The Lego Lab

An automotive factory floor using Lego cars

By Sally Credille, College of Engineering



Lego sculptures have entered our shared cultural experience, whether they are created by a 3-year-old building his first space ship, or a serious artist using millions of blocks to create a one-of-a-kind installation on a grand scale.

At Auburn University, Legos are being used to design and build vehicles, with a twist – they can be produced at a rate of 70 cars per hour in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering's new automotive manufacturing systems laboratory, located on the ground floor of the Shelby Center.

Students in the lab build three types of Lego vehicles: a 278-piece speedster, 254-piece SUV and 231-piece Baja car. The process requires 18 students, 15 for assembly operations and three for material delivery.

"It is the only manufacturing lab of its kind in the country," said Tom Devall, director of automotive initiatives in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. "The lab emulates an automotive assembly plant and is designed to support operations at a high volume, similar to automotive manufacturers such as Toyota and Honda."

The lab offers industrial and systems engineering students the opportunity to simulate real-life manufacturing operations, requiring them to understand the interdependence of all elements, from material receipt to delivery.

By including equipment such as robotics, programmable logic controlled conveyors, electronic vision inspection and auto storage and retrieval for raw stock inventory, Devall can train students to program systems and learn the preventative and predictive maintenance they require.

"We have installed all of the best manufacturing practices to provide students experiential learning," Devall said. "We are modeling the Toyota production system, or lean manufacturing, which has transformed the global auto industry. Our students will be well versed in these tools and systems, better preparing them for jobs in the automotive manufacturing industry."

Students must determine optimal inventory requirements, work in process and final assembly for the production line while using a material pull system based on demand. They also look at error-proofing strategies, as well as training and safety plans.

"The lab could become a blueprint for a larger regional initiative and network involving K-12 schools, two-year colleges and four-year universities, as well as industry and government, which would support a manufacturing culture and attract future business to the state," Devall said. "If we are as successful as we believe we can be, the lab could be duplicated across the region."

Last Updated: Apr. 12, 2012

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