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LEGO parts made of Chinese plastic?


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#26 brickmack

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 03:03 AM

I think there might be a slight difference in the density of the parts. When I take two identical parts (other than the printing, because I was using collectible minifig torsos and normal torsos), and I tap each one, the collectible minifig one sounds slightly different (it's a bit hard to explain the difference though).

#27 Aanchir

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 12:04 PM

View Postbrickmack, on 28 March 2011 - 03:03 AM, said:

I think there might be a slight difference in the density of the parts. When I take two identical parts (other than the printing, because I was using collectible minifig torsos and normal torsos), and I tap each one, the collectible minifig one sounds slightly different (it's a bit hard to explain the difference though).
I don't know... didn't someone here create a topic where they used a precision scale and found that the collectible minifigure parts didn't vary significantly in weight from "mainstream" minifigures? Of course, it could be that the new molds used on the Chinese-made minifigures have a different volume of plastic, so with a different density the weights balance out. But that seems awfully unlikely, since the molds would have been planned in advance to work for minifigures in general whereas the plastic (if it's indeed different for the reason that's been reported) was changed as an unavoidable consequence of some sort of Chinese import law (or something to that effect). That the two factors should balance out would be too much of  a coincidence for my liking.

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#28 davee123

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 04:22 PM

View Postbrickmack, on 28 March 2011 - 03:03 AM, said:

I think there might be a slight difference in the density of the parts. When I take two identical parts (other than the printing, because I was using collectible minifig torsos and normal torsos), and I tap each one, the collectible minifig one sounds slightly different (it's a bit hard to explain the difference though).

LEGO has acknowledged that they don't use their standard ABS plastic in Chinese produced parts. Supposedly it was too difficult, impossible, or too expensive to use their standard ABS, thanks to some aspect of Chinese law, presumably something about importing foreign sources (I don't think we've been told the particulars).  The Chinese plastic doesn't seem to have any significant weight difference or density, but it DOES seem to be slightly more translucent:

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This translucency is somewhat visible even without exposing it as seen above, although it may not be immediately noticeable. It's sort of like telling the difference between new gray and old gray in bad lighting-- you can stare at them and not REALLY be sure if something's different, and then in the right lighting conditions, it can become obvious. IE, the difference in translucency isn't very noticeable, unless you're really picky.

To my knowledge, Chinese production has not been on "normal" bricks, and haven't been around long enough to know whether the actual clutch quality is better or worse than normal bricks. We DO know that minifigure arms produced in China seem to deform slightly when removed and re-applied, indicating that the plastic COULD be more malleable, and thus have less clutch over time, but so far, I don't think anyone's noticed such a problem anywhere except minifig arms.

Fans have also indicated that Chinese production may also introduce other, as yet unknown problems. For instance, some people have reported that SOME minifig hands/arms will not allow the hands to rotate, or will experience "clicking" when doing so. It's not consistent, however, which implies that there could be tolerance issues, or mold assembly issues with respect to small amounts of flashing on the completed parts.

However, further difficulty has stemmed from lower quality parts from LEGO itself in recent years, some of which is thought to be possibly attributed to LEGO's new method for injecting dye into the plastic at the time of molding, rather than using pre-colored ABS as they used to. Details on that method seem to vary, as LEGO still releases literature stating that they use pre-colored pellets. But reports from Steve Witt expressly acknowledged this method being problematic, and resulting in more translucent elements in the 2007 Castle lineup. It is possible that this is responsible for increased variations in color (this technique was supposedly first used in 2006 or 2007, as I recall, and is therefore probably NOT responsible for color variations that fans noted between 2004-2006).

This lowering of quality in "regular" LEGO bricks NOT produced in China has made it more difficult to distinguish Chinese bricks. If all you had to compare were pieces molded from 1973-1998, you could probably tell the difference more easily between Chinese elements and non-Chinese elements. But otherwise, it's difficult.

Ultimately, the drop in quality isn't all that bad (except, IMHO, the minifig arm thing). On a scale from 1-10, this might mean a drop in quality from (say) 9 down to 8 or something, with Mega Bloks being around a 5, and Best-Lock being around a 4. LEGO quality is still quite high, although it's disappointing to learn of drops in quality. In the past, LEGO endeavored for HIGHER quality, not LOWER quality, and it would seem that LEGO's change in management in 2005 has resulted in LEGO lowering its quality levels in order to ensure its survival as a business.

