Inside a Lego factory, where Christmas wishes come true

As a child, Samuel Tacchi was crazy about Lego cranes. Now he designs them, under cloak and dagger secrecy, at the headquarters of the Danish group where Santa Claus has filled his sacks for decades.

In its ultra-modern flagship building in Billund, a visit to the offices where the design work is done is out of the question: the company fiercely protects its trade secrets.

But Tacchi, a 34-year-old Frenchman, lifts the veil a bit on the creative process, standing in front of a display with some of the brand’s colorful toy kits.

“I always start with a little sketch on paper of what I have in mind,” says Tacchi, who designs for the Lego Technic series. “Then I start building the technical design — the drive train, the steering — and we start building with the function. And then I dive into the styling. Then we dive into the computer.”

His office is a child’s dream come true, filled with Lego Technic pieces.

“We have a shelf of elements in the back. It’s easy to reach in and fix some elements, build them together and see if (our idea) works,” he says.

In his seven years with the company, Tacchi has helped build about 25 teams.

A family business, Lego employs more than 20,000 people worldwide, more than a quarter of them in Billund, which is also home to its oldest factory.

Here, in a huge room where robots move like a choreographed dance, hundreds of thousands of parts are manufactured every day.

Colorful plastic is molded into familiar shapes: bricks, figurines, hair, dragon wings and tires (Lego is said to be the world’s largest tire manufacturer).

Sorted and stored by model in large boxes in an adjoining warehouse, the parts are then sent to other factories to be included in kits.

Although today everything is made of plastic, the toy empire was founded by a carpenter who was very conscious of the quality of the wood he used.

In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Ole Kirk Kristiansen began making wooden toys, winning over Danish children with his yo-yos.

“He sold the yo-yo to every kid in Billund and … (when every kid had one) he couldn’t sell it anymore. But he still had them around,” says Signe Wiese, the resident historian of legos

“So instead of throwing them away or just leaving them, he reused them. He split the yo-yos in half and used them for wagon wheels.”

Four years later, having given up carpentry, he named his new company “Lego”, a contraction of the Danish “Leg godt”, which means “Play well”.

With raw materials in short supply after World War II, Kirk Kristiansen gradually turned to plastic and invested his life savings in an injection molding machine.

“I was really fascinated with the technology and the machinery and the material itself,” says Wiese. “So for him, it seems like it’s been a pretty easy decision, despite everyone advising him against it.”

The idea of ​​bricks came later.

They were initially made without Lego’s famous “clutch power”, the mechanism that allows the bricks to stick together.

The design was patented in 1958 and paved the way for an endless catalog of figures, shapes and kits.

Lego is now the world’s largest toymaker, ahead of Japan’s Bandai Namca and US groups Hasbro and Mattel, according to market analysts Statista.

This year, Lego says its toy catalog is bigger than ever, but refuses to reveal the exact number. Another trade secret…

© 2022 AFP

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