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Toys

How They Make LEGO Bricks 327

harajukboy writes "Businessweek.com shows us how the famous LEGO bricks are made. Among the new facts I picked up was that LEGO is the largest tire manufacturer in the world, and that the process is so air tight that only 18 of 1 million pieces are considered defective." I knew I was getting old when I first realized that these kids today with their modern legos have it too easy, what with all those crazy custom pieces. Why, when I was a kid, we had to use our imagination to build stuff.
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How They Make LEGO Bricks

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  • Still Not Six Sigma (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:23AM (#17032960) Journal
    ... that the process is so air tight that only 18 of 1 million pieces are considered defective ...
    Impressive but I wouldn't call it "air tight." Six Sigma is a defect rate that many employers (including my own) constantly strive to hit. While only 18 defects per million is still impressive, the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] will tell you what six sigma means:
    The process was pioneered by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986[2] and was originally defined[3] as a metric for measuring defects and improving quality, and a methodology to reduce defect levels below 3.4 Defects Per (one) Million Opportunities (DPMO), or put another way, a methodology of controlling a process to the point of plus or minus six sigma (standard deviations) from a centerline. Six Sigma has now grown beyond defect control.
    It esentially means that if you model your product as a normal curve representing rate of failure, you need to aim for six standard deviations away from the mean failure rate. That figures out to be 3.4 per million which is a fraction of 18 per million. Believe it or not, there are many companies out there that consider their products to be six sigma.
    • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:27AM (#17033026) Journal
      Six Sigma -- I find it hilarious. Basically, they took the work of Walter Edward Demmings, widely regarded as the driving force behind Japan's industrial turnaround, repackaged it, and called it "new". Demmings cane up with "kaizen" or the process of continual improvement. Basically, no process is complete unless it has a feedback and improving mechanism

      For anyone who is an expert: What has six sigma added to this paradigm?
      • > What has six sigma added to this paradigm?

        A word that we, monolingual americans, can understand.
      • by orgelspieler ( 865795 ) <`moc.cam' `ta' `eifl0w'> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:58AM (#17033512) Journal
        What has six sigma added to this paradigm?

        Bureaucracy.

        At least in GE's implementation of Six Sigma. They found a way to take what is essentially the engineering version of the scientific process, wrap it in so much red tape that it is unworkable (a 12-step process that really had 15 steps) , and put it in the hands of every worker in the company. Originally they gave bonuses for doing it, but eventually they took those away and declared "Thou shalt not get a raise without a Six Sigma Project." What ended up happening is that people refused to make any process or product improvements unless they were part of somebody's (preferably their own) Six Sigma project.

        It was ridiculous. You ended up with one person optimizing a part of a process, while the person in the next cubicle was eliminating the entire process in favor of a more unwieldy one. Then, six months later, somebody else would start a new project that essentially put the original process back in place. Of course the problem was that they were using a distinctly product-oriented procedure, and trying to use it to solve process problems.

        Don't even get me started on the math. They would assume normal distributions for everything. Never mind that one of the steps was to prove normalcy. If that test proved it wasn't normal, you were instructed by your "Black Belt" to assume normalcy anyway -- even if a Weibull distribution was clearly the correct choice (like in timed exercises). Idiots, I say. And then they had PHB's (called "Black Belts" and "Master Black Belts") trying to tell engineers how to do math, when they didn't even know how to use a simple Q test. If they saw a data point that didn't support their theory, they just called it an outlier, and deleted it.

        You'd think after nearly two years of not working at GE, I wouldn't get so wound up about it. I guess as an engineer, it really gets my goat when people use math improperly.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by saider ( 177166 )
          If they saw a data point that didn't support their theory, they just called it an outlier, and deleted it.