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#29 starwarsfanatic

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 04:30 PM

Personally, I don't see why you'd need to tell the parts apart. From my experience, the only damage to any Lego came from parts from the last century which were not produced in China and had basically spent a whole week in the summer sun heating up before being pressed down hard onto a minifig head. China elements don't seem to have any difference in quality to me.
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#30 Aanchir

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 06:35 PM

View Postdavee123, on 28 March 2011 - 04:22 PM, said:

Ultimately, the drop in quality isn't all that bad (except, IMHO, the minifig arm thing). On a scale from 1-10, this might mean a drop in quality from (say) 9 down to 8 or something, with Mega Bloks being around a 5, and Best-Lock being around a 4. LEGO quality is still quite high, although it's disappointing to learn of drops in quality. In the past, LEGO endeavored for HIGHER quality, not LOWER quality, and it would seem that LEGO's change in management in 2005 has resulted in LEGO lowering its quality levels in order to ensure its survival as a business.

DaveE
I wouldn't necessarily say LEGO lowered its quality levels as a conscious decision. They essentially made some changes that they thought they could make without reducing quality, and they were obviously wrong in that assumption. Since then, hopefully they've been working to smooth out the kinks in the processes they've settled on for production. And new kinks have emerged every time a change has been made in production-- for instance, the BIONICLE socket joint style introduced in 2008 was meant to solve a brittleness problem in 2006 and 2007 sockets, but instead the problems continued and in some cases got worse. This year, LEGO introduced a new style of socket joint, demonstrating that they're not just going to let problems like that persist indefinitely.

What they have done to ensure their survival as a business, though, is taken more of these risks by changing aspects of production. The intent is usually to improve the production process. Needless to say, things have gone wrong along the way. However, I think it's a good thing for LEGO to continue to take these sorts of risks as long as they remain willing to take responsibility for any unintended consequences (which they do both by offering replacement parts through Customer Service and by working to bring an end to problems in production like color inconsistency and structurally poor part designs).

View Poststarwarsfanatic, on 28 March 2011 - 04:30 PM, said:

Personally, I don't see why you'd need to tell the parts apart. From my experience, the only damage to any Lego came from parts from the last century which were not produced in China and had basically spent a whole week in the summer sun heating up before being pressed down hard onto a minifig head. China elements don't seem to have any difference in quality to me.
Keep in mind quality isn't just a measure of a brick's durability. Discoloration of plastic or prints, misalignment of prints, and visible mold differences (such as seams or injection points) are all indicators of poor quality for some people. Consider the difference between the really old parts like this and modern 2x4 bricks. For some people, the color purity and surface finish would be a defining factor in which of the two was superior, and they'd almost certainly favor the newer brick.

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#31 davee123

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 08:30 PM

View PostAanchir, on 28 March 2011 - 06:35 PM, said:

I wouldn't necessarily say LEGO lowered its quality levels as a conscious decision.

By Jorgen's accounts, the word is more like they stopped making quality their top priority. Jorgen specifically cited "quality" as something that he had to actively encourage people to stop caring about so much-- he specifically quoted something along the lines of employees "using 'quality' as a crutch".

What it says to me is that Jorgen went around making changes left-and-right throughout production chain. Things that used to be checked-and-re-checked-and-re-checked-again were now only checked once, or something similar. Effectively, LEGO was doing things that were producing ludicrously high levels of quality, but were also costing a LOT in terms of money and time. And if you want the corporate terminology, you call it "efficiency".

View PostAanchir, on 28 March 2011 - 06:35 PM, said:

What they have done to ensure their survival as a business, though, is taken more of these risks by changing aspects of production.

Exactly. When they developed the new molding technique, they took a risk of churning out lower quality elements. I'm not sure what happened exactly-- possibly they eliminated the groups that were in charge of checking further up the line, skipping expensive and lengthy workflow cycles, such that the problem was identified after it was too late. Or, they discovered the problem and decided it would take too long to fix, so they just said "oh well", and knowingly lower-quality parts.

Regardless of the details, the effect has been lower quality across the board, from color consistency to translucency to instruction printings to shipping errors with partners, etc. The difference is that LEGO now views lower quality as an acceptable cost to running the business. Rather than catching an error BEFORE it happens, they're now more likely catch an error AFTER it happens, and fix it retroactively.

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Edited by davee123, 28 March 2011 - 08:32 PM.


#32 meyerc13

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Posted 28 March 2011 - 09:55 PM

I'm sure quality was always a high priority, but I doubt it was ever the top priority.  If quality was your top priority, you could spend hours testing every brick to make sure it is perfect.  That would eliminate defects but the cost would be prohibitive.

