Special Interview with Beat Felber aka Engineering with ABS

After a long break, we continue our series of Special Interviews starting with a very talented model builder. This weeks guest of honor is Beat Felber a.k.a. Engineering with ABS from Switzerland. He is known for his amazing realistic and huge vehicle model MOC's. Photos from the work of our guest will be presented between the questions but you should check the builders Flickr photo-stream for tons of amazing creations

Kaplan: We already know you are one of the best LEGO MOC'ers in the world. What can you tell us about yourself other than that?

Beat: First of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with other LEGO fans out there. Rather than being a top MOC'er, I consider myself to be an avid scale modeller. My name is Beat Felber and I live in the northernmost part of Switzerland, close to the border with Germany. I am aged 40 and work as an engineer at an electric power plant.When not building LEGO models, I tinker with and drive a 1984 Land Rover 110, do some photography and I am also a firefighter with the local volunteer fire department. Back in 2001 I decided to share my LEGO creations with other like-minded people on the internet. It was the birth of my homepage www.engineeringwithabs.ch. I called this site Engineering with ABS because I thought it describes what I am doing: building models of technical stuff using LEGO bricks made of Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). In the meantime, I switched over to Flickr. The original homepage is still online but not maintained any more.

K: Do you remember the day when you got your first LEGO set? Which set was it? And How old were you when you started playing with LEGO bricks?

B: The first sets must have been Duplo sets. Of course, I don’t remember them exactly any more. But I do have fond memories of my very first Technic Set: Technic Universal Building Set 8030. I got it as a gift from my late granddad when he was celebrating his 60th birthday. I just turned four years old that day! My first City set was the Shell ServiceStation 377.

K: What is your best/unforgettable memory involving LEGO?

B: Shortly after I finished my studies and bought my first car, I could make a giant LEGO haul. From a private seller I could acquire at least 100 kg of parts – it easily filled the trunk, the backseat and also the front passenger seat of my three-door sedan. I kept at least half of these parts and could sell the rest for nearly the amount I paid for the complete lot. It was a giant leap for my collection of parts.

K: If you have to choose, what is your all-time favorite LEGO set?

B: It must be 8880 SuperCar. For the time being it was revolutionary and contained a bunch of very useful parts. Later on the 52 hingeplates  turned to be very useful for my turntable constructions I used with several of my larger crane and excavator models.

K: What are your favorite LEGO themes?

B: My favorite themes were Technic and Model Team. Back in the days before internet, these sets were the source for the parts used in my MOCs. In the meantime, I hardly ever buy a LEGO set at a regular price tag. I rather buy the parts needed for a specific creation via bricklink.

K: Did you have a "dark-age"? If you had one when did you return from your dark age and how?

B: I never really had a dark age and kept on building all the years. Of course, that became more and more difficult as long as I was still living with my parents. I was just missing the space for the ever-growing collection. When I moved into my first flat, my LEGO hobby experienced a real boost and the creations got bigger.

K: How many LEGO bricks/sets do you own approximately?

B: A good guess would be around 400 to 500 kg which should relate to about 400’000 to 500’000 pieces.

K: What are your favorite top three of your MOC's?

B: The Mountaineer: my largest and most detailed creation to date. A retake of the same topic from around 2002. Komatsu D575A-3 Super Dozer: I am really proud how I managed to squeeze all the functionality in such a confined space and still maintain reasonable looks. Lockheed HC-130H Hercules of the UnitedStates Coast Guard: being an aircraft this is something completely different from my usual field of work. Nevertheless, I think it turned out quite well.

K: Your builds are extraordinerily good looking in a realistic sense. We don’t think you do that but still want to ask: Do you scrap any of your MOC's after taking photos for the parts?

B: The last ten or so models do still exist. Scrapping them would mean I would run into a problem with parts storage, because I had to order new bricks for every one of them. Nevertheless, some older creations had to go, like for example the above-mentioned Hercules, the trailer of the MAN as well as a small train layout, I built a few years ago. The trains themselves though, do still exist.

K: We have seen you use non-lego wheels on your MOC’s. Related to that; What do you think about custom or third party pieces in MOC's?

B: Indeed, the wheels you mention are a first for me. So far, I have never used third-party components that large. Since the model I am using these for, is part of a bigger series of 1 to 28.5 scale mining equipment models, the decision was either to use non LEGO wheels or to build something different. Apart from that, I have been using third-party components all these years. For me, they include strings used with cranes or cable-operated excavators, self-made stickers and sometimes some metal chunks as counterweight in large cranes and excavators. Then of course, these metal parts won’t be visible to the observer. Another important third-party component, I am using for a few years now, is the SBrick Bluetooth device. It allows me to control my models using my mobile phone and even a game controller. Having haptic feedback is a major advantage when precisely controlling large models. With my Santa Fe #5000 Steam Engine  I also used Big Ben Bricks train wheels.