          This is a fundamental failure in human thought and is pervasive at all levels of society. If something does not fit your preconceived notion of how things should be, make it fit!
        • Well, you gotta give GE credit... They were some of the first ones doing this 20+ years ago in this country, and they trained all of their managers in process improvement (who in turn, went out and preached the gospel at other companies). They were really at the bleeding edge of process management at the time. Maybe GE's going to become a regular big, bloated company now that Jack's gone. :(
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by zero_offset ( 200586 )
          At least in GE's implementation of Six Sigma. They found a way to take what is essentially the engineering version of the scientific process, wrap it in so much red tape that it is unworkable (a 12-step process that really had 15 steps) , and put it in the hands of every worker in the company. Originally they gave bonuses for doing it, but eventually they took those away and declared "Thou shalt not get a raise without a Six Sigma Project." What ended up happening is that people refused to make any process
    • by qwijibo ( 101731 )
      Companies like to say Six Sigma(tm) in their descriptions, but very few live up to that. For example, anyone claiming six sigma for software development likely has gaps in understanding of both topics. Does anyone who manufactures actual products have a defect rate of 3.4 per million or less? Or is this like ISO certifications where if you document your process for sweeping the defective products under the run, you don't have to count them in the defect rate?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DrRobert ( 179090 ) *
      Actually 1-2ppm defects is a common goal and easily obtainable with proper controls. 18ppm would be unacceptable in some regulated industries and considered an out-of-control process.
      • ...about the actual defective blocks that are *found* ? I mean, if 18 per million are defective, and all 18 are removed from the process, isn't this effectively better than 3.4 ppm of which all 3 are *not* removed from the process ?
      • by balsy2001 ( 941953 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:46AM (#17033316)
        How easy it is to obtain depends almost entirely what you standards are. For example if you make metal forgins and you say you can live with an internal defect that is 0.25" in diameter you will be able to attain a 6 sigma process much easier than if you said your standard was 1/10 that size. The sigma level for the same product line can change just based on who the customer is. The higher the regulation of an industy and therefore necessity for quality (think nuclear or aircraft) the less likely you are to have a high sigma process because you can't tolerate the same kind of defects. That is why nuclear grade materials or aircraft certified parts are SO much more expensive than your run of the mill hardware store (home depot) parts/materials that look the same. Go back to material forgings, material that goes into a nuclear reactor has to have much smaller allowable defects than say the same material (like stainless steel) that will be used for you hammer in your house. To get material that meets the requirements you have to inspect much more product and reject at much higher rates.
      • by mcvos ( 645701 )
        Actually 1-2ppm defects is a common goal and easily obtainable with proper controls. 18ppm would be unacceptable in some regulated industries and considered an out-of-control process.

        But are those regulated industries making toys?

        I suspect they're either making business critical stuff, or stuff that could threaten lives if broken. For a toy maker, 18 ppm sounds pretty impressive.

    • But if Sigma Six measures defects per million opportunities does that not mean that each successfully produced Lego brick counts as more than one opportunity? Since there are multiple points of possible failure during the production of each brick, a defect rate of 4 per multiple millions of parts produced would be well beyond sigma six.
    • by Josh Lindenmuth ( 1029922 ) <joshlindenmuth AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:34AM (#17033150) Journal
      It's also a matter of what is classified as a defect in a Lego. I've used Lego that are not 100% aligned, or that don't stay together real well all the time. My son's set falls apart when certain shapes are connected. I consider this a defect, but obviously they don't. One easy way to achieve such low defect rates is simply to redefine 'defect'.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rhys ( 96510 )
        Ask them to replace the parts. They will. Usually, they won't even charge you for it, nor require the bad part back.

        http://www.lego.com/eng/service/replacementparts.a sp [lego.com]

        Worked fantastic for the one bad part from Lego I have ever received. That ranges from the early 80s through today, and yes I still get bricks in fairly high quantity.

        I suspect your real problem is that your son has bricks which are not actually Lego bricks. Mega blocks and others try to be like Lego but the quality just isn't there in their
      • As the other poster said are they all lego? mega blocks hook up with lego blocks but don't quite fit.

