Child's Play

Manufacturers Build Global Success the Lego Way

VW werk
Volkswagen was the first German carmaker to reuse components and modules in production.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    German manufacturers are hoping to maintain a competitive edge global markets by retinkering their production processes according to what is known as the “Lego principle.”

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The “Lego principle” reuses individual components and complete systems over and over again.
    • The method allows companies to implement new ideas quickly and keep production costs down.
    • By using innovative production, German companies are able to keep production at home instead of outsourcing to countries with low labor costs.
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    Audio

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One of the reasons why so many German companies are able to deliver a steady flow of innovative products at competitive prices, experts say, is their use of a unique production process known as the “Lego principle,” named after the popular Danish building-block toy.

Under the process, manufacturers reuse individual components or complete systems over and over again, allowing them to focus on improving design and performance functions instead of wasting time “reinventing the wheel” again.

“In the production process, we reuse standardized parts that don’t particularly interest customers, and make changes to those parts that do,” said Roland Fischer, a manager in the energy production unit of Siemens in Munich. The approach, he said, allows the engineering company to implement new ideas quickly.

The method is also used by another Munich-based company Osram, the world’s second largest maker of lighting systems after Philips. There, developers seldom design and build a new light bulb from scratch. Far more often, they can be found reusing existing product designs but making changes, for instance, to integrated LED-chips,  to improve the energy efficiency.

“The method of using standardized modules has helped German companies solve problems that have come with globalization,” said Horst Wildemann, a professor at the Technical University of Munich. “They are able to quickly and affordably adjust products to meet local requirements,” he said.

 

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