24 September 2020

LEGO® Consumer Perceived Quality: Bjarke Schønwandt

Posted by Admin
Today – the Thursday before Skaerbaek Fan Weekend – is Fan Day at LEGO® House in Billund, Denmark. Sadly neither event can proceed in person this year but Fan Day is going ahead online with some presentations. But did you miss out? Well, we are bringing you a taste of it now, because one session is similar to one New Elementary experienced online in May, at Fan Media Days. Francesco Spreafico has written this fascinating report. 

Aside from employee interviews, at Fan Media Days we also attend a few presentations about various LEGO topics. Today we are going to cover one of the most interesting of the 2020 sessions, “Consumer Perceived Quality” with Bjarke Schønwandt, Quality Director.

Bjarke has been with the LEGO Group for 18 years, and he’s always worked in Quality. His dream as a kid was to grow up and be the person who tests all LEGO sets, so, we could say he’s almost there! But what does Consumer Perceived Quality do?

To put it simply, they analyse consumers’ feedback and initiate action based upon that. So, they intervene when there are missing parts, faulty parts, or something doesn’t work… as Bjarke puts it, “everything that will make the kids cry”, so it’s not the LEGO Group’s happiest department! Their goal is to fix those problems to keep the consumers happy.

In 2019 they noticed an increase in complaints, and generally speaking they always see an increase towards the end of the year because of Christmas sales. They're much more likely to receive complaints about big sets, especially for missing parts. Also there are many differences from country to country, due to consumer behaviour that changes in different areas of the world.

via littlelioness.net
Looking at the numbers, out of all complaints: 86% are about missing parts, 13% about faulty parts and the remaining 1% is about other minor issues.

Missing parts in LEGO sets

Let’s start with missing parts, the most common problem. The distribution of missing parts is extremely interesting.
  • 50% are parts that simply get lost. Under the carpet, eaten by the dog, remaining in a bag… it’s extremely common.
  • 25% seem to be caused by an actual production failure. For example, they put a similar part in a set by mistake. They try constantly to improve the process to solve this problem.
  • 15% are missing minifigs. 
  • This leaves a final 10% that they call “Systematic building mistakes”.
Let's examine the latter two in greater detail.

Missing minifigures in LEGO sets

Apparently minifigs tend to... run away from the boxes? This happens more with NINJAGO, Star Wars and Super Heroes ones, rather than LEGO City ones for example. Of course that doesn’t make any sense from a production point of view, since they’re all treated exactly the same, so most of the time these minifigs are not really missing from the box, but get ‘lost’ later. TLG is aware of this, but at the same time they don’t ask a lot of questions, even though they know some people are definitely taking advantage of it. Consumer Service try to keep a balance between the majority of honest consumers and the few that try to exploit it. This behaviour does pollute the data, though.

Systematic building mistakes

What is a systematic building mistake? It’s a mistake that many people make at the same step of the instructions, because something is not clear or is easy to get wrong. A very good example can be found in set 42075 First Responder, a small Technic set from 2018. A Technic Liftarm 3x3 T-Shape Thick was reported missing more than any other part from that set, and this happened all over the world, so it didn’t seem to be a production problem. Turned out the reason was not hard to discover.

The part is first used in steps 3, 6 and 8: so far, so good:

©2018 The LEGO Group
The problem comes in step 9:

©2018 The LEGO Group

The highlighted callout box that explicitly shows that a 1x3 beam needs to be used was added after the missing part complaints. Before, people overlooking the list of parts to use in the step just used another 3x3 T-beam because it’s what they’d done in the previous steps. They didn’t realise until they found themselves missing one 3x3 T-beam later in the build. After TLG realised the problem and added the highlight in the instructions, the complaints decreased.

In a case like this TLG believe it is their fault, for making instructions that weren’t perfectly clear. In the last couple of years this kind of problem has occurred more and more and they hope they’re fixing it now, to reduce the number of complaints.

Systematic building mistakes occur even more in new markets, where people are not used to LEGO instructions. For example there were many more complaints in China for set 42093 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 with Technic Axle and Pin Connector Perpendicular (6536) than there were in Germany. Other examples are set 42096 Porsche 911 RSR with Technic Axle and Pin Connector Hub with 1 Axle (22961), set 10265 Ford Mustang with Plate 2 x 2 Corner (2420) and set 31088 Deep Sea Creatures with Plate Modified 1 x 2 with Small Tow Ball Socket on Side (14704).

