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I'm quite interested in finding a factory that can produce a small-ish run of high-quality plastic bricks that I can use in my classes and possible to re-sell as stand-alone kits. I only need a few different shapes, namely 2x4 bricks and 2x2 bricks, which are off-patent. Does anyone know which factories, other than those owned-by/bound-to LEGO Group, have experience in making LEGO compatible bricks and would likely be open to producing another run?

Background

I run Ascendly.com which runs after school programs to teach grade school kids engineering. My flagship course, Jr. Structural Engineering, uses LEGO bricks to build structures and to learn about the engineering process. I only use a few bricks in the course:

  • 2x4 bricks
  • 2x2 bricks
  • 16x32, or larger, baseplates
  • 1x2 bricks (optional)
  • 1x1 bricks (optional)
  • 1x2 45 degree slope (optional)

For any one class, I ensure all of the bricks of a certain size are a consistent and unique color. So, all of my 2x4s would be blue, and all of my 2x2s would be green, for example. This keeps the students focused on the shape of the structures, makes it easier to see how the other students used their blocks, and avoids worrying about color aesthetics.

Buying bricks in bulk of any specific color is problematic.

Related Question(s):

Update Just to add some context, I have good relationships with my two local LEGO stores, and they've helped me order about 50 pick-a-brick boxes over the last couple of years, but I'm hoping to find a more reliable and scalable source of building blocks. Bricklink and LEGO are good sources for now, but I'm wondering if I find can a high-quality brick at 10x my current volume, something I'm positive the stores, and I suspect the LUGs, aren't in a position to accommodate.

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I think it's worth taking Mega Bloks into consideration here. Although "compatible with Lego" is a bit of a stretch, they are indeed a cheaper Lego brick but with astoundingly low quality. If you're looking for cheap bricks for students to learn structural techniques from, I'd give them Mega Bloks (along with a rubber mallet, so they can tap together the defective blocks that refuse to fit together). –  Keshav Saharia May 7 '13 at 19:29
    
I'm actually more concerned about quality than price. –  ascendlyJJ May 8 '13 at 15:16
    
It looks like the best answer is 'nobody does it as well as LEGO' - thanks to all of the other suggestions. I'm trying to talk to corporate LEGO and I might put in a cuusoo suggestion. –  ascendlyJJ May 22 '13 at 13:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of specific factories that are currently tooled to make compatible bricks that you could get in touch with. I have noticed an eBay user that consistently sells Canadian made compatible basic bricks, so it might be worth contacting them to see if you could work out a deal.

There are also many companies who will do custom ABS injection molding if you can provide them with the CAD files for your design. Because the molds have to be created for your parts, there is a large up-front cost to doing things this way.

Just in case you aren't aware, there are a number of stores on bricklink.com that can source extremely large orders. At the time of writing this, there are several stores which could supply you with over 10,000 red 2x4 bricks, for example, though I'm guessing that may not be sufficient for your needs.

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Thanks for the pointers. Unfortunately, 10K of bricks isn't nearly enough and I routinely wipe the whole inventory of item on bricklink. I'm sort of expecting to have make a fresh mold, but it would certainly be nicer to avoid it. –  ascendlyJJ May 2 '13 at 21:31
    
I also just noticed this wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego_clone which might help. –  ascendlyJJ May 2 '13 at 21:36
    
Have you tried asking about this at a Lego store? They almost always have basic 2x4 bricks in the PaB wall, and I'm pretty sure they are able to order them by the case for you. –  jncraton May 3 '13 at 1:02
    
I've utilized the LEGO stores extensively, but their inventory is quite unreliable for the quantities I'm interested in, even when ordering them ahead of time. –  ascendlyJJ May 3 '13 at 17:22

This sounds like something to ask the corporate offices. They may be able to arrange shipments that even the LEGO stores can not. For instance, Thomas Nielson is the VP of manufacturing at TLG http://dk.linkedin.com/in/thomasnielsen?trk=pub-pbmap

If the stores can't get it to you, go to those who supply the stores. It certainly sounds like you generate enough volume.

Just my thoughts...

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I suggest calling Lego customer service (1-800-835-4386) to ask them about a bulk order. Professional "brick artists" like Nathan Sawaya buy their brick directly from Lego. The bulk prices are decent as well. For example, through the LUGbulk program, we got 2x4 bricks for about 9.6 cents each (these sell for $0.30/ea on the Pick-a-brick website).

