Lego looking for a sustainable replacement for ABS

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: February 18, 2014 3:15 pm ET
Updated: February 18, 2014 3:23 pm ET

Image By: Lego A/S Lego is looking for a sustainable replacement for ABS resin.

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, Materials, Injection Molding, Materials Suppliers, Toys
Companies & Associations Lego A/S

ORLANDO, FLA. — Lego A/S is setting a target to use a sustainable resin in its signature bricks by 2030, replacing ABS.

The search for that new resin will not be easy, though, said Allan Rasmussen, senior project manager for Lego. Not only must the selected material be able to meet the same characteristics as the locking building blocks, they must also blend seamlessly with bricks already in children’s hands.

“I need to find a material that is just as good as this one,” Rasmussen said. “I need to find a material that will be just as good in 50 years, because these are passed down from generation to generation.”

Speaking at Innovation Takes Root 2014 in Orlando on Feb. 18, Rasmussen said the sustainability quest is in its early stages, but the Danish company already has tested some bricks using an impact modified polylactic acid are “very, very close.” A problem with a post-molding “creep,” however, means that a few weeks after they are molded the bricks do not click and stick together as well as they should.

The ability to stay clicked together until a child separates them — what Lego terms the “clutch power” — is so key to Lego that it has a specific testing system for it.

Some of the issues with those tests may be that the machines are set up to meet the requirements based on ABS and are not compatible with other resins, Rasmussen said, but the clutch power is only one issue facing any replacement.

Lego, based in Billund, Denmark, has been using ABS for its bricks since the 1960s, following a brief period using a cellulose acetate.

It uses more than 6,000 tons of plastic each year — 70 percent of it ABS, “so that’s why I’m most interested in [replacing] that,” Rasmussen said.

It operates more than 5,000 molds on more than 1,000 injection molding presses at global production sites in Denmark, Mexico and Hungary. When Lego expands to Jiaxing, China, it will specifically be to supply the local market there, he said, so the company needs to ensure it has a global material supplier for all those locations once it is ready to change its resin.

It wants a resin that will make both economic sense as well as hitting environmental targets, and wants to ensure that it is coming from a non-food feedstock base so the business doesn’t find itself facing questions about using crops for toys vs. food.

The company also requires dual sourcing, with product available from multiple production locations, so that it can provide resin from another site if there are any problems.

In addition, its toys must meet the standards written within 3,082 pages worth of legislation regulating toys worldwide.

So obviously, there are major supply chain issues Lego must consider before making any material changes.

“If I were to say that we need to change the machines because something has a different shrink rate, I’m not going to be a very popular guy,” he said.

Then add the complications of matching the look and feel of generations of previous production.

Lego has to carefully track color blending to control colors, so that a red brick molded today will match a red brick molded 30 years ago or, for that matter, a red brick the company will make 30 years from now.

“When I get to a conference like this, I always hear people say: ‘Oh, Lego. That’s great. I played with Lego when I was a kid, and now I’ve passed it on to my son and to his son now, and it lasts. It’s perfect.’ And I’m really torn between that,” Rasmussen said. “On the one side, I want to say: ‘Thank you. We make a good product.’ On the other side, I want to say: ‘You’ve just shown why it is my job is so damn difficult.’”


Comments

Lego looking for a sustainable replacement for ABS

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: February 18, 2014 3:15 pm ET
Updated: February 18, 2014 3:23 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Cambro investing $30.4 million in new N.C. injection molding plant

April 18, 2014 2:36 pm ET

Foodservice products manufacturer Cambro Manufacturing Co. Inc. plans to set up a satellite production and distribution operation in Mebane, N.C., to ...    More

Image

'Thermoforming has nearly limitless possibilities'

April 18, 2014 12:54 pm ET

Julie McAlindon of PolyOne Corp. speaks about the future of thermoforming and the integration of Spartech Corp.    More

Image

Increased orders prompt Georg Utz to add capacity, equipment in Indiana

April 18, 2014 12:20 pm ET

Plastic totes and tray orders have picked up to the point where manufacturer Georg Utz Inc. has added machines, silos and material feed systems to...    More

Image

Ascend targets nylon for auto applications, opening propylene monomer unit in Texas

April 18, 2014 10:57 am ET

Materials firm Ascend Performance Materials Inc. is in full operation at its new nylon 6/6 compounding line in Florida and will break ground by the...    More

Dutch company launching $100 million PP, PE recycling plant

April 18, 2014 10:42 am ET

Quality Circular Polymers is building a new plastics recycling operation in Geleen, the Netherlands' Chemelot industrial chemical site, with a capacit...    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report provides analysis and discussions of economic and political conditions, market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies. In addition, there are reviews of 25 leading thermoformers in the packaging segment, assessing their growth initiatives and performance metrics over 10 years.

Learn more

Automotive Market Review and Outlook 2014 The Americas

This 75-page report features in-depth analysis of the automotive industry for the Americas. It includes discussions of market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting production and threats as well as design strategies being implemented by the major automakers. Detailed charts and data tables outline North American automotive production over the last five years.

Learn more

Plastics Building & Construction Market Review and Outlook 2014 with MS Excel chart data

This report provides in-depth analysis of the plastic building and construction market for North America, including discussions of trends, opportunities, threats and the latest developments in construction trends that impact plastics processors.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

May 6, 2014 - May 8, 2014Plastics in Medical Devices 2014

May 12, 2014 - May 12, 2014Plastics News Brazil Pharma Summit

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 3, 2015 - February 7, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events