BCR: Low-Maintenance Molding

A newly designed special shapes machine promises versatility and significantly reduced maintenance and labor problems for manufacturers of special shapes brick.

The redesigned Lancaster AutoBrik machine.
Soft-mud, sand- and water-struck-molded, Colonial-style building brick have always enjoyed a steady, highly profitable market. However, making molded brick—particularly the special shapes demanded by many of today’s architects—can be a challenge. High labor costs, increased production demands and the potential for worker injury have made hand-molding operations too costly for many brick plants, but the alternative—molding machines that can handle some or all of the forming operation—have traditionally been extremely maintenance- and labor-intensive.

In 1858, Henry Martin, originally from Lancaster, England, introduced the first brick molding machine—powered by a horse. By 1983, when Kercher Industries purchased the Lancaster AutoBrik(R) line, the machine had established a reputation as being rugged and reliable, but its operation tended to be costly and complicated. A single drive powered a series of mechanically timed gears and chains, and the entire system required a great deal of time and skill to maintain. Changing the timing of the machine to reduce or increase production, or to handle a different material or product, required the gears and chains to be manually adjusted by someone with a high level of mechanical knowledge and skill, and a great deal of downtime was often required. Although Kercher made several changes to the AutoBrik line throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the machine’s operation remained strictly mechanical.

Two years ago, Ed Kercher, the company’s president, decided to change that. “We talked to a number of brick manufacturers and discovered that they were having to spend large amounts of time and money on maintenance—both on machine parts and on the mechanical know-how of their maintenance people,” Kercher said. “We wanted to provide the industry with a much simpler machine that wouldn’t require as much skill or as many man-hours to maintain.”

Redesigned from the Inside

To ensure that the redesigned AutoBrik machines would fully meet the needs of brick manufacturers, Kercher decided to obtain the assistance of an engineer who was intimately acquainted with the challenges of making molded brick and special shapes. In 2000, he hired Stan Goglick as manager of Lancaster Products’ Brick Division and gave him the responsibility of redesigning the product line.

“Stan had over 20 years of experience with Glen-Gery—first as plant engineer, then as plant manager—so he was well aware of all the headaches frequently caused by brick machines,” Kercher said.

Led by Goglick, Kercher’s engineering team replaced the system’s single-drive input and mechanical components with hydraulic cylinders and individual motors controlled entirely by a programmable logic controller (PLC). The team also redesigned the sanding area of the machines to prevent workers from being exposed to dust emissions, and they added more automation to the larger machines to alleviate some of the ergonomic issues of manually handling large molds.

In June 2002, Kercher introduced the first of the redesigned Lancaster AutoBrik Machines—the Model 24H special shapes machine. “The hydraulic systems don’t wear as easily as the older mechanical machines, and they have fewer parts, so they require a lot less maintenance. They are also quieter to operate and are much more user-friendly,” Kercher said.

To run the machine, the operator first hits a reset button that causes the machine to automatically reset all of its positions. The operator then places the control in the automatic operation mode. Next, the operator places a mold in the mold sander—a completely enclosed system that prevents the operator from being exposed to any silica dust emissions. The operator then takes the sanded mold out of the sander and places it in the mold inserter, pressing the two palm safety switches that keep him out of harm’s way as the mold is inserted into the machine.

The fully inserted mold then trips a switch that allows the carriage to move forward, pushing the mold under the die. Depending on the requirements of the operation, the machine either single or double presses the mold before moving it into the bumping area, where it’s bumped at a fully programmable level of impact and duration by hydraulic bumpers to release the brick from the mold. The mold is then moved to the mold table and a pallet is placed on top of it. From there the mold is moved to the inverter, where it is placed on another belt with the pallet underneath. Depending on the type of machine, the mold is then either manually lifted off the pallet or is automatically lifted off using a gripping system. The full pallet moves down to the end of the pallet conveyor and is either lifted off manually or automatically put onto the dryer car.

Timing adjustments can be made at the control panel in a matter of seconds, rather than requiring an experienced mechanic and several hours of downtime. Adjustments can also be made “on-the-fly,” providing a high level of flexibility for product and production optimization.

Built for the Brickyard

The semi-automatic small shapes machine can handle up to 1700 brick per hour, while the fully automated system can handle up to 3400 brick per hour. For companies with higher production requirements, larger machines—such as the 30H and the 46H—provide the same benefits at higher production levels (6000 brick per hour and 16,200 brick per hour, respectively).

“We’ve tried to make these new machines as versatile as we can,” Kercher said. “The PLC control and true vertical action of the press enables the machine to perform multiple press box fills and handle multiple presses. They can also fill practically any shape you can think of, and in most cases, they can use the existing molds, including difficult picture-frame molds.”

The first of the new machines was expected to begin production in November at Stiles and Hart Brick Co. in Bridgewater, Mass. Kercher is confident that other installations will follow as word spreads about the machine’s benefits.

“We’ve actually adopted a new slogan with our new equipment—‘Built Brickyard Tough,’” Kercher said. “The Lancaster machines have always been robust pieces of equipment, but we’ve really tailored these new machines to meet the operation and maintenance needs of today’s brickyards.”

For More Information

For more information about the new machines, contact Lancaster Products, Kercher Industries Inc., 920 Mechanic St., Lebanon, PA 17046; (717) 273-2111; fax (717) 273-2967; e-mail info@lancasterprd.com; or visit http://www.lancasterprd.com.

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