        Did a relative buy a non-lego set as a gift, and the blocks get mixed up?

        while it is possible to be defective most of the time it comes down to.

        1)Non-lego block
        2)the block was warped(through heat or strong twisting motion(yes I have broken blocks that way)
        3)Bad engineering design.(least likely, though I have had lego tower's fall apart because I forgot to reinforce a section I added on afterwards.)

        Go throug
    • by muffel ( 42979 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:51AM (#17033414)
      Dude, didn't you read the relevant Dilbert [dilbert.com]?
    • by Rhys ( 96510 )
      I'd rather they throw away 18 out of every million pieces than raise the cost what it'd take to get down to 1-2 defects per million. Plus if I remember right from the lego history book, the bricks that are defective can be re-molded.
    • I used to work for a long distance company that used to guarantee 99.9% availability for DS1 circuits, which sounded good at the time. Most customers didn't realize that guaranteed 99.9% availability meant that there could be over 8 hours of outage during a year.
  • by loftwyr ( 36717 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:24AM (#17032968)
    The article says they make 18 billion a year! Since they've been building bricks since 1958, that means there's a HELL of a lot of bricks somewhere.

    I think a recycle your Lego campaign should start and you should send all your old Lego to me.

    This is not just a grab to make sure I have more Lego than you.
    • by LordSnooty ( 853791 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:28AM (#17033030)
      Where do they go? The bottom of my foot, normally, then straight into the bin after I let out a squeal of pain.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by heroofhyr ( 777687 )
      Guess what the article doesn't say: How they actually make them. You read the entire article, which is basically just a fluff piece history of the company and some numbers that might as well be from the LEGO Employees' Quarterly Newsletter, and get to the bottom where there's a link to a slideshow of how they're produced. Lo and behold the slideshow link gives you a 404 File Not Found. So if you only clicked on this story under the impression that it is of any use for explaining or illustrating the producti
      • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes@NOsPAM.xmsnet.nl> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:47AM (#17033346)
        Lo and behold the slideshow link gives you a 404 File Not Found.

        I was able to view the slideshow. Nothing impressive, but nice pics.

        this presentation [lego.com] is better, including short video clips of the machines in action. It's also more fun. Requires Flash, though.
        same presentation without it opening in a popup window [popandco.com]
      • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot.kadin@[ ]y.net ['xox' in gap]> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:59AM (#17033520) Homepage Journal
        I've actually seen (well, as far as you can "see") Lego bricks in production. Up until this year when they announced they were going to close it (as part of moving all their production to Eastern Europe, China, or Mexico), Lego ran a factory in Connecticut. Once upon a time, they used to allow kids to tour it. I must have been in middle school or so when I saw it.

        IIRC, there's nothing particularly special about the production process. It's basic injection-molding. The plastic comes in bulk as small pellets, pre-dyed (I think, I'm a little fuzzy on this), and gets fed into machines that produce the bricks. I don't think that they make or dye the plastic on-site. The vast majority of the plant, as I remember it, was actually devoted to inspection, sorting/packing, and packaging for shipment. At the time this really surprised me; the "making stuff" part of the factory was far smaller than I had thought. It was cool to see them wheeling around big bins of bricks, though. (This was before they made quite as many special pieces as they seem to now.) I really should have brought a camera but never thought about it at the time. (I think I was probably in that period of life where I was trying hard not to show that I still thought Legos were really cool.) Somebody else visited and has a few photos here [geocities.com].

        About the only thing I never worked out is how they get them to release from the molds so cleanly, and with such straight walls (normally to guarantee mold release you avoid straight walls and sharp edges/corners). On some bricks if you look closely though, you can see mold lines and sprues if you look in the bottom carefully.

