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Lego is a line of construction toys manufactured by the Lego Group, a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark. The company's flagship product, Lego, consists of colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures and various other parts. Lego bricks can be assembled and connected in many ways, to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings, and even working robots. Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects. The toys were originally designed in the 1940s in Europe and have achieved an international appeal, with an extensive subculture that supports Lego movies, games, competitions, and four Lego-themed amusement parks.

Early history

A pile of Lego bricks, of assorted colors and sizes.


The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. In 1934, his company came to be called Lego. It expanded to producing plastic toys in 1940. In 1949, Lego began producing the now famous interlocking bricks, calling them "Automatic Binding Bricks". These bricks were based largely on the design of Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, which were released in the United Kingdommarker in 1947. Lego modified the design of the Kiddiecraft brick after examining a sample given to it by a British supplier of an injection-moulding machine that Lego had purchased. The first Lego bricks, manufactured from cellulose acetate, were developed in the spirit of traditional wooden blocks that could be stacked upon one another; but these plastic bricks could be locked together. They had several round studs on top, and a hollow rectangular bottom. The blocks snapped together, but not so tightly that they required extraordinary effort to be separated.

The company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play well". The name could also be interpreted as "I put together" and "I assemble" in Latin, though this would be a somewhat forced application of the general sense "I collect; I gather; I learn"; the word is most used in the derived sense "I read".

The Lego Group's motto is Kun det bedste er godt nok, which means "Only the best is good enough". This motto was created by Ole Kirk to encourage his employees never to skimp on quality, a value he believed in strongly. The motto is still used within the company today.

The use of plastic for toy manufacture was not highly regarded by retailers and consumers of the time. Many of the Lego Group's shipments were returned, after poor sales; it was thought that plastic toys could never replace wooden ones.

By 1954, Christiansen's son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, had become the junior managing director of the Lego Group. It was his conversation with an overseas buyer that struck the idea of a toy system. Godtfred saw the immense potential in Lego bricks to become a system for creative play, but the bricks still had some problems from a technical standpoint: their locking ability was limited, and they were not very versatile. In 1958, the modern brick design was developed; and it took another five years to find the right material for it. The modern Lego brick was patented on January 28, 1958; and bricks from that year are still compatible with current bricks.

Design

Lego pieces of all varieties are a part of a universal system. Despite variation in the design and purpose of individual pieces over the years, each remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. Lego bricks from 1958 still interlock with those made in 2009, and Lego sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers.

Bricks, beams, axles, mini figures, and all other parts in the Lego system are manufactured to an exacting degree of precision. When snapped together, pieces must have just the right amount of strength and flexibility mixed together to stick together. They must stay together until pulled apart. They cannot be too easy to pull apart, or the resulting constructions would be unstable; they also cannot be too difficult to pull apart, since the disassembly of one creation in order to build another is part of the Lego appeal. In order for pieces to have just the right "clutch power", Lego elements are manufactured within a tolerance of 2 µm.

Primary concept and development work takes place at the Billund headquarters, where the company employs approximately 120 designers. The company also has smaller design offices in the UK, Spain, Germany, and Japan, which are tasked with developing products aimed specifically at these markets. The average development period for a new product is around twelve months, in three stages. The first stage is to identify market trends and developments, including contact by the designers directly with the market; some are stationed in toy shops close to holiday periods, while others interview children. The second stage is the design and development of the product based upon the results of the first stage. As of September 2008 the design teams use 3D modeling software such as Rhinoceros 3D to generate CAD drawings from initial design sketches. The designs are then prototyped using an in-house stereolithography machine. These are presented to the entire project team for comment and for testing by parents and children during the "validation" process. Designs may then be altered in accordance with the results from the focus groups. Virtual models of completed Lego products are built concurrently with the writing of the user instructions. Completed CAD models are also used in the wider organization, such as for marketing and packaging.

Manufacture

Since 1963, Lego pieces have been manufactured from a strong, resilient plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). As of September 2008, the engineers use the NX CAD/CAM/CAE PLM software suite to model the elements. The software allows the parts to be optimized by way of mold flow and stress analysis. Prototype molds are sometimes built before the design is committed to mass production. The ABS plastic is heated to until at a dough-like consistency. It is then injected into the molds at pressures between 25 and 150 tons, and takes approximately 7 seconds to cool. The molds are permitted a tolerance of up to two thousandths of a millimeter (2×10−6 m), to ensure the bricks remain connected. Human inspectors check the output of the molds, to eliminate significant variations in color or thickness. Worn-out molds are encased in the foundations of buildings to prevent them from falling into competitors' hands. According to the Lego Group, about eighteen bricks out of every million fail to meet the standard required. Lego factories recycle all but about 1 percent of their plastic waste from the manufacturing process every year. If the plastic can't be re-used in Lego bricks, it's processed and sold to industries that can make use of it.

