the polarity in the software for SBrick, FX Brick and BuWizz :classic:

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@High_Admiral In response to your question about motor channel reversal, it's all explained our video here (scroll ahead to 05:15 for the specific discussion on a two channel/inverted configuration):

 

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I suspect the primary customers for this first round (and probably 2nd and 3rd rounds) of the new 9v track will be people who already have 9v trains. As someone with 9v, the wide radius curves are AMAZING. These early rounds are not enough of a system to lure a plastic track builder over to metal rails, nor are they meant to be.

In this context it does not make sense to think about R40 9v curves until much later, most 9v builders had more R40s than they knew what to do with. The easiest way to get train parts was from a set, and that always gave you 16 R40s. So the R40 will be readily available at low prices for quite some time on the reselling market (currently starting around $1 new and $0.35 used).

Power pickup wheels will probably be the gateway to the plastic track folks. If you can charge your batteries when sitting on a siding without taking your model apart, that will entice some to invest in a bit of 9v straight track. Once there, the prospect of charging while running with half a loop of 9v track will become enticing and before you know it, you might want to (literally) close the loop and buy track powered motors.

Each successive round will bring this closer to being a complete system, but each round depends on the success of the rounds before it to provide the development costs. I think it is amazing that Michael is so transparent with his costs. Now it is up to the market to decide. The prices are not to be sneezed at, but if you need 9v parts the prices are very reasonable. And if you need wide radius 9v, they are the only mass produced option to date.

 

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1 hour ago, zephyr1934 said:

... Power pickup wheels will probably be the gateway to the plastic track folks. If you can charge your batteries when sitting on a siding without taking your model apart, that will entice some to invest in a bit of 9v straight track. Once there, the prospect of charging while running with half a loop of 9v track will become enticing and before you know it, you might want to (literally) close the loop and buy track powered motors.

You could even get over short distances of non-metal-tracks if you place multiple pickup-wheels far from each other in your train (and connect them all). This way you could even smoothly cross things like Trixbrix-Monster-switches w/o having to use hybrid solutions with rechargeable battery packs. I would even buy those pickup wheels for illuminating my waggons. :purrr:

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Or check out @legoman666‘s supercapacitor solution. I think there’s a thread here somewhere detailing how he made that work.

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First of all a big thank you to @michaelgale for bringing this great product to us!

When I started into the hobby back in 2010 I got the Emerald Night without even having any track!
I did get a few RC tracks at first, but soon I started to take a look at the second hand market to get cheaper rails. As a result of that the first full loop I built was already half 9v and half plastic.
Just in regards to the R40 argument before - for me it was cheaper to get some second hand 9v curves rather than new or even used RC ones!

Early on I thought the 9v system to be superior and deliberately decided to mostly invest in this system. Back then I wouldn't even have dreamed that the old 9v system would ever be produced again, but I realized that taking a look at the second hand market was eventually cheaper than buying new RC stuff. Being patient and waiting for a good catch was actually better for my wallet than investing in the all plastic RC/PF system!

Now I'm sure times have changed and aftermarket prices have risen as well. But I just can't follow the whole "RC/PF/PU is cheaper" argument. It my look cheaper on the short run, but if you consider all the arguments and compare all the prices many differences even out.

Unless you start to build a huuge layout I honestly think the prices don't really make a big difference - keep in mind, that for a comparison on the long run you also have to include all the battery costs and the many compnents needed (especially the new PU components, which are quite pricey).

Probably the heaviest arguments against 9v have been the following:

  • No straight tracks available at reasonable prices AND reasonable quantity
  • Need to stick to the train motor to power your models

And I have to agree on both! It was quite tiresome for me to get hold of the good number of 9v straights I have today!
I think the double straights Michael offers really help here! And while I'm convinced that you can still get hold of individual Lego 9v straights for a cheaper price, including all the shipping costs from different sellers in the calculation changes the outcome quite fast!

Now IMO the best argument against 9v are the many mocs of (powered) steam engines I have seen built in the last couple years. This is actually how I came to invest into PF as well, even though I decided on metal rails only early on. This flexibility to decide how to power your engines is something you can't compensate with money. And I think this is were I see a huge potential for the already announced power pick-up wheelset. Now I'm sure designing this weelset is already complex enough. But still, from a customer point of view, I'd like to see three features implemented to make it appealing for a wider audience:

  • Some way to power the power pick-up wheelset itself, e.g. including a way to connect some gears to the axle to power it with a PF motor or similar. This would allow to motorize bogies that have a different wheel distance than the standard 9v wheelset, as well as building small shunters.
  • Make the wheel cover a seperate part - the 9V cover just isn't prototypical for 99% of all models
  • Have some kind of a spoked wheel version. In my opinion this, in combination with the point just above, is a key feature needed for powering steam engines using this wheelset.

Now I know that Michael has to consider very deliberately about a product, but from a customer point of view I'd really like at least one of the points stated above to be considered!

 

Of course everyone wants this endeavor to succeed! But let me say this: it's in our own hands!

Even though the price may seem high for the product alone, I'd like you guys to consider that it's not the product alone you're paying for! You're paying for a whole line being developed and for the future of it! In regards to our hobby I think this is an investment that will pay off and help the hobby live on. Also keep in mind the many hours of labour already went into this without Michael having gotten anything in return.

Having said this I'll definitely get those tracks. Not only because I get a high quality product in return, but because it is the biggest milestone for Lego train history since a long time in my opinion, and we can all be part of it!

 

Cheers,

Nick

Edited by ScotNick

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Interesting read.  As coming back to the hobby 2016/2017, all my stuff is based the RC/plastic track.  Feel this product would be a great option for those with metal tracks needing replacements or additions.  As most have commented costs will the main challenge for AFOL to convert there systems. 

Taking a 50,000 height view of the issue, IMHO it would have been better to have made a system that allowed putting metal rails on the existing plastic track,  Some sort of snap on connection.  Looking as close as possible to Lego's original offering.  Cost would be down and if the power pickup could also be developed would be the best of both worlds.   Hope someone looks into developing this option.  

Edit,

Did not see FX is looking at developing the power pickup.  Excellent.  

 

 

Edited by LegoDW
Read rest of the pervious comments

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A great review, leaves very few questions unanswered, and I like the rolling updates.

On the topic of 'cant', I've seen other curved rails (R120 from another manufacture) do the same thing, or a little worse.

I find the curved tracks seem perfect in single pieces, but over 1/4 or more loop, they do not accurately form the expected arc. Forcing them slightly to lay where they should (ie, ends pinned on a baseplate) produces cant and stresses the joints.

The issue seems to be caused by very minor, so I've not even raised it with the manufacturer. I'd just presumed that if the moulding tolerances weren't 100%, then they would add up over the course of 1/4 loop, or longer, and cause issues.

If the FX curves can be pinned at each end of a 1/4 loop, and ballasted without issue, then that's fine by me.

 

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Fantastic work, for what it is worth, power pick up first with a 9v connector offers the most flexibility I think  

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It came to my attention recently that yet another group of Lego train enthusiasts have created their own 9-volt compatible rail system to close the gap in demand that has plagued the Lego community for too long.  Whether they survive and thrive is entirely up to us.

 

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There are several posts about this topic already. What is the purpose of this one? 

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