        It's sad to hear that they're closing the plant in CT; I had always hoped that maybe it was heavily automated enough to cope with the higher costs of labor in a high-cost area, but it seems not. I wonder what this leaves for industry in Connecticut these days? Without Lego, their principal exports are going to be nothing but a handful of helicopter parts and lawyers.
  • Tires (Score:4, Funny)

    by Himring ( 646324 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:25AM (#17032982) Homepage Journal
    LEGO is the largest tire manufacturer in the world

    Yet, when making a car, you are hard-pressed to find four of the same set in a very huge bucket filled with Legos....

    Yes, I play legos with my kids....

  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:26AM (#17033000) Homepage Journal
    The plural of Lego is Lego NOT Legos! I'm getting fed up with every slashdot article on Lego getting this wrong, and a huge portion of the debate being about the pluralisation not the story.
    • by Peyna ( 14792 )
      The plural of Lego is Lego NOT Legos!

      The singular of LEGO is LEGO not Lego.
    • by Cerberus7 ( 66071 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:30AM (#17033054)
      So, if you're fed up with the debate about pluralization taking over the discussion instead of the actual story, why is it that you are the first one to bring it up? Hmmm? :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by n9891q ( 863780 )
      The word Lego is a trademark and must be used as an adjective. Thus the "plural of Lego[sic]" is "Lego plastic doodads".
      -----
      IANAL but I play one on Slashdot.
    • by teh kurisu ( 701097 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:59AM (#17033522) Homepage

      Like sheep. You can have a box of sheep, you can build things out of sheep bricks, but there are no such things as sheeps.

    • by chrysrobyn ( 106763 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @10:07AM (#17033646)
      The plural of Lego is Lego NOT Legos! I'm getting fed up with every slashdot article on Lego getting this wrong, and a huge portion of the debate being about the pluralisation not the story.

      Oh boy, I love it when people get nitpicky about things they don't know about. Whether we call them Legos, Lego, LEGOs or LEGO, we're legally wrong (and I do it all the time). The correct answer, as Susan Williams instructed us on the back of every instruction manual from the late 70s through 1987 (?) is to call them Lego brand building blocks. "Lego", it turns out, is the brand name, not the product. They're afraid of Tyco being able to call their products "MegaBlock brand lego blocks" and diluting their trademark like so many other companies [wikipedia.org].

      Personally, I have a closet loaded with Legos. When my daughter graduates from Duplos, she'll get Legos. I'm not a lawyer, and I really don't care about trademarks enough to force that kind of burden onto children. My children will be taught that copyright and intellectual property law is there only to further the progress of art and science, not for the purpose of furthering jobs or corporate profits (although in any free market economy companies will be rewarded for meaninful progress of art and science). While I lean liberal in many beliefs, I'm fully aware of how limiting the US Constitution is with regard to intellectual property; it's very precise and quite limiting.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bestinshow ( 985111 )
        I am interested in this LegOS. Does it run on standard x86 hardware?

        I think that Legos is the most retarded pluralisation of Lego, however incorrect just using Lego as the term is. Hell Legoes seems more correct (c.f., Hero -> Heroes). Then again the English language isn't exactly consistent, and the American variant hasn't made any leaps to improve it.

        Good work on the teaching of the whys and wherefores of things to your offspring though.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by SteveDob ( 449830 )
        Surely that should have been 'Lego brand building bloxen'
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Qzukk ( 229616 )
        Personally, I have a closet loaded with Legos. When my daughter graduates from Duplos, she'll get Legos. I'm not a lawyer, and I really don't care about trademarks enough to force that kind of burden onto children.