Manufacturing of Lego bricks occurs at a number of locations around the world. Molding is done at one of two plants in Denmark and Czech Republicmarker. Brick decorations and packaging is done at plants in Denmark, the United Statesmarker, Mexicomarker and the Czech Republicmarker. The Lego company estimates that in the course of five decades it has sold some 400 billion Lego blocks. Annual production of Lego bricks averages approximately 20 billion (2×1010) per year, or about 600 pieces per second. To put this in context, if all the Lego bricks ever produced were to be divided equally among a world population of six billion, each person would have 62 Lego bricks.

In 2007, Lego Group announced a restructuring of the current production setup including the outsourcing of some of the production work to Flextronics, a Singaporean electronics company. Lego Group plans to close the production facility in Enfield, Connecticutmarker and outsource this work to the Flextronics factory in Mexico. Flextronics will also oversee the factory in Kladnomarker, Czech Republic. The Czech facilities would also be expanded due to the planned closing of the Swissmarker factory in Baarmarker, which mostly manufactured TECHNIC parts. On February 19, 2008, Lego announced that the Lego Group would instead take over operations of the Kladno factory from March 1, 2008. On July 1, 2008, Lego announced their intent to take over plants in Mexico and Hungary and "phase out the existing outsourcing agreement with Flextronics during 2009." In late 2008 and early 2009, many Lego minifigures were built from an inferior quality plastic, and were prone to frequent cracking and splitting.

Today

Building products

Since it began producing plastic bricks, the Lego Group has released thousands of sets themed around a variety of topics, like the new "Atlantis". Other Examples include, but aren't limited to, town and city, space, robots, pirates, vikings, castles, Bionicle,dinosaurs, holiday locations, scuba diving and undersea exploration, the wild west, the Arctic, airports and miners. Many licensed themes have also been produced, including Star Wars, Batman, SpongeBob SquarePants, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Spiderman, and Ben 10. At Comic-Con 2009, Lego announced Toy Story,"Cars" and Prince of Persia lines as well as additions to other lines such as Star Wars.

New elements are often released along with new sets. There are also Lego sets designed to appeal to young girls such as the Belville and Clikits lines which consists of small interlocking parts that are meant to encourage creativity and arts and crafts, much like regular Lego bricks. Belville and Clikit pieces can interlock with regular Lego bricks as decorative elements.

Also the new creation of DesignByMe 3.0, which replaces the Lego Factory name gives people the chance to customize and build their own Lego set, any shape or size. Users can even customize the box that the set comes in.

The one continuity not really touched on by Lego is that of military toys. While there are sets which can be seen to have a military theme, such as Star Wars or the German and Russian soldiers in the Indiana Jones sets, there are no directly military-themed sets in any line. This is following Ole Kirk Christiansen's policy of not wanting to make war seem like child's play.

The Lego range has expanded to encompass accessory motors, gears, lights, sensors, and cameras designed to be used with Lego components. There are even special bricks, like the Lego NXT that can be programmed with a PC or a Mac to perform very complicated and useful tasks. These programmable bricks are sold under the name Lego Mindstorms.

In January 2004 the Lego Company reported a deficit of Dkr1.4bn (£144m), which caused speculation that the owners of the Lego Company would be forced to sell to an American company. After re-evaluating its priorities and cutting expenses by selling their amusement parks and cutting a Lego line aimed at girls, Lego reported a net profit increase of 32% (DKr1.35bn), marking it as a company doing well during the global recession of the time.

In 2006 a new Lego Mindstorms kit called Mindstorms NXT was released. It is more advanced than the previous RCX, and has a new array of sensors. They include improved touch and light sensors, and new sound and ultrasonic sensor technology, the latter allowing the robot to measure distance. A rotation sensor, previously separate, is now directly incorporated into the NXT motors. There is also a Bluetooth compatible hookup that can send and receive messages from one's cellphone and other Bluetooth compatible devices. The RCX was only compatible with Windows (though the RCX using the educational software version called Robolab could be used on both Mac OS and Microsoft Windows), but the NXT is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS.