Faulty LEGO parts

After missing parts, the next problem is faulty parts. TLG are fully aware they sometimes make mistakes; partly in thanks to the criticism on fan sites.

One of the worst cases is when they have a dark minifigure head and they have to print something lighter on it, for example like Mercy, shown above centre from Overwatch 75975 Watchpoint: Gibraltar. Mercy’s face looks a bit pale and grey-looking, and is not as nice as it looks on the box. The reason for this is that the colour applied is not dense enough and the dark colour of the part underneath shines through and makes the face look paler. They tried to improve this but they hit a limit of the technology they were using. So they tried to fix it by adding a white under layer and applying the skin colour twice. Now it’s better, but they’re still not happy with it, and their Materials department is working with ink suppliers and their different inks to come up with something better.

Another example of a faulty part, one that caught them a little bit by surprise, was the alignment of 10265 Mustang’s tiles and slopes. We talked about this issue in our Mustang review last year; it’s a very well-known issue now. The stripes printed on these parts were supposed to align, but sometimes don’t.

Basically, Production hadn’t been informed that those parts would eventually be placed next to one another; they only knew they had to paint a dark blue line in the middle of a white part. Since printed parts don’t generally need to align, that is not a parameter that is checked. (Except in minifigures; for those parts alignment happens more often, but they use a different technology anyway.)

After this bad experience they changed part of their process to avoid the recurrence of this problem in the future. The stadium set 10272 Old Trafford - Manchester United was going into production at that time, and they put measures in place to avoid alignment issues with the printed football pitch. Unfortunately it simply proved too difficult to produce without misalignments, and the final conclusion was that they should never have taken that design approach in the first place. Had the designers known, they could have found a more production-friendly solution.

This ended the presentation, which was followed by a few questions from us and other Fan Media.

Are data from complaints used to influence the extra parts included in a set?

Bjarke: Yes. We have what we call “technical overdose”. And you all know that, it’s the little extra elements… 1x1 plates and tiles and stuff like that. That is what we call a technical overdose because the machinery cannot count them when it has one, but it can count when it has two or zero, and that's why we do this. Also the friction pin... because we know they have a tendency to roll, we need a technical overdose on that too. So yes, sometimes we do technical overdose based on consumer feedback. It can also be a solution to a systematic building mistake: Instead of changing the building instruction, we add an extra element. But it depends a little bit on the timing, and how complicated it is to change instructions and stuff like that.

Is it the case that the technical overdose parts can be adjusted during production once you become aware of a certain problem for a set, based on the consumer feedback? So they are not constant during the production lifetime of a set? 

Bjarke: We will only add elements and never remove elements. So yes, for some boxes you might get an extra element or two compared to the first production runs.

How do you verify if a minifig is actually missing?

Bjarke: I cannot verify that. The only thing I can check is if the failure is because of a production mistake. There should be a constant level across all themes, but we can see some themes are missing way more than others. So let's say we have 100 sets with a missing figure; then we'll hear more from the Star Wars sets than we would from  the Police sets. So that's why we are - don't get me wrong - calling it “fraud”? “Presumed missing”? But I don't know it for sure. I cannot prove it, it's an indication error.

Is there a difference when it's just a head missing versus the entire figure?

Bjarke: I think sometimes Consumer Service, just to be sure, makes sure you get the full figure even though you only reported the head as missing. That I cannot see. But we do see that with figures, there's a tendency to send a whole figure to the consumer.

Do you purposely place minifig parts in different sub-bags?

Bjarke: We typically place a full figure or two per bag in order to support the building experience for the kids. We know this can drive claims for full missing figures but it is a risk we need to live with.

Is there a target you aim to achieve for consumer complaint rate?

Bjarke: Yes. 1000 ppm (which was where we ended up last year) means that every time we sell 1 million boxes, we have 1000 consumers filing a complaint. And we make it very easy for consumers to contact our Consumer Service and generally you don't need to show a lot of proof of purchase so in that perspective I think we are actually at a very low level, but we will always want to get lower. Getting it to zero would be would be unrealistic, getting it down to 500 most likely also very unrealistic, but we would like to get it down to the same level as we had in 2018 and the years before that, so lowering it by 10% to 20%: that's what we're working towards.