I think the key is balance.  Quality needs to be a priority, but keeping costs under control has to be a priority as well and double and triple checks in all likelihood would add to the cost while rarely adding to quality.

I've seen the comparisons between Chinese parts and other LEGO parts, and clearly there are differences in some cases, but even lower quality Chinese LEGO bricks are higher quality than most other Chinese manufactured brick brands I've encountered.  Couple that with LEGO's no questions asked approach to fix customer problems, and I think LEGO comes out well on top in both quality and customer satisfaction.
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#33 Captain Becker

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 09:11 AM

I regonize Chinese Lego parts at the colour isnt same, usually its darker. And if you are good at it, you can even feel the difference between them (Wich i cant do yet). I afrid at i have one small chese slope from China, the clour is way more darker at its more like dark red or brown instead or red, and i think at the surface looks slighty different if i look it against the light. Not sure if it also feel different.

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#34 Aanchir

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 12:28 PM

View PostCaptain Becker, on 29 March 2011 - 09:11 AM, said:

I regonize Chinese Lego parts at the colour isnt same, usually its darker. And if you are good at it, you can even feel the difference between them (Wich i cant do yet). I afrid at i have one small chese slope from China, the clour is way more darker at its more like dark red or brown instead or red, and i think at the surface looks slighty different if i look it against the light. Not sure if it also feel different.

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I've had grody-looking red parts from other sets before Chinese production, so I'm not sure if that cheese slope would be chinese-made. What set is it from (if you remember)?

And DaveE, thanks for the info. So I guess there was a conscious sacrifice of quality control after the management shift. A bit of a shame, but I suppose it's worth it if it keeps our favorite company running smoothly.

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#35 fred67

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 01:43 PM

View PostAanchir, on 29 March 2011 - 12:28 PM, said:

I've had grody-looking red parts from other sets before Chinese production, so I'm not sure if that cheese slope would be chinese-made. What set is it from (if you remember)?

I was at the PAB wall in my local store and, of course, stacking bricks to make more fit in the box (the holiday boxes from Christmas) and showed the manager, who was pretty shocked... reddish brown tiles all stacked up with really obvious visual differences in hue... and I'm guessing these were NOT Chinese made because they weren't specialty (CMF or other odd parts), they were just standard bricks.

#36 benhead

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 08:54 PM

View PostScorpion, on 27 March 2011 - 10:05 PM, said:

Pretty much what it says on the tin. I bought several sets that had the sign that denominated the origin of the lego parts included, and it included parts from various countries and also China. Now, combined with the "horror stories" of substandart lego parts and several faulty (mould lines, malformed or miscast) parts I got in several sets with Chinese parts, I would like to know if there is any way to tell the "Chinese" parts from the other, normal parts. So far, it seems to me that pearly/metallic pieces and several licensed specialized minifig accessories are made in china. But what the hell do I know anyway?

So, how could I distinguish chinese parts from the others?

First the plastic is inferior and a slightly different color.They either wont stick or stay together,sometimes they fuse together they may come apart with pliers!But at the cost of 'tooth' marks or permanent bends.

#37 davee123

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 10:41 PM

View Postfred67, on 29 March 2011 - 01:43 PM, said:

I was at the PAB wall in my local store and, [...] really obvious visual differences in hue... and I'm guessing these were NOT Chinese made

I believe that's true-- I received an amazingly discolored one of these Posted Image in 5868 Ferocious Creatures. And for the record, just one! The other one (the set comes with 2) was just fine, and was normal green.

I'm not sure if that's the new coloring technique that LEGO's been using, or if it's a different manufacturing facility or what-- but I don't believe it was made in China.  But it was FAR worse than anything I've ever seen before in terms of color inconsistency. It put the differences in purple from 2004 to shame!

Sounds like what you were seeing was just another example of this-- It's been a complaint about new dark gray for a while, and even sometimes tan.  Plus, there were known issues with purple and dark green.  But more recently, the problem seems to be spreading to other colors too!

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#38 brickmack

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 11:06 PM

View PostAanchir, on 29 March 2011 - 12:28 PM, said:

I've had grody-looking red parts from other sets before Chinese production, so I'm not sure if that cheese slope would be chinese-made. What set is it from (if you remember)?

And DaveE, thanks for the info. So I guess there was a conscious sacrifice of quality control after the management shift. A bit of a shame, but I suppose it's worth it if it keeps our favorite company running smoothly.
I read somewhere that LEGO has trouble moulding the red parts (something about the pigments used causing the bricks to crack more easily or something like that), so perhaps the discoloured parts was a result of LEGO attempting to correct the problem with a different pigment, but causing the colour difference as a side-effect? Or possibly they just have a problem mixing up the right amounts of pigments to get the red right. Either one is possible.