There are several robotics competitions which use Lego bricks and the RCX or NXT. The earliest, and likely the largest, is Botball, a national U.S. middle- and high-school competition stemming from the MIT 6.270 Lego robotics tournament. A related competition is FIRST Lego League for elementary and middle schools. The international RoboCup Junior soccer competition involves extensive use of Lego Mindstorms equipment which is often pushed to its extreme limits.

Bionicle is a line of toys by the Lego Group that is marketed towards those in the 7–16 year-old age range. The line was launched in January 2001 in Europe and June/July 2001 in the United Statesmarker. The Bionicle idea originated from the earlier toy lines Slizers (also known as Throwbots) and Roboriders. Both of these lines had similar throwing disks and characters based on classical elements. The sets in the Bionicle line have increased in size and flexibility through the years.

The Lego group's Duplo product, introduced in 1969, is a range of simple blocks which measure twice the width, height and depth of standard Lego blocks, and are aimed at younger children.

Video games

Lego has a large list of video games that appeal to a wide age range, with titles like Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Bionicle Heroes as well as the Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Lego Indiana Jones, a Lego Batman, Lego Battles and the Lego Universe MMOG. Also, Lego has announced that they will be making Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 set for release in 2010, and Lego Rock Band, set for release in 2009. Another game announced is Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and total remakes of the other movie's levels set to release in the fall of 2009,Lego Digital Designer is an official piece of Lego software for Windows and Mac OS X which allows users to build with Lego bricks on their computers. Users can then publish their creations online on the Lego Factory website, or purchase the physical bricks to build them. Lego Digital Designer includes some Lego products which only exist online, including models for the children's television programmes TUGS, Thomas and Friends and Speed Racer.

On January 28, 2008, Lego celebrated the 50th anniversary of the patent on its interlocking blocks with a worldwide building contest. Google paid tribute to the anniversary by writing its name on the Google homepage in Lego bricks, along with the Lego figure on one of the letters.

One of the largest Lego sets ever commercially produced is a minifig-scaled edition of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon. Designed by Jens Kronvold Fredericksen, it was released in 2007 and has 5,195 pieces. It was recently surpassed by a Lego model of the Taj Mahalmarker which consists of 5,922 pieces.

My Lego Network

My Lego Network is a social networking site that has replaced Lego Club pages. It involves items, blueprints, ranks, badges which are earned for completing certain tasks, trading and trophies called masterpieces which the user uses to go to the next rank. The website also has a built in inbox that contains prewritten messages. (This was to avoid cyberbullying.) The website has automated characters within the website called networkers. They are able to do things which normal users can't do. (Such as sending messages that were not prewritten, selling masterpieces, blueprints and other things of that sort.) And last, there are modules which are set up on the user's page to 'grow' certain things or just for showing picture compositions.

Other ventures

Lego Imagination Center
at the Mall of America


Merlin Entertainment operates four Legolandmarker amusement parks, the original in Billund, Denmark, the second in Windsormarker England and the third in Günzburgmarker, Germany; there is also one in Carlsbad, Californiamarker. On July 13, 2005, the control of 70% of the Legoland parks was sold for $460 million to the Blackstone Group of New York while the remaining 30% is still held by the Kirk Kristiansen family. There are also three Legoland Discovery Centers, two in Germany Duisburg and Berlin, and one in Chicago, Illinoismarker.

Lego operates 43 retail stores (34 in the United States, 4 in the United Kingdom and 5 in Germany), including ones at the Downtown Disney shopping complexes at Disneylandmarker and Walt Disney World Resortsmarker as well as in the Mall of Americamarker in Bloomington, Minnesotamarker. There is also a franchised Lego store in Abu Dhabimarker. The opening of each store is celebrated with weekend long event where a Master Model Builder creates, with the help of volunteers most of which are children, a larger than life lego statue which is then displayed at the new store for several weeks.

Lego has, in the past, intermittently published or licensed a small number of tabletop games which incorporate Lego pieces, such as minifigures, and/or imagery of them and in 2009 launched a range of 10 German-style board games designed by Cephas Howard and Reiner Knizia under the name LEGO Games.

A Lego movie was announced on August 12, 2009. The film will be an action/adventure-comedy that will combine both live action and animation. The film will be made at Warner Bros. with Dan Lin producing. No release date has been set as of yet.