Do you prefer that people contact Consumer Service rather than just replacing with a part from their collection?

Bjarke: Oh yes, please call Consumer Service. I really prefer that, because then we can react to it. Even for internal LEGO employees, we always tell them, instead of going to the element stores to pick up an element, please file a complaint with Consumer Service. Otherwise we will not know what to improve and we would like to improve. There's a great amount of learnings in the consumers service feedback and we're using it on a regular basis.

In regards to building instructions, is there a quality control process?

Bjarke: Yes. Of course we have a proofreading process when making the building instructions so that we make sure that step numbers are correct, that the element overview is correct and that you can see what elements to use. Systematic mistakes are quite often difficult to see beforehand but when we get the data from Consumer Service, they're often quite easy to find.

Certain sets have differently coloured elements all throughout the inside of a model. Is this a result of complaints?

Bjarke: Yes. I guess you must remember that from when we had a black Batmobile. The classic one, the big set. And it was all black, also the interior. Boy, we got a lot of missing elements in that one. It was so hard to find the elements because the whole thing was just black on black. So, based on that, we emphasized that if you don't need the element to be black, why not make it coloured? Your search time goes down, especially for the kids, and therefore it's easier and faster for them to build a model. I know they've been teasing the design lead in Star Wars to see if they could add pink bricks in the interior! But that's designers kind of teasing each other. They do a lot to make it very simple. If you build LEGO City sets, try and pay attention to how they always build from an edge, and then change colours. Especially on the base of cars. I think that's the best example I can give for how we try to help the kids in the building process.

How do errors with light printing on dark minifigure heads occur in the first place? That would presumably be obvious before they leave the factory, unlike missing or broken pieces, for example.

Bjarke: Yes you are right, it should have been stopped or the factories should have raised their voice. It has been the first containment action, to improve the feedback from the factories to the decoration development team.

Are there limitations on different types of ink due to the switch to sustainable materials, or for safety?

Bjarke: Both, to be honest. The objective includes the safety of the workers at the ink manufacturers as well as the environment, and the world has become more and more knowledgeable in this aspect. Important note: none of our inks have been, or are, posing a risk to the consumer!

Transparent has changed, it is now more 'foggy'. 100% of AFOLs who have commented about this to me do not like the new transparent! Is it a change of material? 

Bjarke: Our Materials platform has evolved over time as a natural part of optimising our products. New materials have been added, others changed or phased out. In the years to come we will see more changes to the materials platform in order for TLG to become more and more sustainable. The new transparent material is not 100% sustainable but we need this step in order to become sustainable.

Does it make sense to report something about an old set that’s not in production anymore? 

Bjarke: No, then we don't look at it. If we see a trend on an outgoing SKU we're not producing anymore, it's so hard for us to do any proper tracking. So we won't do that.

Should we be reporting issues like finding certain colours being more brittle than others, like Reddish Brown tiles?

Bjarke: In general, yes please. However the issue with Reddish Brown is known and has been solved.

Should we report it when instructions get mangled?

Bjarke: Yes, please.

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  1. It's very good to see they are aware and do things to improve them. Bit sad nothing is said about colour inconsistencies between elements (that should be the same colour).

    1. See Tom's article (scroll the comments) for a recap of yesterday's presentation where Bjarke also addressed those (with a lot of details!)

  2. Interestingly enough I ended up missing 2x Brick W/ Bow 1x4 in my copy of the 20th anniversary Slave I -- but instead there were 2x D-O figures in the bag...

    1. Must be the reason for another poor kid's parent having to ask for a replacement figure... @_@

  3. It really is a shame that a company that constantly brags about their high quality can't print properly, or even worse match the colour of different parts that are supposed to be of the same colour.

    What's interesting is that they could actually print better many years ago - just compare an original Han Solo or Luke Skywalker minifig to the 20th anniversary one, as seen in this video by Jangbricks: https://youtu.be/zZhYuSCLKbY - the difference is striking.

