Review: LEGO Inside Tour, part 2

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Day two of the Inside Tour started early, at 8:50. It needed to, because there were four factories/offices and the employee shop to visit.

The first stop was just down the road from the hotel, 'Factory Astvej'. We could have got the bus there but it was such a hot day that we walked. We were greeted by visitor manager Aksel and Jan Bayer and split into two groups. The activities in this factory deal with 'finishing' parts rather than moulding them, and also packaging. Photography was not allowed in the factories, so the pictures I've used are stock ones from LEGO.com.

By far the most interesting sight was the minifig assembling and printing machines. Armless torsos are printed in a machine that can print up to six colours on both sides of the torso. It prints on the front first, one colour at a time, then turns it over before printing on the back. The neck also receives the black mark on it, which we learned is applied so that the assembly machine knows which is the front. Sometime later, the printed armless torsos are fed into a machine which inserts the arms, and then the hands. Another machine was assembling minifig legs. We also witnessed black levers being inserted into white lever bases by a fairly old looking machine built specifically for that purpose.

A large part of the building is used for packaging, where we were able to witness the entire process: parts being counted and bagged, boxes being glued, bags being put into them, then pressed down gently so that they would not get trapped in the seams when the box was sealed, boxes being packaged into outer cases (which contain multiple sets) and finally, the outers being lifted onto a pallet and shrink wrapped for transportation.

Next stop was the Kornmarken factory, which is on the outskirts of Billund. This is where parts are moulded. Aksel and Jan were our guides again around this massive facility that houses hundreds of moulding machines and tonnes of raw ABS granulate. It's also home to the huge high-bay warehouses where parts are stored. Unfortunately the conveyer and robotic systems were not operational while we were there so all we could do was be in awe of the size of the place and wish we had a storage facility as large as that at home (and filled with as many bricks...)

The third stop was at Havremarken, just across the road, for lunch and then, the most important activity of the tour, a visit to the employee shop. I suspect LEGO would prefer me not to go into detail about what's in it and how much cheaper it is, so let's just say that if you get a chance to visit it, clear your credit card first.

The final stop was at the new Innovation House in the centre of Billund which is where designers who work on non-minifig themes are based. It's an absolute eyesore from the outside but very pleasant in. Not that we were allowed to see much of it, though, we were whisked into a meeting room for a presentation about AFOLs by Jan's colleague Yun Mi Antorini. It was a very interesting talk for AFOLs, but probably not so for the parents, and certainly not for the kids who occupied themselves playing with the LEGO on the table.

After a couple of hours to recover in the afternoon, we had dinner in LEGOLAND then returned to the hotel for another evening with the designers. They had spent the afternoon judging our MOCs and preparing for an 'awards ceremony' which went on for the rest of the evening. Winners were rewarded with LEGO prizes. Suffice to say, I didn't win first prize. Or even third. It was, however, good fun and a great opportunity to chat to the designers.

Tomorrow I will tell you what went on on day three and also what I thought about the tour as a whole and whether or not it's good value for money.

25 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

Thanks Huw for the awesome article, I enjoyed reading it and it sounds like good fun, maybe some day I will get to go there, I look forward to hearing more. :-D

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By in United States,

Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience.

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By in United Kingdom,

What did you buy then in the shop are you going to share?

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By in United Kingdom,

Another excellent instalment Huw. I am hanging on your every word here as I have never heard about the Lego Inside Tour with such detail. I am really hoping I get to go someday.

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By in United Kingdom,

Actually not that much actual 'brick', because I have nearly everything I want that's been released already. A couple of Horizon Expresses, most of the Galaxy Squad first wave sets, loads of polys, a couple of Architecture sets, T Shirts, a hoodie and a LEGO branded soft shell jacket, plus various other bits and bobs :)

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By in United States,

Huw - very well-written and insightful articles. I am consistently impressed by the quality of content that comes from Brickset, and thankful that you are willing to share your experience at the tour. Out of curiosity, did you happen to notice what "brand" the injection molding machines are in the Lego factories? I started working in the plastics industry in the last couple years and my employer makes big injection molded parts for various vehicle manufacturers and health care products. We have many injection molding machines (all of which are no doubt much larger than Lego's machines), but I think there are really only a handful of companies in the world that make injection molding machines. Also, don't you receive a ridiculously rare Lego set as part of the inside tour? Why hasn't any one been begging to hear what it is (aside from me)?