        I think that this is the number one failure of Trademark law, that no matter what YOU do, you can lose your trademark because you are unable to convince the masses to use a ridiculously long artificial construct like "Lego Brand Building Blocks". The need to defend your trademark against everythi
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dunkirk ( 238653 )
        Sheesh. You're probably one of those guys who still runs around calling GNU/Linux just plain, old "Linux." Get a clue, man!
    • by Speare ( 84249 )

      Like you, some of my first lessons in intellectual property considerations came from LEGO(tm) Brick toys. This is over thirty years ago. "Dad, what's that 'PATENT' or 'PAT PEND' stamp that I find hidden inside each brick?" Every set came with a pamplet that reminded folks about the proper trademark usage, "LEGO Brick" not "Legos," along with the possibly-fictitous contact name of Susan Williams for customer services in the USA. If they don't make a visible motion to attempt to enforce their trademark,

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by zerosix ( 962914 )
      I beg to differ! Check it out. http://www.ericharshbarger.org/lego/faq.html [ericharshbarger.org]

      18. Which is correct as the plural of LEGO: 'Lego' or 'Legos'? Neither, actually. The word 'LEGO', when used as a noun, should only refer to the company that makes the product. Otherwise 'LEGO' is supposed to be used as an adjective. Thus, when referring to the pieces, neither 'lego' nor 'legos' is correct... rather one should say: 'LEGO bricks' or 'LEGO pieces' or whatever (using LEGO as an adjective -- and one should really capit

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Legos legos legos.

      Legos.

      Bite me, nitpicking asshat.
    • The plural of Lego is Lego NOT Legos! I'm getting fed up with every slashdot article on Lego getting this wrong, and a huge portion of the debate being about the pluralisation not the story.

      Pssst, at least so far, the Lego company is not our corporate overlord and we don't need to welcome them by calling "Legos" Lego Building Blocks. Be free! Be free! Legos! Legos!

  • Ouch (Score:5, Funny)

    by tttonyyy ( 726776 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:27AM (#17033020) Homepage Journal
    I just love the way the factory floor has all sorts of bits of Lego scattered across it (the Lego that escaped!)

    I bet they don't walk around with bare feet there. :)
    • by oc255 ( 218044 )
      Yeah that picture made me laugh too. Remember how the really small two peg pieces would embed into your foot? Ow, pointy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by bloobloo ( 957543 )
      Same as the nitric acid plant I used to work at then!
  • by Lethyos ( 408045 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:29AM (#17033048) Journal

    Has there been any research studying the effects of playing with Legos on mental development in children? It seems intuitive to me and probably others here that there is some positive correlation if not outright causality between these types of toys and intelligence.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bdonalds ( 989355 )
      Has there been any research studying the effects of playing with Legos on mental development in children? It seems intuitive to me and probably others here that there is some positive correlation if not outright causality between these types of toys and intelligence.


      Well, I played with Legos (sorry...Lego brand brick-type plastic blocks), and I'm fucking brilliant!

      :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Meneguzzi ( 935620 )
      Or perhaps the correlation of kids who played with legos that turned out to be car engineers in the 80s (you know, with lots of straight angles). Perhaps that explains the stylistic choices of the time...
    • I'm guessing that children that play with LEGO bricks have better spatial reasoning but show little to no improvement in cognitive reasoning.
    • by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @12:04PM (#17035674) Journal
      I just bought my kids a DVD of other kids playing with legos and creating really neat toys. It's cheaper then buying all of those expensive legos and the kids on the DVD are far more creative than my kids. It's kind of like New Yankee Workshop for little children.
  • This would have been far more interesting if they showed how they made some of their more advanced kits, robots, and intricate pieces, instead of just showing their injection molding process for a simple little block. Their production #'s are impressive, but who really cares how the 1950's technology behind making a Lego?
    • and you can be sure that while the basics of squirting molten plastic into a mold and squeezing it with hydraulics haven't changed since the '50s, there are plenty of high tech temperature/pressure controls, servomotors, PLCs, etc. controlling that seemingly simple process. Factory automation has come a long way since injection molding started.

      Most people have absolutely no idea how something as simple as a Lego brick is made. Or the amount of skilled labor that is involved in making the molds and tooling u
  • You can't just stick those fancy pieces anywhere, you have to think about what you're doing or else the funny shapes obstruct somewhere else you wanted to put something.

