Lego has vowed to remain innovative while producing the same 86-year-old product.
Long-time favorites among children all over the world, Lego bricks have made successful appearances in movies and in video games to attract new generations. Despite the longevity of the legendary toys on the marketplace, Lego wants to cement its image as an educator by producing an environmentally friendly product.
Lego bricks are made of durable, safe, polished, and colorful petroleum-based plastic. The search for a plant-based alternative has proven challenging, but Lego is determined to keep trying.
Video Spotlight: Lego to launch sustainable bricks made from sugar cane
This post is based on the New York Times article, Lego Wants to Completely Remake Its Toy Bricks (Without Anyone Noticing), by S. Reed, August 31, 2018; and the YouTube video, Lego to launch sustainable bricks made from sugar cane, by Dezeen, March 5, 2018. Image source: Cr-Management GmbH & Co. KG/Getty Images.
1. Which one(s) of the Three Rs does Lego pursue in its current manufacturing operations? How would you characterize the company’s carbon footprint?
Guidance: Review the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. Currently, Lego reduces its use of petroleum-based plastic by using plant-based polyethylene for only 1-2% of its output. It also encourages customers to donate their bricks once they are finished playing with them or have them recycled.
Nevertheless, reducing plastic use and using recycled products in manufacturing remain future goals for Lego. It plans to 1) eliminate plastic in its packaging by 2025, and 2) use plastic from recycled bottles by 2030. Because of its substantial carbon footprint (a million tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year), Lego wants to go much further and produce bricks from new, sustainable materials.
2. What are some of the design requirements of a Lego brick that make it challenging for Lego to switch to sustainable materials?
Guidance: Primarily made of ABS, Lego bricks are famous for their reliability, durability, and robust design. The toys made with the new, sustainable materials have not met those requirements and as a result, do not satisfy Lego’s high quality and safety standards.
3. Identify desirable quality characteristics for Lego blocks from a customer’s perspective. Then, translate them into design characteristics. Use the house of quality as a framework.
Guidance: Typical customer requirements will include aesthetics (bright, colorful blocks, attractive designs), performance (blocks that are easily stacked and separated), durability, consistent quality, safety, etc. Potential matching design characteristics include material properties, reliability measures (e.g. mean time to failure in hot/cold conditions, product life probability, probability that the product will function), color palette, product dimensions (lack of variation), gloss, etc.
4. Based on volume and variety requirements, what type of process does Lego use to produce blocks?
Guidance: Most of the blocks are produced in high volume, with little variety. Therefore, Lego uses a repetitive process, as evidenced by its fabrication line with dedicated, automated equipment. Some of the pieces produced in lower volumes for multiple Lego sets (e.g. accessories) may be produced in cells.