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By in United States,

Wow, through the power of Brickset, I looked up the inside tour exclusive sets from prior years and answered both of my questions. One of the sets, "moulding machines," includes the brand right on it - Arburg. And, although there is no picture yet, I see that this years set is also listed :)

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By in United Kingdom,

^ @velcrodave

I have seen the TV programmes about the Lego factories and the moulding machines appear to be made by Arburg - The 2011 inside tour model was 2 Arburg moulding machines (old & new). A friend of mine used to work in the UK offices of Arburg just down the road from me, which is how I know of them!

The model from the Inside Tour this year was accidentally revealed a few weeks ago and is set #4000008 Villy Thomsen truck. There is a thread about it on Brickset from when it was revealed

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By in United States,

"I suspect LEGO would prefer me not to go into detail about what's in it and how much cheaper it is, so let's just say that if you get a chance to visit it, clear your credit card first."

Sounds like a LEGO fans dream... (as I foam at the mouth) :)

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By in United States,

So that is what the black print on the minifigure's neck is for! A great mystery has been solved!

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By in United States,

It sounds like a good time, but for now I will have to be content with the similar tours at Legoland. Getting my own freshly-printed brick was pretty sweet I gotta say.

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By in United States,

Hot in Denmark? Never heard of it.
Sounds like quite the experience to be surrounded by tons and tons of bricks everywhere. I still wonder about how automated vs. manned such as if it would be possible to create a very test batch of new bricks or torsos outside of the designers area. I should really hope to go at some point in the future after hearing all you have been saying about it.

BTW, You know that it'll now fall on your shoulders to provide an HD image of #4000008 Villy Thomsen Truck. ;)

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By in United States,

8:50AM is early? Man, you are lucky. But seriously, I'm drooling over here. I just told my wife that instead of a hot tub when I turn 40, I want the LEGO Factory Tour.

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By in United Kingdom,

8.50am is early when you've stayed up until 2am building and then can't get to sleep cos it's all just too exciting!

There was a magical moment in Kornmarken when Askel suddenly paused and said, "Do you hear that?" and pointed upwards. Above all the factory noises we could hear a little popping rustling noise. "That's the granulate in the pipes going to the moulding machines." A spine-tingling moment that would have only been improved by Oompaloompas coming out and singing about it.

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By in United States,

Wow this sounds amazing, I wonder if I could convince someone to get this for me as a wedding gift. Although I don't think the missus would like the factory tour as part of our honeymoon. Unless of course I can somehow get a Taj Mahal out of it. I saw the documentary on the factory recently and it looks amazing.

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By in United States,

To clarify I'm getting married next May sloooow if anyone wants to send a gift...my future wife does like Lego just not as much as me:-)

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By in United Kingdom,

Great 2nd part! I always wondered what the black print on the minifigure necks was for

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By in United States,

In regards to the "cheapness" of the Employee shop. While there is other value attached to the money considering the cost it took to get into the shop I'm not sure anything there is a bargain :)

Looking forward to day 3.

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By in United Kingdom,

Wow, that sounds a very interesting trip and report Huw and all those factory moulding machines also.

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By in United Kingdom,

Huzzah - the answer to the "black bit on the neck" conundrum - have always wondered. Great reviews Huw - thanks.

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By in United States,

Interesting read.

I agree about the cost to go on the tour eliminates the discounts in the shop. Especially for me being from the States. Airfare alone eliminates the cost benefits, plus trying to bring all of it back would be too expensive.

I'm glad to find out what the black neck is for. Aren't there some torsos that don't have it though? How would the machine tell front to back on them then?

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By in Belgium,

LOL @ caperberry's comment about the Oompaloompas. So want to go on one of these tours.

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By in United Kingdom,

fabulous! Interesting to hear how the minifigs are printed!

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By in United States,

I did the tour in '08 & thought the torso assembly (specifically JAMMING their little hands into the upturned stumps of arms) seemed awfully violent. So wanted to ask for one of the unprinted Stormtrooper helmets out of the bin... :( But got lots of cool swag otherwise. Tho I'm not too sure about the value of the employee store (maybe my conversion was off) as sets in the park/hotel seemed overpriced.

I always thought the neck print was so their heads would stay on better... Did ask about how their hands should be oriented tho.. the rounded part should be on the bottom.

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By in Australia,

Someone take Google Glass for the next tour!

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