Designing the Brick Moulding Machine
Recently, True North Bricks took part in the official unveiling of the LEGO® House exclusive Brick Moulding Machine set. Via video conference direct to Billund, Denmark, we met Gitte Cort (Marketing Manager at the LEGO® House), Stuart Harris (Master Builder at the LEGO® House), and Markus Rollbühler (Set Designer at the LEGO® Group). Over the course of about a half hour, the trio introduced us to the new LEGO® House exclusive, its fun features, and most importantly, how they went about designing the Brick Moulding Machine.
Every new LEGO® set begins with an idea. In the case of a LEGO® House exclusive, the idea needs to fit with the overall brand and image of the LEGO® House. “Ever since the opening of LEGO® House back in 2017, it has been important for us to create exclusive products because we believe it adds to the premium experience that we wish to give to our guests when visiting LEGO® House. The first three exclusive products were very much tapping into LEGO® House itself. It was the LEGO® House Architecture set, followed by the Tree of Creativity. Afterwards, we had the LEGO® House Dinosaurs from our masterpiece gallery,” explains Cort. “Another consideration is our close relation with the LEGO® Group and its history. Last year, we decided to introduce a new series that we called the LEGO® House Limited Editions, and we started with limited edition number one, the Wooden Duck.”
The Brick Moulding Machine is the second in the LEGO® House Limited Edition Series.
In this story, the LEGO® House team settled on the moulding process as the idea behind the new exclusive set. The next step involved Master Builders, like Stuart Harris, coming up with different concepts, or sketch models. “The role of the concept or sketch model is to work with our different stakeholders in terms of getting buy-in and approval on the direction that we want to take,” explains Harris. “The idea is to include the tone of voice, the level of detail that we wanted, the overall functionality, the color scheme, style, and everything else that goes in there. When I’m developing this, I’m not taking into account the build and the play experience, or the stability the model, or how well it goes together, or whether that brick’s available in that color, or can it be available in that color. I just go for it, and then I pass all my headaches and problems on to onto my colleagues [laughs].”
One potential sketch model included an actual brick mould. In a moulding machine, the mould consists of two metal plates that press together. Each half features cut out spaces into which the machine injects melted plastic. The cut outs are in the shape of the LEGO® bricks the machine produces. Once the plastic solidifies in the mould, the plates separate, and fresh bricks fall out. According to Harris, one sketch model consisted of “male and the female parts of the mold, and also an interpretation on back [of the model] showing how the molds function with a big spring, the ejector pins, and the flow of the material in there.”
The actual brick moulding machine in LEGO® House inspired this set.
Ultimately, that sketch model was not meant to be. “We were a little concerned that maybe it was a little abstract,” says Harris. “Unless you’re into injection molding you may not necessarily know or recognize these as the heart of the moulding machine. I think we all felt that going with the entire machine was probably the direction to go in. Actually being able to see the machine itself in the [LEGO®] House, and then being able to purchase the product; there is quite a degree of recognition there. I tried to go for as much detail and realism in the sketch model before handing it over, when it goes to the next stage of development.”
Consequently, set 40502 marks the second entry into the LEGO® House Limited Editions series. The final set consists of 1205 bricks and retails for 599 Danish Crowns (approximately $120 CAD) exclusively at the LEGO® House in Billund. Interestingly, as Harris noted, the set is a replica of the actual brick moulding machine seen in the LEGO® House. The rationale behind turning it into a set was simple. “The Brick Moulding Machine represents an era in the history of the LEGO® Group, going from producing toys in wood into plastics,” says Cort. “It’s the story about putting all efforts into one focus and leaving your calling and business behind, which were producing toys in wood, and then instead exploring new possibilities and technologies in producing toys with plastic materials.”
Check out the actual brick moulding machine in action in the video below:
“I was really excited to be part of the Brick Moulding Machine development,” adds Harris. “For me, one of the important things about the Brick Moulding Machine is that we have one here in the [LEGO®] House. It’s part of what we call the Six Brick Factory where we actually mould and issue guests with their own six bricks and unique combination of those bricks.”
Before you ask, no, the set is not Minifigure scale. According to Harris, it is closer to the scale you see in Miniland builds at LEGOLAND attractions. Consequently, you get approximately a 1/12th scale model. “A Minifigure would be a little on the small side in there. It would be more like an Oompa Loompa, I think,” Harris jokes. In determining the scale, he continues that “it was about looking at the important and iconic components that I wanted to get into this. I started with the mould. I really wanted to be able to see the six bricks in there. So, [I used] red jumper plates to actually get the six bricks poking out [of the mould]. For me, the mold was the starting point. Then it was about the doors and getting the big clear window in there. When I had the mould and the doors kind of defined, and the mechanism for those, the rest of the machine grooved from that point.”