    1. We've also seen two versions of the Clone Wars Clonetrooper head with the face printed on black. One looked like it had a suntan, and the other looked like it had never even heard of the sun. The earlier sets came with the darker version, which eventually made way for the pasty version. This could be an instance of double-layer vs single-layer print, but neither actually matched the color of a fleshie minifig head. In cases where white print allows the base color to bleed through, I expect that's also double vs single, but layering white is probably a lot simpler than doing the same with any other lighter color over a dark base, especially if they pick their inks based on how they look on, oh, say, white ABS.

    2. You say that they can't print properly, but if the technology does not exist, there is really little that they can do. And you say that it was better many years ago - if they had the choice, they would use the same processes again, but regulations change, as do availability of certain additives for prints and plastics. Next to this, they are a much bigger company nowadays, so they are not able to source everything from one supplier anymore, causing sometimes a difference in color. They're trying everything they can to improve it. They strive to have the highest quality possible, but there are limitations.

    3. @TWP:

      You've got a multi-car garage. In one stall, there's a sports car. In another, there's a truck. In a third, you keep a horse. Now, depending on whether you need to get there fast, with a large payload, or just reliably, one of those options is going to make more sense than the others. They may have older printing machines that are serviceable, but incapable of the level of precision needed to get those stripes to line up perfectly every time. They may have newer machines that are fully capable of doing so, but achieving that level of precision may require a lengthy process of tuning the machine in every time you do a setup...or you can skip that whole affair if less precision is required. If that takes the machine out of production for an hour or two, that's probably several thousand additional parts you could have printed, so you're not going to waste that effort unless it's necessary. If it requires having the parts printed in another facility and shipped halfway around the world, now you're adding a hefty amount of transportation costs on top of lost time on the machine. But the problem here is that you have to _know_ it's necessary. In this specific case, the striped parts should have been flagged ahead of time so they didn't have to wait for customers to complain.

      As for the "how", that could be a matter of getting the print perfectly centered on the part, like they had to do to get the eyes to line up with the holes in the mask on the CMF S3 Gorilla Suit Guy. To get these stripes to line up across multiple parts, that could be as easy as just printing them simultaneously, so all you have to do is make sure the parts are lined up precisely before you print them. And then make sure you don't mix up parts from different print runs. Or you just print stickers, and leave it to the customer to worry about lining the stripes up.

  4. I'm going to be sad about the new transparent parts forever. It's not just ths they're foggy, they're tacky to the touch and they scratch in the bags. My anniversary Slave 1 has a huge gouge on the windscreen and it makes me sad every time I see it.

    1. The counterpoint is that they no longer bind to each other, removing the risk of parts like a lightsaber blade and 1x1 cone becoming inseparably attached. Personally issues like that that affect the ability to build itself bother me far more than cosmetic issues.

    2. @Andrew:
      That specific problem had already been addressed. They stopped making lightsaber blades out of polycarbonate, so trans-colored blades would no longer bind to trans-colored cones. It doesn't fix any issues with older blades that were produced in polycarb, but this switch doesn't really do anything about that either.

      However, I must confess, I have not actually seen any of these new trans elements. Or if I have, I didn't realize it.

    3. @Kettchy just contact customer services for a replacement of the window!

  5. "Bjarke, 15 years after you changed the production method to using clear ABS and adding colour at the point of injection and you still can't control certain colours. During those 15 years you're making record breaking profits and are still bragging about your quality. Isn't it time to go back to the old method with coloured pellets?"

    1. At the scale Lego currently operates at, it would be virtually impossible for Lego to source all pre-colored granulate for all their factories worldwide from the same source. So even if they switched back there would still be the same risk of colors from different sources not matching exactly. At least by coloring the granulate themselves they can actually have the power to improve color-matching themselves, instead of having to give up entirely due to not being able to control and coordinate external suppliers.

    2. @Andrew:
      It's legally impossible for them to do this. Chinese regulations require them to source their plastic domestically, and there's no way they would exclusively rely on a Chinese plastic producer for worldwide production. Besides the fact that handing over their proprietary formula for ABS to a Chinese company meaning everyone in China would soon be producing their clone bricks with LEGO-quality plastic (Chinese manufacturing is done with a different blend, which is why the first few waves of CMF felt and looked like knock-off parts), the first time they looked into switching to Chinese production for regular use, they determined that any cost savings on the production side would be wiped out in additional transportation costs to get product to Europe, which is still their largest overall market.

