How Lego makes its world-famous bricks

Purple Lego bricks emerge from the press machine in one of the molding rooms at the companys Billund, Denmark production facility.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET
How Lego makes its world-famous bricks
Purple Lego bricks emerge from the press machine in one of the molding rooms at the company's Denmark production facility
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

(CBS/CNET) - There are a lot of different Lego sets. There are pirate sets, Star Wars sets, city sets, space sets, and many more. But at the heart of it all, at the heart of a toy empire with many millions of passionate fans throughout the world, is the brick.

Pictures: How Lego makes its Legos

A single Lego brick is nothing special. But put two together and you can start to make things. Add another, and another, and the number of things you can make starts to go up exponentially. Let's say you had six standard four-by-two red bricks. With those pieces alone, there are more than 915 million possible ways they can be arranged. Throw in a few dozen more pieces, and you've really got something.

Yet no matter how many bricks you've got, no matter what set you're working with, your pieces will all fit together. And they'll fit with every other Lego fan's bricks too. And all of them, all those billions of bricks that Lego has made over the years, have emerged with just about no fanfare at all from what looks like a small engine block: the mold - the core of the entire Lego system.

There are currently more than 7,000 different Lego "elements," as the different bricks are sometimes called, in use in the many different sets the company makes. Each requires its own mold. And each mold is an extremely pricey little device. Indeed, said Roar Trangbaek, Lego's corporate communications manager, these heavy metal contraptions are worth an average of $72,000 apiece. The most expensive weighs in at $360,000. The molds are more expensive than the industrial pressing machines into which they're placed.

And while that may seem like an extravagant amount of value for a chunk of metal that can be used to make only one thing, and a very small, light, plastic thing at that, try taking your kid's Lego bricks away and gauge the reaction. Now try that on a global scale. Maybe $72,000 isn't such a hefty number after all.

As part of my CNET Road Trip 2011 project, I've come to this rather bland town in western Denmark for a rare opportunity: to see how Lego produces what has to be the world's favorite toy brand.

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    Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.