Menu

22 May 2020

LEGO® interview: PPE safety masks

It was recently revealed that The LEGO Group (TLG) urgently altered their production to dedicate six moulding machines to create safety masks for Danish medical staff. Some fan media were invited to pose questions by email to LEGO® employees about this project, who kindly took the time to provide more detail about this unusual turn of events. The questions published here are the combined questions from the Rambling Brick, Brickset, BrickFinder, HispaBrick Magazine and of course New Elementary, including some from our kind patrons.

A LEGO employee tries on a completed mask.

Where did the idea for this come from, an employee or senior management… or perhaps a government request?

TLG: In March, one of our colleagues in the Engineering department heard that there was a desperate need for safety equipment for COVID-19 in Denmark. He approached the rest of his team with his idea for a visor and they started to trial production ideas. Approximately 100 LEGO employees have been involved in this project in Denmark and Hungary, from developing the design and new moulds, to working with our supplies to make the visors a reality in just a couple of weeks. 

The masks comprise of two separate elements that easily snap together.

Would it be possible to reveal the names of those involved and what they do for the LEGO Group

TLG: It was Mikkel Schildknecht Hoé, a Senior Equipment Manager in our Engineering department who came up with the idea.

LEGO employees worked around the clock to create the masks

It sounds bizarre for a toy company to be making PPE but we forget TLG is ultimately a plastics moulding company with 70 years of experience! Was it much of a challenge to produce these?

TLG: Usually the process of making new moulds takes about six months but in this case we were able to work with our suppliers to make the visors a reality in just a couple of weeks. 

What was the most unexpected challenge that arose on this project?

TLG: We thought that one of the biggest challenges would be time. Usually it can take up to six months for new moulds to be made and we wanted to meet the demand quickly. But time actually turned out to be a great motivator.  More than 100 members of staff offered to help with the project so we could get visors into production quickly, some working seven days a week and over the Easter holidays to fast-track production. Everyone wanted to do their bit to help our frontline health workers.

What adjustments had to be made to the usual production process to create the masks?

TLG: We were able to produce new moulds and convert a number of existing moulding machines in Billund and Nyíregyháza.

A white glasses frame element about to drop out of the moulding machine.

What LEGO elements are the masks closest to, in terms of the production methods used?

TLG: The visors were developed with the Danish Health Authorities. For this reason the production method is unique to the visors and not comparable to the production of other LEGO elements.

Was it necessary to give these design IDs and element IDs, like regular building elements have, for production purposes?

TLG: Yes the visor elements have been given unique Design IDs to help with production processes.

Are they actually stamped with ‘LEGO’?

TLG: No.

Freshly moulded frames leave the moulding machine, awaiting a robot to collect them

The quality of plastic that TLG use for elements is extremely high - other companies even purchase the waste plastic TLG produce because its quality is still so good for their purposes! - did you use the same super high quality plastic for the masks or was that an unnecessary expense for what is essentially a disposable item?

TLG: We used the same materials as we do in our other elements.  We also made sure that the visors produced meet the same stringent quality standards as all other LEGO elements. 

You have recently begun using a different plastic for transparent LEGO elements, which plastic is used for the visors?

TLG: The visors use the same transparent plastic as is already used for other transparent LEGO elements.

A LEGO moulding machine ejects a transparent visor element from the mould

Would these be used in higher risk situations like if a doctor needed to intubate a patient or is it more for everyday usage?

TLG: The design and quality of the moulds was approved by Danish Health Authorities. They are responsible for advising healthcare workers in Denmark on when and where the visors should be used.
How many of the global factories are these being produced in?  

TLG: Our priority was to first help the Danish Health Service as we could ship visors quickly.  We have also begun making the visors in Nyíregyháza and recently donated 65,000 to doctors working in the region. We have also donated visors to health workers in Mexico.  

A LEGO employee fills boxes with transparent visors. 

Would the LEGO Group look to make this available to other countries who are battling the virus? Are there plans to manufacture other protective items for general consumption like surgical masks? Would the mask be for sale to the public eventually?

TLG: Right now, our focus is on providing visors as a donation for frontline healthcare workers (e.g. hospital staff, staff in nurseries, care homes, dentists) in our local communities in Denmark, Hungary, Czech Republic and Mexico.




Our thanks to Jordan Paxton for organising this interview. You can see more about the project, and learn about LEGO Billund moulding factory minifigures, in the following videos:

 




Help New Elementary keep publishing articles like this. Become a Patron!

Big up to our 'Vibrant Coral' patrons: Iain Adams, Geppy, Chris Cook, London AFOLs, Gerald Lasser, Big B Bricks, Dave Schefcik, David and Breda Fennell, Huw Millington, Neil Crosby, Antonio Serra, Beyond the Brick, Sue Ann Barber & Trevor Clark, and Kevin Gascoigne. You're all awesome!

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Amazon USA: Amazon.com Canada: Amazon.ca UK: Amazon.co.uk Deutschland: Amazon.de

Search New Elementary


Products mentioned in this post were kindly supplied by the LEGO Group. All content represents the opinions of New Elementary authors and not the LEGO Group. All text and images are © New Elementary unless otherwise attributed.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting to hear that they're produced to the same standards as regular Lego elements. I would've thought those kinds of tolerances wouldnt really be necessary for this, especially since they wanted to get them in production as soon as possible.

    Im curious whether the "6 months" figure cited for normal parts is for the beginning of the design to a finished mold, or from finished design to finished mold. Certainly if its the former, its easy to see why the masks could be made quicker, since they dont need any sort of compatibility with other parts.

    Finally, Im inclined to say that since they have design IDs, they're fair game for purist MOCs IMO (assuming anyone gets their hands on them for such purposes)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Three things I can think of could contribute to the much faster turnaround time:

      1. Someone else was involved in the design. From this article, it's hard to tell _who_ actually designed these. It could be that the DHA had an existing design that had already been approved, and all they had to do was start cranking them out.

      2. It's _not_ a LEGO element. It's not LEGO compatible, so they don't need to test the connections for that perfect amount of clutch power. It doesn't need to be put through rigorous testing to prove long-term durability because these are intended to be disposed of regularly. It doesn't need to be child-safe, because they're only intended for adults to wear. And for the first time in their history, "good enough" actually is good enough.

      3. And, ironically, the pandemic is actually helping in this situation. Between much of "non-essential" business being shut down, and pandemic aid being given heightened priority, something like this would be one of those, "set aside whatever you're doing and work on this instead," moments.

      Delete
  2. Yes, but WHAT are the element and mould numbers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, come on! It was a goofy joke. If you type them in a calculator and turn it upside down, the numbers spell "goggles" and "shell". I dug through a few lists of calculator words, and there really weren't any others that were topical.

      Delete
    2. ah ok, that was obscure. I simply assumed you did have the actual numbers, which I don't feel should be published.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, as soon as I saw that it had been deleted, I figured that was the most likely reason. At some point, this will all get sorted out, and life will find a new normal. _When_that_happen_, I have no problem with any leftover unused LEGO faceshields that are still in the pipeline winding up in the hands of collectors, provided it's all above-board. I'd also be fine with them being donated for use in developing nations.

      Until then, they're needed elsewhere. I don't know that there would be any harm in those numbers being publicly known, but I don't see any point in risking it. But this is one of those times when the world could really use a troupe of comedians on permanent retainer, so I had a funny idea and ran with it. And if a few people fell for it, all the better. I just didn't anticipate it would get deleted before anyone figured it out. Ah, well.

      Delete