Friday, September 21st, 2012

Jet Engine Made of Plastic Lego Bricks Draws Crowds

Rolls Royce wanted to attract attention to its Trent 1000 engine, which powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, during the big Farnborough Air Show this past July. They succeeded, attracting large crowds to their display during a very busy show. Their secret: Lego bricks.

Rolls Royce engine model of Lego bricks

This half-scale model of a Rolls Royce engine is made of plastic Lego bricks.

As the song says, It’s in the way that use it. Rolls Royce appointed Bright Bricks, a Lego Certified Professional firm in the UK, to create a half-scale working cutout model of the engine using Lego Bricks. Bright Bricks specializes in using Lego bricks to make models and other displays that draw crowds.

The model makers worked from the original CAD files for the engine to be sure that every component was replicated precisely. The model’s cutaway concept let visitors see the sophisticated internal design and observe how the parts moved.

Besides attracting visitors, Rolls Royce specifically wanted to engage young people interested in pursuing careers in engineering, science, and math. Though the actual engine was also in the display, it was the model showing off the inner workings that attracted the budding aerospace engineers.


The original CAD files guided the model maker.

Bright Bricks director Ed Diment said that after all the weeks of planning, design, and building, the finished model “gave us all a huge sense of achievement and pride that we really had created a Rolls Royce Lego model.”

Bright Bricks earned that achievement. The engine model was built of 160 different component parts, each designed and assembled in Lego bricks by the Bright Bricks team. It took four people working eight weeks to do it all, including eight full days for final assembly. More than 150,000 Lego bricks are in the model, which is two meters long and weighs 677 pounds. The actual engine is twice the size and weighs 1.25 tons. To see a time-lapse video of the model, click here.

Big Business Built on Plastic

The global company that today is

the Lego Group began in Billund, Denmark in 1932 when master cabinetmaker Ole Kirk Kristiansen founded a company to make wooden ladders, ironing boards, stools, and toys. The name Lego comes from the Danish words leg godt, meaning “play well.” It was discovered later that Lego means, “I join together” in Latin—a nice bit of serendipity.

Molding plastic Lego bricks

Lego bricks have been injection molded in ABS plastic since 1963.

In 1946, Lego was the first Danish business to buy an injection molding machine and by 1949 it made about 200 different plastic and wooden toys, including bricks that were the forerunner of today’s Lego bricks. By 1951 plastic toys were half the company’s output. Lego began molding the bricks of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) polymer in 1963 because it improves their “clutch power.”

Though Lego Group

has grown to be the world’s third largest toy company, it is still family-owned. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the founder’s grandson, has been deputy chairman since 1996 and the fourth generation is also on the board of directors in the person of Thomas Kirk Kristiansen. In 1999 Fortune magazine honored Lego bricks as one of the major products of the 20th century. That’s quite an achievement, especially since it all springs from a small, simple, injection-molded plastic toy.

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