    3. @Purple Dave: The idea that the Chinese facilities use a different ABS formulation, or indeed, that Lego even has a "proprietary" formulation for ABS that must be kept secret, is news to me. Differences in the early CMFs always struck me as being more likely due to the mixing of color and the physical "surface finish" of new molds not yet being perfected at the newer facility. Indeed, modern Lego produced in China no longer has those issues, suggesting that the plastic being sourced from China no longer results in quality differences of that type.

      And yeah, it can't be overstated how important the logistical aspects of Lego production are to Lego's current production practices. In addition to the pure impossibility of having to source all plastic and dye worldwide from one individual source, diversifying sourcing for their materials is generally a good thing anyway. Doing so prevents issues with individual supplier (even temporary ones such as a price hike, quality issue, or production slowdown) from impacting Lego's entire output directly, helping to keep supply, quality and pricing stable.

    4. @Andrew:
      I don't remember where I learned all the pieces to that puzzle, but some plastics have a specific chemical formula, like polystyrene or polyethylene. Deviate from that formula, and it's not that plastic anymore. ABS is a blend of three such chemicals, and you can vary the ratios to achieve different qualities in the plastic. They put a lot of time and effort into testing different formulations until they found the blend that yielded the ideal plastic for LEGO bricks, and that formulation is not something they've openly shared with the world. To some companies, it doesn't matter. Mega-Bloks went with straight styrene (like you find in plastic model kits), which has terrible properties for this application (weak clutch, and it permanently deforms under moderate stress, where ABS has strong clutch because it can flex back into shape once disassembled).

      Early CMFs, from at least the first two series, used a very different blend of ABS, and you can tell that something's not quite right. They feel like they weigh less, the plastic feels like a different material, it has a totally different finish (satin instead of semi-gloss), and the legs assemblies don't fit together as cleanly as they should (there's often a tiny gap between one or both legs and the codpiece). But they realized pretty quickly that their Chinese formulation kinda sucked, and they tweaked it to get it closer to, but apparently not identical to, the plastic they run in Europe and Mexico. The difference isn't due to mold changes, as the material doesn't feel textured in any way. It's just not as shiny after it's ejected from the mold. But it could be that the difference in finish resulted from mistuning the molding machines. You can introduce a glossy shine to ABS by carefully applying heat to it, in a process called "annealing". Usually this is done to metal or glass, but it can also be done to plastic after it's molded, to relieve internal stress (but it can yield a glossier shine, too). My personal experience is with thick-gauge vacuforming (baseplates are made with thin-gauge vacuforming), so I don't actually know if tweaking the temperatures of the injected plastic and/or the mold could result in such wildly different finishes as you see between S1 and S11 minifigs. If it's not the settings on the machine, it has to be the change in plastic.

      There will still be a difference between Chinese LEGO plastic and European LEGO plastic, because even though they've been having some luck with knock-off brands in China after opening their own factory there, you can't force the genie back into the bottle. Once they hand over that proprietary formula, it's going up for sale on the black market, guaranteed. Anyone who buys that formula will forever know how to match the quality of European LEGO ABS, and there's really nothing they're likely able to do to shut that down after the fact. The only option is to use a separate formulation for Chinese production, which means Chinese LEGO parts will forever be subpar compared to the same parts made elsewhere. They're just not quite as inferior as the early CMF parts.

    5. There is no "secret" in the chemical formula of ABS, ABS is ABS, the exact structure is well documented and published in many academic papers that people in China can access as well. You can indeed vary the ratios of three monomers that make up the polymer, but it is not "blended", it is copolymerized. Next to this, you can change degree of polymerization and polydispersity. This is all done at the supplier of the plastic pellets. LEGO buys these pellets at a manufacturer, which means that they cannot keep this formula a secret. They can, and will, add other things like softeners and dyes for the colors. However, this is also no big secret, as the plastic bricks can just be put into a mass spectrometer after HPLC separation processes. (admittedly this is not cheap)

      The difference between LEGO's high quality, and that of cheaper competitors, is in the checkup and accuracy of their materials and suppliers. Before bricks come in, LEGO checks the purity and composition of their raw materials. However, this is expensive to do, and purer components are even more expensive. These are things that cheaper competitors cannot afford and do not care to do. They just buy at the cheapest manufacturer at a certain time, as they do not care to have the same composition every time. What I assume that happened in the beginning in China, is that LEGO needed some experience with the suppliers there, because different suppliers always give a few variations to the plastic. Polydispersitys may have been to varied, and LEGO needed to demand a more defined polymer.