    (yeah, I've done that a lot. The Technic stuff can be a nightmare to figure out sometimes.)
  • Why a Lego article in Businessweek?

    I guess I expected to see a story about how Lego's sales have dropped off recently because kids aren't as interested in Legos or (as in my sons' case) inherited so many damn Legos there's really no point in buying any more. Or maybe something about how the company has refocused on name brand licensing in the past 10 years, with tie-ins to Harry Potter, Star Wars and anyone else with a children's movie.

    But a "how are ordinary plastic bricks" made in Businessweek? Strange.
  • Decline in quality? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xzzy ( 111297 ) <sether@tru7[ ]rg ['h.o' in gap]> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:39AM (#17033208) Homepage
    Didn't LEGO outsource their fabrication off to some other company earlier this year? I'm pretty sure it was a fairly long transition, so we may not be seeing these new pieces yet, but the sets I've bought in the past year seem "different" somehow. Colors don't seem as solid as they were years ago, and the plastic feels softer. They still snap together pretty well, but they don't seem to fit against each other as well and seams can be much bigger than I remember.

    While I'm sure the machinery and manufacture process isn't changing, it would have been nice if the article could have commented on the changes being made in response to the restructuring LEGO has been doing the past couple years. It's pretty obvious to me that things are changing, but it'd be nice to have it documented.
    • From 1975 to 2006 they made a lot of stuff for the U.S. market in their factory in Enfield, Connecticut. (Which apparently was quite the state-of-the-art operation when it was constructed.) You can read the local paper's article about the first round of layoffs here [journalinquirer.com].

      Ultimately, their plan is to offshore everything [usatoday.com] including manufacturing and logistics. The Enfield operations will mostly go to Mexico and China, where the production is being subcontracted out to Flextronics; about a third of their headquarter
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by smitty97 ( 995791 )
      I think there has been a decline in quality, it just happened earlier. New part's molds seem to have much larger radii on the corners and a rougher texture (like the mold pressure wasnt high enough), while old parts have sharp corners and a smooth finish. The best example i can find is to compare an early 80's technic bush ( http://www.peeron.com/inv/parts/3713 [peeron.com]) with one from a 2000+ kit.. the new ones are different enough to make them unusable for some things, like attaching an axle perpendicular to a plate
    • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @11:17AM (#17034862)
      Billund is still manufacturing, but it's moving to Czech Republic, real soon now.
      Enfield is moving its manufacturing and packing to Mexico, that should be complete by March.
      They'll be hoding an internal job fair sometime this winter - if you want some creative, dedicated folks, you'll find them there.

      Our FIRST team was sponsored by LEGO for several years until 1998 - we were working in their machine shop and got to see a great deal of the facility.
      Back around 1990 when the original LEGO TC Logo came out, we worked with them on a few projects.
      They're an amazing bunch, from the shop techs to the engineers to the line staff to the model team (still based in Enfield).

      There are bowls of LEGO on every conference table, not just for brand vanity, but for people to toy with as they discuss and solve problems. There's even an offshoot company, LEGO Serious Play that does corporate team training based on doing things with LEGO.

      One of their points of pride is that as they increased automation, they only displaced workers to other areas of the factory, they (at least back then) never tossed someone out of the site as their existing job was automated.

      In 1990 the packing lines were controlled by an amazing array of personal computers, Apple II, PC, I believe we even saw a few Commodores.

      They since standardized. The machines also page the engineering staff when there's an issue with one, this replaces the sound and light alarm they used to have.

      They've had two sorts of molding machines - one series that let the bricks and flashing fall through to sorters, and another where arms picked up the flashing and let the bricks drop. People touring would ask why some were robots (= had arms) and others weren't!

      Some of the parts are assembled on the lines, most are simply picked, sorted and packed into those perforated bags. If you notice the tiny dot on a minfig head, that's where the high-contrast optical system aligns each minifig head to the body. It's very cool to see.

