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LEGO Manufacturing Processes?


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#1 Miles

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 06:07 PM

Hey all,

I'm wondering if anyone here knows how TLG splits up the manufacturing of their product?

I understand that LEGO has several manufacturing facilities (Mexico, China, Denmark, ect.). My question is do these factories simply produce individual parts that are then shipped to a 'primary' facility to be sorted and packaged, of does each facility have the ability to produce products from start to finish?

Is there reason to believe that certain sets or lines are produced exclusively in one factory?

I suppose what got me started on this line of thinking was the new DC Batcave that I purchased awhile back. As I was assembling it, I noticed that a lot of the plastic just felt, well, 'cheaper'. Let me explain a bit. A lot of the pieces felt almost lighter and the clutch on many was not as strong as I'm used to. Depending on the piece in question, some felt a bit more brittle or flexible. It was kind of a strange experience, really. And a bit worrying, though I know this was a concern several months back on the forums (and there were quite a few threads devoted to it). I hate to even say this about LEGO, and I haven't had this problem with any other sets - so is it possible that this set was produced in a different factory than some of the others? Perhaps they haven't 'quite got the formula down' yet?   :sceptic:

(My focus here is on the distribution of manufacturing, not the worrying aspects of some of the newer sets, so hopefully this is the appropriate place for this.)

Any thoughts, or illuminating information?

#2 Faefrost

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 06:47 PM

View PostMiles, on 09 September 2012 - 06:07 PM, said:

Hey all,

I'm wondering if anyone here knows how TLG splits up the manufacturing of their product?

I understand that LEGO has several manufacturing facilities (Mexico, China, Denmark, ect.). My question is do these factories simply produce individual parts that are then shipped to a 'primary' facility to be sorted and packaged, of does each facility have the ability to produce products from start to finish?

Is there reason to believe that certain sets or lines are produced exclusively in one factory?

I suppose what got me started on this line of thinking was the new DC Batcave that I purchased awhile back. As I was assembling it, I noticed that a lot of the plastic just felt, well, 'cheaper'. Let me explain a bit. A lot of the pieces felt almost lighter and the clutch on many was not as strong as I'm used to. Depending on the piece in question, some felt a bit more brittle or flexible. It was kind of a strange experience, really. And a bit worrying, though I know this was a concern several months back on the forums (and there were quite a few threads devoted to it). I hate to even say this about LEGO, and I haven't had this problem with any other sets - so is it possible that this set was produced in a different factory than some of the others? Perhaps they haven't 'quite got the formula down' yet?   :sceptic:

(My focus here is on the distribution of manufacturing, not the worrying aspects of some of the newer sets, so hopefully this is the appropriate place for this.)

Any thoughts, or illuminating information?

I think most of the primary building parts are mainly produced in Bilund still (and possibly Mexico). It is mainly some of the specialty parts that are made in the outlying factories. Anything you see bagged by itself pretty much came from China. Many minifig parts or special mold creatures.

Some of the recent changes we notice in the feel of the plastic supposedly stem from changes in the dye process that they are now using. previously the system involved using pre-colored plastic pellets to make the pieces in a given color. In the new system, everything starts with a neutral colored plastic pellet and the dye is injected in when it is melted and processed for a batch of parts. I suspect that they are still working the kinks out of the system as the various dye colors sometimes seem to result in slightly different feels to parts (such as the slight translucency in some MF blue parts that was talked about a few weeks ago).

As far as changes to clutch. I think that is by design. They have said that they have slightly reduced clutch on some newer parts. Their goal seems to be to achieve the minimal clutch needed to do the job well, but that can still be easily separated by a small child.
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#3 Tragic Banjo

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 07:30 PM

The only thing I know for sure is that the China plant specializes in the more complex molds and printing - intricate molds with different colors printed on, such as Jack Sparrow's hairpiece, or minifig legs with front and side printing, like Wonder Woman's, tend to come from that facility. And as mentioned above, they are usually packaged in their own bags in sets. The collectible Minifigures have a very high proportion of such parts, so the entire line is manufactured there since (I assume) that's the most cost-effective approach.

Every LEGO package should have a note somewhere on it about where the components were made; most of the ones I have mention Denmark, Hungary, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. A Prince of Persia set I have came from all four of those plus China and Sweden. So for most sets, it seems to be a very international effort. Those notes just refer to "components," though, which may or may not be the LEGO pieces themselves - for all I know, one of those locations could just be a printing facility for instructions or something like that. If I recall correctly, Denmark is still the "hub" factory, and all of the multiple-source components are packaged together there before being shipped out to the various distribution centers.

