BCR: Adding Value with Machine-Molded Brick

May 1, 2003
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Companies such as Acme Brick are using machine molding technology to achieve efficient production of "handmade" brick.

Acme's machine-molded Hubert Brick line is extremely popular for residential construction projects. Photo by Britt Stokes, courtesy of Acme Brick Co.
Handmade brick are increasing in popularity among builders and consumers. In fact, some communities, such as the New Albany development in central Ohio, have even begun issuing deed restrictions permitting only handmade brick structures.1 While this trend is good news for the brick market, it presents a challenge to brick manufacturers who have been trying to phase out expensive manual labor in favor of highly automated production lines. How can companies meet the growing demand for handmade brick while minimizing their production costs?

For companies such as Acme Brick, machine molding has proven to be an ideal solution. In 1999, the company built a new plant in Elgin, Texas, specifically for the production of a new molded brick line called Hubert Brick. But hand molding wasn’t even a consideration.

“Acme Brick has been automating anywhere it’s possible to automate so that we can become more productive and more competitive,” explains Jim Kreuger, Elgin plant manager. “Since the entire Elgin plant was going to be highly automated, the company wanted the molding operation to be automated as well.”

After researching its options, Acme Brick selected a mold chain press with Hubert fillerheads from Machinefabriek De Boer B.V. “We selected the De Boer machine because we believed it was the premier molding machine in the world. The brick made on this machine very closely resemble hand-molded brick, and we felt confident that this machine would help us cost-effectively fill this new market niche,” Krueger says.

The brick produced on the mold chain press closely resemble handmade brick. Photo courtesy of Acme Brick Co.

Learning to Use a Molding Machine

In the Elgin plant, which was built by Lingl, the clay moves through two single-shaft clay mixers and is transported on wet clay conveyors to the mold chain press. The press features eight Hubert fillerheads and is capable of producing up to 24,000 soft mud molded or Old Colonial face brick per hour. A dry and wet sanding unit and dust extraction system supplied by Daanen B.V. allow the molded brick to be sanded in a dust-free environment.

With its automatic operation and electronic, PLC-controlled drive motors, the mold chain press is designed to be user-friendly. Only one or two operators are required to oversee the machine’s operation. But for companies that have primarily manufactured extruded brick, mastering the molding machine can be a unique challenge.

“Acme had never made a molded brick before, so this was a brand new concept and product line for us,” explains Krueger. “The clays we were using were new and were somewhat different from extrusion clays, so we had to learn how to make a good brick and vary the colors properly to get the blends we needed. It also took some time for us to learn how to operate the machine properly. As a result, we went through a lot of ‘trial and error’ when we first started production.”

De Boer’s service personnel remained at the plant for several months after the initial startup of the machine to train employees and to help the plant perfect the machine molding process. “We started out making just a few brick per day and slowly increased our production,” Krueger explains.

Within a year, however, the plant was running at full capacity. “The machine works very well for making a ‘hand-molded’ brick. It has provided both the quality and productivity levels we were looking for,” Krueger says.

The mold chain press is designed to fit into an automated production line. Illustration courtesy of Machinefabriek De Boer B.V.

Enjoying Strong Sales

According to Krueger, Acme Brick has seen demand for its molded Hubert Brick steadily increase since the product was first introduced. Today, the Elgin plant continues to run at full capacity, producing about 69 million standard brick equivalent of the Hubert Brick per year, and Krueger doesn’t see demand slowing anytime soon.

“Ever since we opened the plant in early 2000, we’ve been able to sell whatever we’ve made, and ‘handmade’ brick continue to be popular,” Krueger says. “When you’re getting into anything new like this, you have to understand that there’s going to be a pretty long learning curve. But if you’re looking at making a hand-molded product with a minimum amount of labor, using an automated molding machine is definitely the best way to achieve those goals.”

Reference:

1. Massey, T.R., “Handmade Bricks,” Columbus Monthly, July 2002, pp. 51-55.

For more information:

For more information about the mold chain press, contact Machinefabriek De Boer B.V., Koopvaardijweg 2 – 6541 BS Nijmegen, The Netherlands; (31) 24-377-2233; fax (31) 24-378-3924; e-mail info@deboermachines.nl; or visit http://www.deboermachines.nl. MECO is the North American agent for Machinefabriek De Boer and can be reached at 35 Enterprise Dr., Middletown, OH 45044; (800) 642-6326; fax (513) 424-3576; e-mail info@meco-cesg.com; http://www.meco-cesg.com.

For more information about Acme Brick Co., contact the company at P.O. Box 425, Fort Worth, TX 76101-0425; (800) 792-1234 or (817) 332 4101; fax (817) 390-2404; or visit http://www.acmebrick.com.

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