• 'The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part'. (Warner Bros)Source: Warner Bros
'Megafactories' takes you inside the LEGO factory...
By
Dan Barrett

25 Mar 2019 - 1:17 PM  UPDATED 25 Mar 2019 - 1:17 PM

There isn't a person among us who hasn't played with LEGO at some stage in their lives. We pass on bags of LEGO bricks from generation to generation, yet the company still manufactures a heck of a lot of new LEGO each and every year. It's the second biggest children's toy company in the world. One of the reasons for its success are the exacting standards behind manufacturing the little blocks. 

In fact, there's probably a lot more that goes into making LEGO blocks than you may think...

LEGO is a world leader in the manufacturing process

In every factory there is an expectation that some of the elements produced will be faulty. But almost every company will be envious of LEGO's failure rate. Approximately 20 billion LEGO elements/pieces are manufactured each year (that's 35,000 every minute), but only 18 pieces in every million have a manufacturing fault.

The manufacturing standards of LEGO are exceptionally high – the moulds used in the production process are accurate to within 0.002mm. 

To give an idea of the breadth of production, within the LEGO range there are 2,350 different types of elements produced with 52 different colours. The total number of active combinations is over 7,000. 

LEGO is the biggest tyre manufacturer in the world

No, really. In 2012 LEGO was awarded a Guinness World Record for manufacturing more tyres than any other company per annum

Because nearly half of all LEGO sets involve at least one tyre, LEGO manufactures a whole lot of them; 318 million are produced each year; that's 870,000 each day. To keep up with demand, LEGO tyres are manufactured 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

There's a reason LEGO minifigures are yellow

Almost all LEGO minifigures are yellow. The reason for this goes beyond just aesthetics or branding. Instead, it was a deliberate decision to avoid assigning the minifigures a specific ethnicity. 

While ethnic specificity is off the table, LEGO is okay with some cultural specificity:

When it comes to the licensed LEGO minifigures, such as those based on movies, the ethnicity of the actor playing the role is maintained. This not only maintains ethnicity but also prevents any concerns about 'yellow-washing' beloved characters.

Perhaps the most extensive and diverse minifigure line is the Star Wars licensed sets. This video showcases every Star Wars LEGO minifigure ever made: 

Stepping on LEGO hurts like nothing else because they're made to be almost indestructible

If you've ever stepped on a piece of LEGO late at night, you'll know that the pain is indescribable. The reason why is a combination of physics and biology.

The horrific pleasure that comes from having your feet tickled occurs because you have a whole lot of sensory nerves in your foot. They're necessary to keep your body balanced as it adapts to you standing in different ways, walking, running, etc.  

Now, combine nerve sensitivity with the density of your average LEGO block. Each block is designed to handle 432kg of weight on top of it. It would take a 3.5km LEGO tower to be built on top of it to cause a brick to crack. Since LEGO blocks are made to withstand such incredible weight, do you really think you can stand on one and not come out on the losing side of the encounter?

LEGO pieces are not biodegradable... but they're working on it

Right now if you go to the LEGO website, the company offers tips on how to recycle LEGO. The first suggestion is to hand them down to someone else or to donate them. LEGO is perfect to hand on to younger generations. All the pieces are actually manufactured to be able to connect with blocks from the oldest LEGO sets. You would probably want to clean them before handing them on, however. Instructions for that can be found here.

Problematically, most LEGO blocks aren't biodegradable. Approximately 80% of LEGO pieces are made from acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) plastic, which is what enables LEGO to manufacture pieces that can be handed down from generation to generation and still fit perfectly together. They have so few failures with plastic pieces because they've practically perfected it.

Tim Brooks, a Vice-President at LEGO, told Wired: "We've had 50 years to play with ABS and perfect it. We're not at that stage with bio-based materials and recyclable materials. How do you control the shrinkage in the mould? How do you control processing the material? The colours?"

In 2015, LEGO invested over $150 million into a Sustainable Materials Centre where over 100 employees are working on developing new methods to have LEGO using fully sustainable materials in its products by 2030. While the team has developed some bioplastics which are being rolled out in LEGO products, the company still doesn't have a suitable replacement for 19 of the 20 different types of plastics the company currently uses.

 

Visit the LEGO factory in Megafactories (Mondays at 6:20pm on SBS VICELAND), streaming now at SBS On Demand:

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