      We had engineer/parents from other companies who used the same molding machines and could not believe the quality LEGO was getting - I believe their quoted tolerance was 3/1000 of an inch. Look for "gates" where the plastic entered the mold, or punches where the machine tapped the brick to free it - good luck finding either - then remember what your scale model kits looked like.

      First time through, we saw pallettes of boxes from Bayer. When I asked the engineers what they were getting from Germany, the answer was ABS plastic. Yes, they were shipping raw plastic over here, they're very particular - no metals allowed whatsoever. One of their engineers managed a program to get plastics from GE in Pittsfield MA 50 miles up the road to do the same thing - the savings reportedly bought them about 7 years time here in CT.

      There are no heaters per se in a LEGO molding machine - the pellets are fed through increasingly smaller feed tubes by arbors, and the pressure and friction creates the heat. When they hit the molds, the plastic is about the consistency of toothpaste. They have a rogues gallery of sculptures created by leaks.

      They filled a 55 gallon drum every night with the bricks that get swept off the floor - we offered to help them get rid of those, but they recycle them - I believe to a comb company.

      Our second year at FIRST, the robot was approximating an arm with a shoulder, elbow and wrist. The ergonomics of the standard joysticks and buttons were a real challenge. So the team built a "waldo" out of LEGO, where the operator could lay their hand into it, and the robot would respond to the movements of the hand. All was well until the judges reminded us that LEGO was not in the kit of parts of alllowables list. They did offer us the chance to take our allowance of PVC pipe and moplding LEGO bricks out of that, and building the waldo out of them. The two LEGO engineers looked like someone just suggested they use Waterford crystal to haul horse manure. We went back to joysticks.

  • "the LEGO Group has calculated that just six eight-stud bricks can be arranged in 915,103,765 different ways."
    Can anyone reproduce this for me?
  • What? No mention of how the current lego kits all tell you what to build (spaceships, castles, etc.) while in the "Good old days" all we had were buckets of bricks and our imagination?
    • I grew up with the kits so they've been doing that for awhile. Today there aren't as many choices - I always liked the space ones and now everything has to be god awfull starwars crap.

      Even with the kits, you'd play with the spaceships and eventually, you'd drop them, or they'd break apart in the bucket you stored them in. Then you got to build your own creations from the debris. The best of both worlds :).
  • Injection moulding (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:58AM (#17033502) Homepage
    Yawn, standard manufacturing technology in industry.

    The details of what happens are cool, but every company making moulded thermoplastics does the same thing.
    The machines at LEGO aren't any different than those making toothpaste caps or rubbermaid containers, it's just a cooler product to geeks.
    • by The-Bus ( 138060 )
      And a well-placed PR piece to remind parents about LEGO products during the holidays.

      (Yes, I can be cynical about products I love).

      The problem I see with LEGO is that you only need so many bricks. By making things very specialized they've bypassed that (oh, this set has a pirate ghost) but at some point you have enough basic pieces that you can make anything you want. Which is of course the reason people buy LEGO bricks in the first place.

    • by Peyna ( 14792 )
      RTFA. It appears to be much more like a compression molding system than an injection molding one.
  • Several years ago I visited their factory in Connecticut. It was a very interesting few hours, and I got to see just about every aspect of how the bricks are made.

    I even managed to hold a few of them in my bare hands while they were still warm out of the molding machine!

  • Your imagination has been rendered obsolete.
    In fact, your imagination has been patented, and you will be prosecuted if caught using it again.
    In place of your obsolete, patented imagination you will now swallow any pill presented by the media: resistance is feudal.
  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @10:07AM (#17033642) Homepage Journal
    http://www.popandco.com/archive/moab/ [popandco.com]

    i love this animation set.
  • Fischertechnik, of course.



