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LEGO Factory: How Business is Done

2008-07-21

This entertaining story and video from Engadget shows the inside of the Danish LEGO factory, responsible for 19 billion of those little plastic pieces every year. Putting aside the general awesomeness of mass LEGO fabrication, I find the underlying processes here fascinating. LEGO is arguably the most efficiently-run plastics fabrication facility in the world, if you consider efficiency to be a function of units output versus labor/capital input. Of course, a Chinese factory will be more economically efficient, since it will produce output at lower cost per unit, purely due to the lower cost of manual labor.

It would be too easy to think that some mad genius, some Bach or Mozart of industrial robotics design, was behind this massive operation.

The reality, which I think is even more fascinating, is that the whole process is divided into tiny steps, with a manager and a team devoted to each one. One department controls the plastics inventory, one department controls the distribution system, one department handles the molds, etc. Those are probably divided into sub-teams that each handle one little piece of the process.

The interaction between these groups must be fascinating, and present some real challenges to team leadership. No one person controls the process. No one person CAN control the process. And yet, all the sensors and robotics must function like a single entity.

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