Also, here is a long list of manufacturers who can do custom ABS injection molding: http://www.thomasnet.com/nsearch.html?which=prod&cov=NA&what=Custom+Injection+Molded+Plastics&heading=95958385&k=abs&x=16&y=9&navsec=modify

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Although I've already talked with LEGO, I hadn't heard of the LUGbulk program. I could be an option, thanks. –  ascendlyJJ May 3 '13 at 17:04
    
Ahem. The first rule of LUGBulk is Don't talk about LUGBulk prices. ahem. –  gev May 4 '13 at 6:20
    
I double checked the rules, and they don't say anything about confidentiality. –  oddTodd May 4 '13 at 6:50
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The dollar value limit on member participation in LUGBulk will limit 2x4s to about 2500 per annum; this is nowhere near the quantity the poster is pursuing. –  Josh May 4 '13 at 22:36
    
When I mentioned the LUGBulk price, my intent was merely to provide a cost comparison, as in, Lego is willing to sell 2x4 bricks below 10 cents a piece. I didn't mean to imply that LUGBulk would be a good way to get 10k+ bricks. –  oddTodd May 5 '13 at 5:48

As you can see from other answers, it may prove easier to try to get genuine LEGO bricks and there are numerous possibilities to do so:

As mentioned in OddTodd's answer, the LUGBulk program may be an option, but you'll need to find a local LUG and convince them of the parts you need. As seen in the comments, limits may be an issue.

Contacting the LEGO customer service is certainly a good way to go, especially if you mention it's for educational purposes. Usually, you should be able to order a large quantity of specific given bricks, but I'm not sure they'll easily apply a bulk discount. Don't forget LEGO has an educational division which might be a better place to start, although I'm not sure they sell bricks separately.

OddTodd also mentioned that LEGO Certified Professional have possibilities to buy parts in bulk, and while it shows LEGO has the possibility of doing so, I think there's a very important underlying point in there: you could contact a LCP yourself and see how he can help you. In addition of providing you material, he could make a visit at your school and talk about LEGO and his work, which may be interesting for the kids.

I can think of two other routes you can try, as there are two other sort of people who have readily access to large quantities of bricks: LEGO shops and LEGOland parks.

LEGO shops have a pick-a-brick wall where you can fill some buckets with whatever bricks are available at the moment. While this will certainly not be interesting for you, you may want to contact the manager and see if they're willing to order bricks specifically for you. One great advantage of this, if they're willing to help (again, mention the educational angle), is that they'll usually be able to buy parts by weight (for instance, 2kg boxes). Asking won't hurt you in any way.

Similarly, LEGOland park designers also have the possibility to order in bulk, but it's of course limited to their needs for the park buildings. However, if you happen to live near one, contacting the manager there might be worth trying, you never know.

One key point in all this is that the parts you need are extremely basic, which means it should be easier for you to convince people to sell them to you. Since a LEGO shop must order boxes of bricks on a regular basis, I'm confident it's the easiest route, as one or two boxes more should be easy for them.

As for the "not-LEGO" option, maybe you could contact the customer service of other existing brands and see what they can do (you could even use that as leverage in your discussion with LEGO, if you're so inclined... I can imagine "But MegaBloks can provide me 10000 2x4 bricks for less than that" may be a valid argument). I don't think people not currently manufacturing bricks would be willing to help, even if they have the tools to mould parts (moulds themselves are costly), but you could ask.

Check these two questions for more info on alternatives to LEGO:

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I updated the question to clarify that I buy a bunch from the stores now, but they sort of struggle buying more than 10 boxes at a time. Its sort of hit-or-miss, which is a tough way for me to run a business. –  ascendlyJJ May 7 '13 at 13:37
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That's indeed important to know, I had no idea you where after this kind of volume (seriously, do you eat them or what?), and most of our answers aren't very useful in light of that - since you knew most of it already. But if even LEGO stores can't help, then I can see why you'd be looking at competitors. On the other hand, such a big volume makes it feasible for third-parties. You may want to check Big Ben Bricks for a start. Or seriously consider buy your own moulding machine (BBB might help you there too I guess) –  Joubarc May 7 '13 at 14:48
    
I haven't tried eating them - sounds grisly. In my classes, each student gets their own kit so they don't have to share. They get a 1.5 litre box of 2x4s, and a 1.5 litre box of 2x2s, which for a class of ~16 kids ends up being about 9,000 bricks. Each simultaneous coach and/or school needs their own set - so it adds up quickly. You can see a picture here: ascendly.com/page/jj-rohrer-ascendlyjj-23 –  ascendlyJJ May 7 '13 at 15:34
    
Maybe you could try to apply to be a LEGO Certified Professional yourself - that would sound logical to me. –  Joubarc May 8 '13 at 4:22

In a recent document about the Pick-A-Brick cups comparisons, there was a segment that caught my eye. (bottom of page 7).

Official LEGO stores also sell a $70 box of a single piece type. This isn’t something they advertise, but you can ask what they have available and they will sell it to you. It’s also called a “K2 box.” Measuring the volume of this box is irrelevant since they are not packed using strategies (as you can discern from the piece count below by comparing 1x1 brick amounts to 1x2 brick amounts, etc.).

You could try contacting local stores and asking if they have any K2 boxes.

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That's probably the best way to go –  Joubarc May 7 '13 at 11:53
    
The boxes are great for, say 5 boxes at a time, but stores have limits on what they are able to get. So, I'm hoping to find a better and more reliable source. –  ascendlyJJ May 7 '13 at 13:51

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