    6. @TWP:

      "ABS is a terpolymer made by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. The proportions can vary from 15 to 35% acrylonitrile, 5 to 30% butadiene and 40 to 60% styrene."

      That's copied directly from Wikipedia. Styrene and Acrylonitrile are both monomers, and both have a single polymer form. Polybutadiene, on the other hand, has a range of different polymer forms, depending on what you use as a catalyst. You could use a single form of polybutadiene, or you could mix two or more types to get the specific qualities you desire, and that's _before_ you determine the exact A:B:S ratio in your formula, much less toss in any other additives you might want.

      As for keeping the formulation secret, any company that lands a contract to supply ABS to The LEGO Company just hooked a fat fish. Part of that contract will certainly include some rather hefty penalties if you leak that information. And they may even source the ingredients for their suppliers, so that even the supplier doesn't know exactly what they're producing. Coca-Cola and KFC have the two most famously secret recipes out there, but even they have to buy their ingredients from other companies, and have their own employees make their product. But as long as no one single person knows the entire process, they can't sell the formula to a rival company.

      And good luck figuring out the exact form(s) of polybutadiene used to make their ABS when they all have the same molecular ratios.

  6. I laugh that LEGO assumes it is more likely that people are abusing the system to get additional figures instead of, and what is more likely that, their security seals on set boxes are laughable (to say the least) and @!#holes are stealing figures from the box, resealing the boxes, and returning the product back to the store.Now, it could be that LEGO knows and just does not want to call attention to their lackluster security on the boxes, but yknow they could.. I dunno, fix the issue instead of letting it happen for the past 20 years.

    1. The minifigs are probably from three issues. One is minifigs that legitimately got lost. Maybe they're buried in a sandbox somewhere, maybe someone swiped a minifig from another kid, but the set was bought, and the minifig is no longer with it. Another is that people are claiming they bought the set to get a desired minifig for free, or they just want more copies of that minifig. And probably a very minor issue is theft from the store. I agree that a lot of minifigs get stolen, but if someone rips open a box, dumps out a bag, and steals the parts for a minifig, that set probably ends up in the garbage, not under someone's Christmas tree. But _some_ sets that have been pilfered do get sold to customers. I bought five copies of LotR's Weathertop on 50% clearance, and while all five copies had intact seals when I bought them, one had been tampered with. I opened that fifth copy to find that Bag 1 (which contains the Ringwraiths and their horses) was gone, and any other minifig parts and weapons had been taken out of the remaining bags. Someone bought that set, accessed the contents without cutting the factory seals, stole the most valuable contents, packed the rest back up, and returned it for a full refund. There's no way they pulled that off inside the store. But for all the dozens of times I've seen LEGO sets with their guts strewn across a store shelf, or DK Books or DVDs with a gaping hole where a minifig was supposed to be, that's the only time I've opened a set that I bought and found that someone had raided it.

      However, I did once watch a LEGO Store employee accept a return on an open box, and after the customer had left with a full refund, she finally looked inside...to find that the set had been replaced with plastic puzzle pieces.

      So, some people are absolutely stealing parts out of the boxes, but while a few local areas may have a serial thief, it's very rare to hear a first-hand account of buying a sealed set that's had minifigs stolen from it. I've only read one other person claiming to have had a similar experience with a LEGO set, but another member of my LUG and I have both seen local instances of G.I. Joe action figures or Hot Wheels cars that have been repackaged on different cards and returned. Some of those got really weird, as the action figure may have been painted to look like what was on the card, or other times the card was painted to look more like the action figure (and all of these looked very amateur).

    2. I think another issue is just that a minifigure being missing has a bigger impact on the perceived completeness of a set than other random bricks might. A buyer whose set is missing a common brick that doesn't impact the build process substantially might just do without or substitute another brick from their own collection, whereas minifigures are that much more likely to be exclusive, and even when they aren't, for many kids they serve as the primary "avatar" that they interact with the set with when playing. As such, parents or buyers are more likely to actually report a minifigure or minifigure part being missing than they would a less "essential" piece.

