Inside LEGO's International Factory And Design Headquarters
Considering how fickle children are, it’s impressive when a brand of toys can garner their affection en masse, even for a moment. Tickle Me Elmo and Talkboys each enjoyed a fleeting moment in the sun, only to flame out before their batteries died. That’s what makes the staying power of a brand like LEGO all the more impressive.
The iconic Danish mini-brick-maker’s been in business since 1949, entertaining generations of kids (and, let’s face it, adults too) with regularly fresh additions to its catalog of build kits for vehicles, buildings, and even robots.
We took a look behind the figurative interlocking brick walls of the company’s global headquarters in Billund, Denmark, to see just how the plastic sausage is made. Oh hey, dream job.
Much of the product-concepting and development is done at the HQ in Billund, in a facility that’s strictly off-limits to the public. The company works independently and in coordination with a “listening post” in Los Angeles to keep up with trends.
Of course, in order to keep the necessary creative juice flowing, competitive break-time is encouraged.
As are unorthodox methods of transportation. When your job is designing toys for kids, you have to know how to act like one.
The design facilities employ around 180 people from 24 different countries, in case you needed any further proof of the brand’s global reach.
Undoubtedly many a heated debate over important topics, like minifig hat colors and Star Wars vehicle specs, have gone down in this conference room.
Every LEGO brick, minifig, and accessory piece you’ve put your hands on is the result of a designer meticulously hand-sculpting every detail. Once perfected, it can graduate to the molding phase in preparation for mass production.
There are LEGO factories in Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Mexico—locations chosen for their proximity to the brand’s most popular markets. Soon, they’ll be opening another in China. Because duh.
Suffices to say, colorblindness is a non-starter in the LEGO factory worker’s application process. This is a bin of plastic granulate, the raw material most commonly used to produce LEGO elements via injection molds. (Wondering if you’re colorblind? This image is mostly red).
Here’s an up-close look at the mold for a flat, three-studded piece.
The plastic granulate for each element is heated to temperatures between 450 and 590 degrees Fahrenheit, then injected into the molds at pressures of 40-150 tons. On average, it takes 10 seconds to cool and eject a single batch.
In 2013, LEGO made over 55 billion elements, which equates to over 100,000 every minute, or 1,750 every second. Hot damn.
In the Billund factory alone there’s room for 424,000 production boxes, with the capacity to hold 1.8 billion eight-studded bricks.
And an ungodly amount of minifigure heads.
Despite their prolific output, every element they’ve created since 1958 is guaranteed to be compatible with one another. That’s how you create a staying power that lasts generations.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. He would walk across a bed of hot coals before a room full of stray LEGO bricks.