#39 Captain Becker

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 06:44 AM

View PostAanchir, on 29 March 2011 - 12:28 PM, said:

I've had grody-looking red parts from other sets before Chinese production, so I'm not sure if that cheese slope would be chinese-made. What set is it from (if you remember)?
Cant remember anymore wich set, but its from Castle Kindoms theme, probably came from Kings Castle or then from Advent Calender.

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#40 Brickdoctor

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 06:48 AM

View Postbrickmack, on 29 March 2011 - 11:06 PM, said:

I read somewhere that LEGO has trouble moulding the red parts (something about the pigments used causing the bricks to crack more easily or something like that), so perhaps the discoloured parts was a result of LEGO attempting to correct the problem with a different pigment, but causing the colour difference as a side-effect? Or possibly they just have a problem mixing up the right amounts of pigments to get the red right. Either one is possible.
That's possible. I know that TLG will sometimes make a batch of bricks with the wrong colors, and usually those bricks end up going to Miniland displays. In my Sarcophagus set from the '09 Ambassador Build (which is made of bricks drawn from the LLC Master Builders' stock) there are four yellow Plate 1 x 1s with Vertical Clip that are a noticeably darker yellow than the other pieces.

#41 DarthR2-D2

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Posted 03 April 2011 - 09:54 PM

The mass OR you can smell it. There is a real difference in smell. And like the astromech in the Imperial V-wing its really brittle/just doesn't feel right. And of course smell. (Like Shaak Ti's and Saesee Tiin's headgear.)

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Edited by DarthR2-D2, 03 April 2011 - 09:54 PM.

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#42 Brickus

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Posted 03 April 2011 - 10:36 PM

View PostDarthR2-D2, on 03 April 2011 - 09:54 PM, said:

The mass OR you can smell it. There is a real difference in smell. And like the astromech in the Imperial V-wing its really brittle/just doesn't feel right. And of course smell. (Like Shaak Ti's and Saesee Tiin's headgear.)

EDIT: I AM NOW A CITIZEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Imperial V-Wing does not have any parts made in China.

#43 brickmack

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 01:35 AM

View PostDarthR2-D2, on 03 April 2011 - 09:54 PM, said:

The mass OR you can smell it. There is a real difference in smell. And like the astromech in the Imperial V-wing its really brittle/just doesn't feel right. And of course smell. (Like Shaak Ti's and Saesee Tiin's headgear.)

EDIT: I AM NOW A CITIZEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Not sure about the parts being particularly brittle, but as far as smell, I think those parts you mentioned are made of a different kind of plastic, mine felt kinda bendy, but it's not as bendy as rubber. Any other parts smell odd to you?

#44 DarthR2-D2

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 11:10 AM

View PostBrickus, on 03 April 2011 - 10:36 PM, said:

The Imperial V-Wing does not have any parts made in China.

R2-Q2, that is all

View Postbrickmack, on 04 April 2011 - 01:35 AM, said:

Not sure about the parts being particularly brittle, but as far as smell, I think those parts you mentioned are made of a different kind of plastic, mine felt kinda bendy, but it's not as bendy as rubber. Any other parts smell odd to you?

Not off the top of my head. no.
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#45 Aanchir

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:30 PM

View PostDarthR2-D2, on 04 April 2011 - 11:10 AM, said:

R2-Q2, that is all
Do you know that he's made in China? For that matter, does the box tell whether it contains made-in-China parts? Really, the boxes are the only way to really obviously tell if a set contains made-in-China parts, even though there are certain types of parts that tend to be made in China (parts with really complex painting or surface printing are one example).

I never noticed any smell problem with made-in-China parts. Sometimes the collectible minifigures smell different when they first come out of the package, but I'm pretty sure this is the smell of the packaging rather than of the figs themselves (since they use a totally different type of packaging than any other sets). In any event, for a part that wasn't obviously made-in-China, I doubt you could use smell to identify where they were produced-- no matter where LEGO parts are produced, any "smell" they have tends to be very subtle and almost unnoticeable (at least for me-- perhaps other members have more sensitive noses).

Also, smell is more likely to depend on material than on where it comes from-- despite the ABS for Chinese parts being from a different supplier, it is still ABS of near-identical formulation, unless of course you're talking about soft-plastic or rubber parts which will still be a similar material to parts of the same consistency from a different supplier.