Edited by Tragic Banjo, 09 September 2012 - 07:34 PM.

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#4 Miles

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Posted 10 September 2012 - 03:50 PM

I think I've got a better grasp on it now - thanks for your responses! I knew about LEGO dying their own raw material, but guess I hadn't associated it with changes to the feel of the finished product.

If most of the sets are assembled in Bilund, I can only imagine the size and complexity of the facility. It must be huge!  :oh:

#5 davee123

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 04:25 PM

View PostTragic Banjo, on 09 September 2012 - 07:30 PM, said:

The only thing I know for sure is that the China plant specializes in the more complex molds and printing

I think it's more about the complex printing than the complex molds, actually. LEGO was supposedly leery about molding normal "building" bricks in China thanks to the different variety of ABS that's used in China (LEGO had to use a separate ABS supplier from within China than import their "standard" ABS). Hence, Chinese manufactured elements were those which typically didn't go into "constructions" (such as minifigs, kitchen magnets, minifig weapons).

However, the Chinese facility is also really good at producing intricate prints. So when it comes to a very irregular surface that needs printing, they can do a much better job of it.

Additionally, China seems to be producing a lot of "low-volume" molds. I'm not sure the reason for this, but according to LEGO, a lot of the elements that aren't slated for high volume or a lot of re-use are also frequently being made in China.

By contrast, there are complex molds, like the LEGO chain-links element, which are AMAZINGLY complicated, and I believe those are made in Billund.

Generally speaking, however, there are exceptions all over the place-- they'll ship molds back and forth between their facilities, and mold things at different locations. They'll package some things in one location, and others elsewhere-- I believe it's a VERY irregular process which constantly is in flux. That's supposedly one of the bigger annoyances for set designers-- they don't have a good idea of which parts they can or can't use when they're trying to design a set. The list is always changing, so they have to constantly go back and rework their models with a slightly different set of elements.

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#6 Miles

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 02:24 AM

View Postdavee123, on 11 September 2012 - 04:25 PM, said:

I think it's more about the complex printing than the complex molds, actually. LEGO was supposedly leery about molding normal "building" bricks in China thanks to the different variety of ABS that's used in China (LEGO had to use a separate ABS supplier from within China than import their "standard" ABS). Hence, Chinese manufactured elements were those which typically didn't go into "constructions" (such as minifigs, kitchen magnets, minifig weapons).

However, the Chinese facility is also really good at producing intricate prints. So when it comes to a very irregular surface that needs printing, they can do a much better job of it.

Additionally, China seems to be producing a lot of "low-volume" molds. I'm not sure the reason for this, but according to LEGO, a lot of the elements that aren't slated for high volume or a lot of re-use are also frequently being made in China.

By contrast, there are complex molds, like the LEGO chain-links element, which are AMAZINGLY complicated, and I believe those are made in Billund.

Generally speaking, however, there are exceptions all over the place-- they'll ship molds back and forth between their facilities, and mold things at different locations. They'll package some things in one location, and others elsewhere-- I believe it's a VERY irregular process which constantly is in flux. That's supposedly one of the bigger annoyances for set designers-- they don't have a good idea of which parts they can or can't use when they're trying to design a set. The list is always changing, so they have to constantly go back and rework their models with a slightly different set of elements.

DaveE

Thanks Dave. That sounds...really frustrating from a designer's perspective. And I pity the person/team who has to keep track of where everything is and where it might be going. It sounds completely mad - it's amazing that they're able to be as consistent as they are.

#7 Hey Joe

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:17 AM

This doesn't pertain to the actual manufacturing but I believe that most of the final packaging of the product is done in Kladno, Czech Republic for the European (and probably Asian) markets. I was watching a really excellent Lego documentary (which might be from the Megafactories series? I've forgotten) that basically said as much. It didn't mention the American ones, maybe that's Billund or Mexico.

If anyone has any definite info please feel free to correct me (Eurobrickers don't seem too shy about doing that, ha ha).
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#8 Beetlejuice

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 09:30 AM

Not sure LEGO has a plant in china.
Is it not just a partner?
Didn't LEGO just say they would not make a factory in china?
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#9 davee123

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 02:38 PM

View PostBeetlejuice, on 12 September 2012 - 09:30 AM, said:

Not sure LEGO has a plant in china.
Is it not just a partner?
Didn't LEGO just say they would not make a factory in china?

I know they don't own the facility, but I'm not sure whether or not there are actual LEGO employees involved in the process, or if it's totally a partnership deal.

DaveE




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