K: You are especially great at building brickbuilt realistic model vehicles. Can you give tips about building techniques, building methodoly?

B: Building my models always starts with research on the internet and in books. If I can’t find enough pictures and blueprints/drawings of a certain machine, I will most likely skip the idea. When building scale models, it is important to keep true to the original in terms of proportions. This can only be achieved if there is good material to work with like pictures and drawings. The next big question then is to set the scale of the model. Often, this is nailed by the size of a key component. With The Mountaineer for example, it was the size of the turntable prototype that ended up being 48 studs in diameter, that dictated overall scale. Other models are scaled according to their wheels. Then I start building right away with real bricks, having pictures and drawings at hand all the time, so that I can regularly check the truth to scale. I keep my parts sorted mostly by colour. Since real machines usually feature only few main colours, this is the ideal method for me. According to the number of parts I own of a certain colour, there are containers for small, medium and large plates, narrow and wide bricks, slopes, Technic beams and plates and of course for all the small pieces like plate modified, tiles and so on. Parts I don’t use that often are sorted by type.

"Engineering with ABS Laboratory"

K: We especially like that your creations are both looking good and functional at the same time. Majority of the builders could not do that simultaniously most of the time. What is your trick?

B: Being an engineer? I don’t know, to be honest. It certainly helps, if you first understand how the real life prototype works, before you start building a model of it. Of course, one gains experience with time, what is possible and what not. Sometimes an idea has to wait until LEGO releases the parts that make it even possible.

K: Another great aspects of your MOC’s are great color selection and application on the model as well as custom stickers. What can you tell us about the exterior design of your MOC’s?

B: I chose the prototypes according to the parts available. If a certain machine has a very fancy colour scheme that can’t be matched with original LEGO colours, I will most likely not build it. It helps a lot though, that large mining and construction equipment is often yellow. The stickers I make myself using CorelDRAW and an inkjet printer. Depending on the colour of the sticker and on the background colour on the model, I either chose self-adhesive glossy white or transparent printable labels. Logos and lettering I can often find as graphics on the internet or in PDF specification sheets of the prototype.

K: Your latest MOC: Terex 33-19 Titan is truely magnificent work. We have read the backstory of the model itself and its tons of functional equipment. What can you tell us more about that creation?

B: Thank you. I’ve always been fascinated with record breaking or famous equipment. The Terex 33-19 Titan seemed to be an interesting challenge, since it turned to be buildable, once I realised that it sported a second colour scheme of tan, blue and orange and not only the standard Terex lime green. The latter one would not have been possible to build, since a lot of important parts shapes are missing in that colour. I had already built five other mining equipment models in 1 to 28.5 scale when I started with the Terex Titan. As mentioned above, that was the reason to go with the 120 mm non LEGO tyres. Another fact that made the model possible was the release of the XL linear actuators, that first appeared with the Liebherr R9800. In fact, it was one of my fastest builds so far. I started around Christmas 2019 and was done by end of January 2020. Of course, it helped that I had some days off over the holidays and that I had the majority of the parts needed at hand. Only a few small bricklink orders were necessary this time.

K: Do you have any suggestions for the new MOC'ers?

B: When I think back to when I started with my hobby, almost 35 years ago, I can only suggest that you start sorting your parts. Forget about sets and themes and regard LEGO bricks as what they are: limitless possibilities of combinations far beyond the ideas, The LEGO Company predetermines with their sets.

K: Are you currently working on some MOC's or other LEGO related projects?

B: Currently I am considering various ideas. I would like to build my first creation using the new PoweredUp components, but haven’t come up yet with a decision.

K: Do you member of a local LUG? Do you participate in collaborative builds?

B: I am a founder member of SwissLUG, the first LUG in Switzerland. While I have participated in collaborative builds in the past, I haven’t done so in recent years.

K: And our final question: Tiles or studs?

B: Definitely tiles, when it comes to the surfaces of machines. I do like studs too, though. For example with my mining equipment models, almost all the walkways for the operators are studded, because it seems to be the best representation of gratings in that scale. If there were more LEGO parts that could be used to build gratings, like 1x1 grille tiles, I would certainly do so.

K:  We thank you very much for joining us with this nice interview and we think that this interview will be very insightful for AFOL's and fans of your creations.

B: I would like to thank you for this opportunity.