    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischertechnik [wikipedia.org]



    Not as much visual appeal and pretty colors, but way more functional.

  • In 30 years of buying Lego (first for myself and now for my son), I'm impressed that I only once bought a set (last year) that had a single missing piece. I called the 1-800 number on the box and the agent talked me through a long but obviously well documented process to determine exactly which part was missing. The part arrived in a couple of days and my son's T-Rex had it's tail joint. If only all companies had that kind of customer service.
  • When i was young... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ch_Omega ( 532549 )
    "I knew I was getting old when I first realized that these kids today with their modern legos have it to easy, what with all those crazy custom pieces. Why, when I was a kid, we had to use our imagination to build stuff."

    ...and we had to walk 15 miles to and from school... in snow storms.... uphill... both ways!
    • And who do you think built that hill? Out of LEGO blocks no less? Before we went to school every day? In the snow? Yeah, you kids had it easy.
  • This is interesting timing considering I bought my first lego set in years just a couple of weeks ago.

    I have to say building blocks, and legos in particular, are some of the best toys out there. These toys require decent visual-spacial abilities to assemble and very basic understanding of structures and engineering concepts, at least if you don't want something to collapse on your. And probably more importantly they inspire the imagination. There's not much out there that is quite this good, not even most s
  • is a collective noun!
  • by vuzman ( 888872 )
    Incidentally, the LEGO company is the second most reputable company in the world [forbes.com], according to Forbes.
  • Too Easy? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by panda ( 10044 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @10:50AM (#17034388) Homepage Journal
    I knew I was getting old when I first realized that these kids today with their modern legos have it too easy, what with all those crazy custom pieces. Why, when I was a kid, we had to use our imagination to build stuff.

    Actually, my daughter and I were making houses, cars and furniture with her LEGO bricks last night, and I commented to my wife that it was more fun when I was younger and the pieces were more generic. It feels like you're being coerced into building the specific sets on the box because the custom pieces aren't that good for much else, though you can come up with a really wacky-looking couch for your little lego people to sit on. ;)

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @11:22AM (#17034954) Journal
    A *long* time ago, in about 1971, LEGO opened the first LEGO manufacturing plant outside Denmark -- or to be more specific, they licensed a Sampsonite company to produce LEGO bricks. It was in my hometown of Loveland, Colorado, and I can't find any good web links except for a passing reference in this pdf [cdpheritage.org] which is a shame because the original plant is still standing and its exterior design is clearly LEGO-influenced. The windows are enormous 1:2 rectangles with eight huge circular extrusions on them, just like a 2x4 cube.
    As kids, we all envied the children whose parents worked there because they'd come home with garbage bags of floor sweepings and those kids could build houses we could actually get inside. The local library had several models of famous houses/buildings that, again, were large enough to crawl into.
  • by Pontiac ( 135778 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @11:50AM (#17035426) Homepage
    I knew I was getting old when I first realized that these kids today with their modern legos have it too easy, what with all those crazy custom pieces. Why, when I was a kid, we had to use our imagination to build stuff.
    Thats how I felt a couple years ago.. Almost every Lego kit I looked at would only build what was on the cover..

    My step sons new Technic 8288 Mobile Crane [lego.com] and a bunch of the kits out now remind me more of the old Lego I remember.

    Yeah the bricks are different.. most are just sticks with holes you link together but they open up new ways to build.

    I remember the Technic 8860 [nd.edu] set I had as a kid.
    It built a car with working suspension, steering, rear differential, a 2 speed shifting transmission, 4 cylinder engine with a crank and pistons that turned when the car moved.

    Some of the stuff I see today is almost as cool as I remember that set was.
    I gave what I had left to the kids.. over half the sets are missing but they still have fun with em.

  • Difficulty (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @05:35PM (#17041136) Journal
    Why, when I was a kid, we had to use our imagination to build stuff.

    Wow, that sounds difficult. Why didn't you use your hands?

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