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#46 davee123

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 06:06 PM

View PostAanchir, on 05 April 2011 - 02:30 PM, said:

I doubt you could use smell to identify where they were produced-- no matter where LEGO parts are produced, any "smell" they have tends to be very subtle and almost unnoticeable (at least for me-- perhaps other members have more sensitive noses).

For the record, I'm blanking on the name, but one AFOL was able to discern the COLOR of LEGO bricks based on their smell. I remember watching it at a BrickFest back in ... uh... 2001 maybe? I don't think he could differentiate ALL the types of LEGO colors, but a few of the basic colors he was able to tell the difference.

Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that those with sensitive noses could tell the difference in plastic odor-- I certainly can't! -- but others seem to have a much better sense of smell than I do.

DaveE

Edited by davee123, 05 April 2011 - 06:07 PM.


#47 A2L

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 07:43 PM

The only way to find out if the set contains parts made in China, it seems, is to look on the box for the list of countries where the set has been manufactured. However I am not aware of availability of this information in a comprehensive manner. Is it possible for the reviewers to include the list of "manufactured at" countries (from the box) in their reviews? Or can we create a list of sets that have China as one of the countries of production.

On a separate note can anyone help by letting me know if any sets of Prince of Persia or Indiana Jones were manufactured in China?

#48 pacc

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 08:30 PM

View PostA2L, on 12 April 2011 - 07:43 PM, said:

On a separate note can anyone help by letting me know if any sets of Prince of Persia or Indiana Jones were manufactured in China?

Probably not the minifigs, the ostrich race does not contain chinese parts.
Alamut does list china, but it's hard to say which parts...
Camels and long poles perhaps, similar to the cows in MMV these are in separate bags or just in the box.

I had bad luck with Battle for the dagger and are counting to 12 different cracked parts
so I don't think china is a problem at all, but the change of material and coloring technique
that seems to make the parts more brittle. I'll continue to reclaim parts from support so
TLG know they have a long term quality problem...

#49 vexorian

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 08:38 PM

Color mismatches have been an issue ever since TLG outsourced color production, instead of using their own pellets like they used to do (I think this happened at the same time there was a switch to bluish-gray from gray and, probably harder to notice white bricks are also closer to blue than to yellow now, hard to explain.

Regarding Chinese parts. If you really, really want to know. Get a Collectible minifig, and compare it with a minifig from a boxed set. If you watch closely, you shall find differences (not precisely issues, but differences). If it is hard for you to notice them, then get a minifig from a key chain / magnet and compare it with its precise boxed match.

#50 Aanchir

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 11:19 PM

View Postvexorian, on 12 April 2011 - 08:38 PM, said:

Color mismatches have been an issue ever since TLG outsourced color production, instead of using their own pellets like they used to do (I think this happened at the same time there was a switch to bluish-gray from gray and, probably harder to notice white bricks are also closer to blue than to yellow now, hard to explain.

Regarding Chinese parts. If you really, really want to know. Get a Collectible minifig, and compare it with a minifig from a boxed set. If you watch closely, you shall find differences (not precisely issues, but differences). If it is hard for you to notice them, then get a minifig from a key chain / magnet and compare it with its precise boxed match.
I'm fairly certain LEGO was never using "their own pellets", simply because they're not a plastic manufacturer. The difference was that previously, they ordered pre-colored plastic granulate from their suppliers and sometimes blended different colors of granulate together to create different colors. Today, after the switch, they instead buy colored dye and uncolored plastic granulate, and add the dye to the granulate only as it is being melted down at the start of production.

This is why some colors have been inconsistent-- the proportion of the dyes to the plastic may be off at times, or the plastic and dye may not blend consistently. Another reason for this inconsistency is that the dye comes from different suppliers so that if (for instance) there's a factory fire at one of their dye suppliers, LEGO can just order more of that color dye from another supplier and will still be able to produce all their colors of bricks as usual.

The fact is that when you add an extra step to production that's one more thing that could potentially go wrong. LEGO made this change primarily for cost reasons, and for the most part have handled it impressively well. But it makes it far more difficult to maintain the same consistent colors as people were used to in the 90s and earlier.

In any event, it's not very strongly related to the quality of the Chinese parts, since it's the same process at all manufacturing facilities. But it is possible that since the Chinese plant is newer, LEGO is just having more difficulty getting all the steps of the process running smoothly. If that's the case, then hopefully it means that the quality of Chinese parts will continue to improve. But as I said in another topic, until LEGO can give us a clearer idea of what exactly is going on with the Chinese plant (since it's hardly even mentioned in most of their press releases), we really don't know what to expect for the future.

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