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.