    3. @Andrew:
      I mean, there's probably some of that going on, but that still shouldn't skew the numbers in relation to what themes they get claims of lost minifigs for. A City set is just as impacted by a minifig being absent, in whole or in part. But kids aren't as likely to drool over some generic town minifig the way they will for an exclusive superhero character.

      Also, even if the minifig isn't exclusive to a single set, that might not be how it seems to many kids. If that character comes in five sets, but you only get one of those sets, to you that's an exclusive minifig, and if you lose it there's no replacement standing by.

  7. I've run into a few problems over the years, and one rather odd "fix". When I built the first UCS X-Wing, it uses 1x1 round plates in light-grey and dark-grey. I ended up short one, and after half an hour hunting around on the table, below the table, and everywhere around the table, I gave up and subbed in the spare from the other color. To date, my copy still has one mismatched pair because I never did find the missing part (or the extra part). When I built the first UCS Millennium Falcon (1st Edition, so this was not a running change), there was an entire bag full of left and right angle plates (2x4, I think). I waited as long as I could to open that bag, and finally did the last time I needed to add a pair to the model. It looks like they shorted the set one pair, but the bag sort on that set was insanely complicated. Rather than try to adjust them into the existing bags, it appears they just added an extra bag that included the full quantity of both L/R wedge plates needed to build the model, when all you really needed was one extra pair. I've built a Hoth set that had a stunted little Probe Droid, and mine came with a duplicate of one of the bags of smaller parts. I was able to use the extra droid arms from this second bag to improve their Probe Droid design, while only using the parts that _I_ got in _my_ copy of the set. One of the several copies of Vakama that I bought came with an extra staff, and I've had a few sets that included a duplicate sticker sheet. I bought two copies of the Indiana Jones Well of Souls set, and the copy I built didn't have any problems. The copy I bought for parts had what I termed "Indiana Jones Stunt Double", which was basically all the parts for that version of Indiana Jones, but with a Clone Wars Anakin head (this was a common complaint, so apparently a batch of heads got miscataloged). I got the wrong kind of brown wedge brick in my first copy of Wild Collection, the quantities for white angle connectors was mixed up in my first two copies of the original Technic R2-D2, all three copies of the 2006 Harley Quinn that I pulled from sets had the misprint torso, and I opened a S7 tennis player to find a torso that looked like it had fallen on a concrete floor and been stepped on (there were deep scratches in the torso, and the paint job was scuffed). And the second copy of the Shellraiser I bought was the redesign with the train base, but my train base fell victim to physics and was bent at a significant angle.

    Out of all of those, the only replacement parts I remember having sent to me were the Indiana Jones head, which is still sitting around somewhere in the ziploc bag they sent it in, and the brown wedge bricks from Wild Collection. I also got _most_ of the parts that were missing from a clearance copy of Weathertop that someone had bought, swiped all the valuable parts out of, and returned (all without breaking the factory seals). I tried to get replacements for the Harley Quinn and tennis player torsos. The former I never had sent because they told me they already knew about the problem and weren't going to run corrected parts once they ran out of the first batch (but they couldn't tell me if that had taken place yet), and the latter they couldn't do anything about because it was a CMF part at a time when all CMF parts were produced in China (so Europe never got replacement parts to send out).

    My real problems have all been shipping related. Four shipments have gotten rained on after delivery. One shipment had the wrong set. And I don't have an exact count (but it's at least four) of the number of times that I've opened a shipment to find it had been packed badly, resulting in the boxes getting crushed or creased. The last instance was one of the Bespin sets that had been intended for Star Wars Celebration 2020. If I needed these sets in good condition, I got them replaced. If they were just going to be parted out, I usually called to inform them of the problem but kept the damaged set.

  8. I shared additional details from this mornings session with Bjarke at Brick Architect. https://brickarchitect.com/2020/lego-house-virtual-fan-day/

    Of particular interest to New Elementary readers were the details around how some discolored parts in the Lamborghini Sián FKP 37 were actually caused by a bad mould, which allowed the plastic to get too hot and burn the pigment!

    —Tom Alphin

    1. So if the factories can't keep up with demand, Lego reduces the quality control. Better buy unpopular sets then.