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Fortunately, continued advances in packaging materials and systems are making high-quality, reliable packaging achievable for today's brick and block manufacturers.
A Plastic ApproachThe introduction of high-strength plastic (polyester) strapping in 1996 revolutionized the way brick and block were packaged. At the time, steel was the most commonly used strapping material. However, the inability of steel to maintain its original tension on settling loads resulted in loose straps; unstable, toppling loads; and damaged products. The introduction of polyester strapping, with its excellent elongation and recovery characteristics, helped to keep straps tight and absorb impacts for maximum package integrity. Polyester not only improved brick packaging efficiency, but it also reduced material costs (polyester is less expensive than steel) and enhanced customer satisfaction. Today, polyester strapping is the preferred material for brick strapping. It is recyclable, more reliable and safer to handle than steel, and it doesn't rust when exposed to outdoor elements over time.
More recently, polyester strapping materials have been reformulated for the brick industry to include proprietary additives that provide a number of improvements. For example, improved strapping provides higher ultraviolet (UV) protection to minimize UV degradation for packages exposed to long-term outdoor storage, and it retains its original gauge when tensioned to decrease breaking and splitting. The improved strapping also decreases strap debris during the tensioning and welding process to reduce equipment wear, improves weld strengths, and provides less deviation between welds to increase overall reliability.
A Low-Maintenance SolutionIn addition to improved strapping materials, suppliers are working to create new application equipment to reduce operation and maintenance costs for brick manufacturers. Regular maintenance is key to efficient operation with any production equipment, but it is even more crucial for machines in the brick and block industry because of the large quantities of product debris that accumulate during the production process and the high tension levels required to secure packages. However, maintenance must be quick and easy to ensure a minimal loss of production time.
The latest strapping system designs have fewer wear parts and use modular strapping heads, which can dramatically reduce the maintenance time on brick packaging equipment. The modular strapping system breaks the traditional strapping head into two components-a sealing module and a tensioning module. These two components, which weigh less than 60 lbs each, are easier to access within the strapping system and can be removed in seconds. By keeping spare tensioning and sealing modules on hand for routine maintenance, plant operators can reduce production downtime for each change-out to less than a few minutes, which can significantly improve productivity.
The modular concept also makes maintenance easier and safer for employees. Conventional top-mounted strapping heads, which often weighed in excess of 300 lbs, required several men and special handling equipment for extraction. Operators had to climb on top of the machine to access the strapping head, which caused safety concerns in addition to lost production time. With the new system, operators can now access all of the necessary strapping head components without the use of heavy equipment and without having to climb on top of the machine.
The latest strapping machines also feature a narrower design, which allows for the heads to be mounted side-by-side. Up to five straps can be applied simultaneously to reduce the cycle time for each brick cube. New systems can also accommodate special production runs without strapping head adjustments, allowing manufacturers to interchange regular brick packs and half packs during production runs without changing or adjusting the packaging system. Some machines also put the strap joint on the side of the cube to prevent joint breakage when sliding one cube across the top of another.
Continued ImprovementsAs the brick and block industry continues to evolve by creating new products to satisfy the ever-changing marketplace, manufacturers will seek ever-more efficient and reliable means of ensuring that their products get to their final destinations in the same condition they left the plant. Recognizing the higher demands and changing needs of brick manufacturers, protective packaging suppliers continue to redefine their products and services to maximize efficiency, minimize downtime and help give manufacturers a competitive edge.
Editor's note: All of the innovations described in this article are supplied by Signode Brick Industry Systems, Greensboro, N.C.
For more information about strapping materials and equipment, contact Signode Brick Industry Systems, 604 Green Valley Rd., Ste. 300, Greensboro, NC 27408; (877) 744-2742; fax (336) 632-8726; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.signode.com.