BCR: Increasing Efficiencies Through Machine Modifications

November 1, 2001
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As Kentwood Brick & Tile Manufacturing has learned, even small changes can have a big effect on production efficiencies.

Seavy Clemons, secretary and treasurer of Kentwood Brick & Tile Manufacturing.
Once the mainstay of the brick and structural clay industry, family-owned businesses are becoming harder and harder to find. Pressure from larger, multi-national corporations has forced many small companies to merge with their larger counterparts, and those businesses that have resisted the pull have faced a number of challenges over the past several years as energy prices and environmental regulations have increased.

But running a family-owned business also has its rewards. Just ask Seavy Clemons, secretary and treasurer of Kentwood Brick & Tile Manufacturing, in Kentwood, La. The company, which was established by Seavy’s grandfather, Guy Clemons, in 1967 and handed down to Seavy’s father, Don Clemens, in 1992, has seen continued growth over the past 34 years. The company manufactures 50 million modular, queen- and king-size brick per year, primarily for residential applications, and ships its brick to numerous locations throughout the U.S.

The key to the company’s success, Seavy says, has been its business strategy. “My grandfather had a certain way of running the business, and my dad is the same way,” Seavy says. “We watch our money, we only buy what we absolutely need, and we try to stay as efficient as we can.”

The new Midwestern MEV screen features electric screen heating on both decks.

Increasing Screen Throughput

While Kentwood Brick & Tile might not operate the latest and greatest in robotic technology, it has made a number of modifications to its manufacturing facility to both minimize costs and maximize production levels. Two years ago, for instance, the company replaced its two 4 x 6-ft single-deck screens with one 5 x 10-ft double-deck MEV 510-2 screen from Midwestern Industries in an effort to increase material throughput and reduce hammer mill wear.

“Our brick body is a wet clay, with grog and sawdust mixed in. With our old 4 x 8-ft screens, a lot of the material wasn’t going through the screen. Instead, it was being recirculated back through the hammer mill, causing wear on the machinery and increasing the amount of time we had to run the hammer mill to get enough material into production,” Seavy says. With the new rectangular vibrating screen, which features electric screen heating on both decks, more fines get through the first time around, enabling the company to increase production by about 15%.

Maintenance costs are also lower. “We have only changed the screens once since start-up, and they were easy to change—it didn’t take very long. Other than the screen change, the only other maintenance has been to occasionally grease the bearings,” Seavy says.

Extrusion and Firing Modifications

Over the past several years, the company has also replaced its 75 extruder with a JC Steele 90, and just this past year it upgraded its kiln with computer technology.

“The 75 extruder was doing a good job, but we had to run it as hard as we could to keep our production levels where they needed to be. We switched to the 90 about three years ago, and that enabled us to increase production without putting a strain on the equipment. Where we were running a nine-hour shift before, with a number of problems, we’re now running about 71⁄2 hours without any problems,” Seavy says.

According to Seavy, the updates to the company’s Allied tunnel kiln have reduced both fuel consumption and product losses. “A few years ago we added a Dell computer system to the kiln and adjusted some airflows to control the kiln a little better. Product quality has increased significantly. The fuel savings have been harder to measure since gas prices have been increasing over the past few years, but we’re still spending about the same amount on fuel as we were five years ago,” he says. And that’s quite an achievement considering that many companies have seen their fuel costs double and even triple within the past year.

Future Improvements

Part of a successful business strategy includes constantly evaluating not just current needs, but also future requirements. In August 2001, Kentwood Brick & Tile purchased a 5 x 10-ft Midwestern MEV triple-deck screen, which it plans to install in December 2001 in place of its remaining single-deck screen.

“Once we install the triple-deck screen, we should be able to save a significant amount of time in our grinding operation. I anticipate that we’ll be able to get 80-90% of the fines through the screens and into production, rather than going back to the hammer mill,” Seavy says. “Right now, while we’re in production, the hammer mill is constantly running. What we’re hoping to be able to do is screen enough through so that the hammer mill can work half the time.”

The company is also considering installing an automatic dehacker. “It’s hard to find people who want to do that type of hard, manual labor,” Seavy says. “We’re still evaluating the options, but we’re definitely leaning in that direction. Right now we’re running two monorails that have 16 men on them. With an automatic dehacker, we could cut that down to about two or three men. The investment would pay for itself after just a few years.”

According to Seavy, these improvements are all made easier because the business is family-owned. “Being a family-owned business gives us an advantage because it’s easier to accomplish things. No one has to put in a request form or consult with a board of directors to get something done. If something needs to be fixed or needs to be ordered, the employees tell me what they need, and I take care of it right away,” Seavy says.

For More Information

For more information about the Midwestern MEV screens, contact Midwestern Industries, Inc., P.O. Box 810, Massillon, OH 44648-0810; (330) 837-4203; fax (330) 837-4210; e-mail info@midwesternind.com; or visit www.midwesternind.com.

For more information about the J.C. Steele 90 extruder, contact J.C. Steele & Sons, Inc., P.O. Box 1834, Statesville, NC 28687; (704) 878-3681; fax (704) 878-0789; e-mail info@jcsteele.com; or visit www.jcsteele.com.

For more information about Kentwood Brick & Tile Manufacturing, contact the company at Highway 51 South, Box 990, Kentwood, LA 70444; (985) 229-7112; fax (985) 229-3054.

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