In art

One hobby among enthusiasts is to make short movies or recreations of feature films using Lego bricks. Such movies are called "Lego movies", "Brickfilms", "Legomations", "Brick Flicks" and "cinema Lego". They usually use stop motion animation.

Lego used to sell a line of sets named "Lego Studios" (now discontinued), which contains a Lego web cam (repackaged Logitech USB Quickcam Web), software to record video on a computer, black plastic rods which can be used to manipulate minifigures from off-camera and a minifigure resembling Steven Spielberg. Because of the low quality of the camera and software most Brickfilmers do not use it.

Another notable example is the award-winning music video for the song "Fell in Love with a Girl" by The White Stripes. Director Michel Gondry filmed a live version of the video, digitized the result and then recreated it entirely with Lego bricks.

Artists have also used Lego sets with one of the more notorious examples being Polish artist Zbigniew Libera's "Lego Concentration Camp", a collection of mock Lego sets with a concentration camp theme.

The Little Artists have created an entire Modern Art collection in a Lego Gallery. 'Art Craziest Nation' was shown at the Walker Art Gallerymarker in Liverpoolmarker, UK. Such ambitious projects are sometimes called 'Lego art' or 'brick art'.

Several webcomics are illustrated with Lego such as Irregular Webcomic!. Brendan Powell Smith has created an illustrated Bible using Lego bricks, called the Brick Testament.

Adult Lego hobbyists or Adult Fans Of Lego (AFOL) span the globe defying the age recommendations on the boxed sets. Six people, primarily in North America, but also Europe and Asia, have taken the building hobby to the next level. As Lego Certified Professionals they are artists that use Lego bricks as their medium. This is done at a level that The Lego Group recognizes their efforts and they have the ability to not only use the Lego name and copyrighted logo, but have earned a special, in-depth relationship with the company. They are Robin Sather, Dan Parker, Sean Kenney, Nathan Sawaya, Rene Hoffmeister and Nicholas Foo.

Serious Play

Since around 2000, the Lego Group has been promoting Lego Serious Play, a form of business consultancy fostering creative thinking, in which team members build metaphors of their organizational identities and experiences using Lego bricks. Participants work through imaginary scenarios using visual three-dimensional Lego constructions, imaginatively exploring possibilities in a serious form of play.

References

  1. http://gizmodo.com/5019797/everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-lego
  2. The Prague Post Online: Business: Gearing up
  3. http://www.lego.com/eng/info/default.asp?page=pressdetail&contentid=78308&countrycode=2057&yearcode=&archive=false
  4. http://www.brickset.com/news/article/?ID=344
  5. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgamepublisher/734|accessdate=2009-08-24
  6. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118007162.html?categoryid=13&cs=1
  7. RCN
  8. Art Craziest Nation
  9. http://www.lego.com/eng/info/default.asp?page=affiliates


Further reading

  • Bagnall, Brian. "Maximum LEGO® NXT: Building Robots with Java Brains". Variant Press. 2007. ISBN 0-9738649-1-5
  • Bagnall, Brian. "Core LEGO® Mindstorms". Prentice-Hall PTR. 2002. ISBN 0-13-009364-5
  • Bedford, Allan. The Unofficial LEGO® Builder's Guide. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59327-054-2.
  • Clague, Kevin, Miguel Agullo, and Lars C. Hassing. LEGO® Software Power Tools, With LDraw, MLCad, and LPub. 2003. ISBN 1-931836-76-0
  • Courtney, Tim, Ahui Herrera and Steve Bliss. Virtual LEGO®: The Official LDraw.org Guide to LDraw Tools for Windows. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2003. ISBN 1-886411-94-8.
  • McKee, Jacob H. Getting Started with LEGO® Trains. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2003. ISBN 1-59327-006-2.
  • Ferrari, Mario, Giulio Ferrari, and Ralph Hempel. Building Robots With LEGO® Mindstorms: The Ultimate Tool for Mindstorms Maniacs. 2001. ISBN 1-928994-67-9.
  • Kristiansen, Kjeld Kirk, foreword. The Ultimate LEGO® Book. New York: DK Publishing Book, 1999. ISBN 0-7894-4691-X.
  • Wiencek, Henry. The World of LEGO® Toys. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1987. ISBN 0-8109-2362-9.
  • Pilegaard, Ulrik, and Dooley, Mike. "Forbidden LEGO®". San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2007. ISBN 1-59327-137-9


External links

  • Lego Official website.



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