Designing the Brick Moulding Machine began with the mould itself.
After settling on a sketch model, the design process began. In this case, Stuart Harris handed the reigns to Markus Rollbühler. “What I do when I take over a model to look at in our design process is, I essentially rebuild the whole thing from scratch,” says Rollbühler. “I take [the sketch model] and then brick by brick I end up copying it. I have to see what I can use and what I can’t use. Stuart handed over his baby and then it was my job to do it justice, which is always a bit difficult because you need to take [the model] and turn it into something that will be enjoyed by, hopefully, thousands of people. It’s very important to us that you have a good building experience throughout the whole build. That is one of the most challenging things to do, because real-life objects do not necessarily work well as LEGO® sets.”
“To Stuart’s credit,” Rollbühler continues, “it’s an extremely good sketch model I received from him. What I ended up doing was essentially just making sure that we can build it with the bricks we have available. I think what’s also important to note is that I spend a lot of time getting the functions very smooth. They end up looking extremely simple, because that’s what they’re supposed to be. They’re supposed to be easy to build. But, it takes quite a bit of time to get there. So, the first four weeks or so was simply spent on making sure that the doors slide in and out. It might sound simple but believe me, it’s not always.”
Simple functions are surprisingly difficult. It took four weeks just to get the sliding doors right when designing the Brick Moulding Machine.
Another challenge in the design process involved getting the miniature mould to function properly. The system uses Technic components but must slide smoothly without coming apart by generating too much friction or through collision. However, according to Rollbühler, the most trying aspect is to take the real-world machine and turn it into a LEGO® model that is not only accurate, but fun to build. He elaborates, “there’s a whole section of the model that is lower than everything else on the model. We like to design sets that start from a flat base so it’s easy to build up, and it’s easy to follow the instructions. It was really difficult to make sure that you can build it from the ground up and then add [a lower section] later that is stable and supported and doesn’t break apart when you when you move it or when you want to continue building on it.”
“The second challenge is to make it interesting to build,” Rollbühler continues. “It’s a box. How do you make building a box interesting, right? There’s actually a few sections that are built sideways and slot in, which you build separately just to keep you on your toes. Also, there’s things, like a few details of the mechanism, that you can just build separately, it breaks up the build.”
Designing the Brick Moulding Machine involved strategically planning an entertaining build process.
Following the initial prototype built from bricks, designing the Brick Moulding Machine went digital. Using computer generated instructions, a quality control team assembles the model multiple times. Consequently, they identify problems and challenges in the customer building experience. “We figure out that, for example, a few things should be built differently. Otherwise, elements can break off, for example, if you press things wrong. It’s very important to us that that doesn’t happen when you end up building because we want you guys happy,” says Rollbühler.
For brick afficionados, the Brick Moulding Machine comes with some new parts and re-colors. The set features a doorframe recolored in lime green with a matching door. Additionally, a 1×8 brick comes printed with the set name on it. Finally, the Brick Moulding Machine has three printed 2×2 tiles. “[It’s] something I was very excited about,” Rollbühler recounts. “You get a little 2 by 2 printed tile of the bag that you can pick up from the molding machine after you go through the LEGO® House experience. So, it’s a little tile in medium nougat and it has the six bricks on it. I felt that was a very nice way to tie up the whole experience. That’s actually the last thing you add to the build, a little box and three of those bags. It’s essentially also how you tie up your LEGO® House experience. You pick up the bag and then you leave, and you’re hopefully happy, right? LEGO® is trying to be more sustainable, of course. This is actually a representation of the paper bag that we will hopefully sooner or later introduce in the six-brick experience.”
Designing the Brick Moulding Machine included some new prints and re-colors.
Rollbühler adds, “I actually came into LEGO® House a few times to talk with Stuart and to get an up-close look at the machine, because I wanted to make sure that every detail was replicated. Even the inside of that little cabinet that’s full of cables and little buttons, and all that stuff that I have no clue about because I don’t know the machine. Stuart and the engineers were kind enough to run me through, and I was able to take up close pictures and to increase the insane level of detail you already had to make sure that we captured it as best as possible. I actually spent another roughly three months when I developed the set just going through the whole process. Then I hand it over to our building instructions team. We actually only recently received the production sample from the factory. So, it takes basically a whole year to get through the whole process and then to end up with a shiny new box.”
The Brick Moulding Machine is now available exclusively at the LEGO® House gift shop. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 travel restrictions in place, many face challenges in acquiring it. While Cort could not specify the exact number of limited-edition sets the LEGO® Group will make, she did offer: “we do understand that right now we’re in pandemic. A lot of us are not able to travel the world as we love to do. But, we can guarantee that [the Brick Moulding Machine] will be here throughout the entire year so I hope to see some of you here.”
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