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The Importance of InnovationAccording to Richard Manning, president of Hanson Brick and Tile North America, the brick industry has seen little innovation over the past several decades. “Innovation is more than invention—it’s about the successful exploitation of ideas, and that’s what’s needed if the brick industry is to survive,” Manning said. The soft-mud molding machine, extruder and automated hacking and dehacking were significant innovations for the industry, but they were production-driven rather than being market-led. To increase the use of brick in the building industry, innovation is needed in the way products are marketed and sold. For instance, manufacturers should use the Internet to provide databases and information to architects, and the number of different brick types should be simplified to make buying brick less confusing for the end user. To ensure continuing success, brick manufacturers must make these and other innovations an integral part of their business strategy.
Innovation is a familiar concept for Claypave Pty. Ltd., Brisbane, Australia. According to Claypave’s chairman of the board, John Peile, a trend toward larger pavers over the last five years has forced the company to be creative in its product offerings. Although Claypave’s 9 x 9 in. pavers have become increasingly popular, many consumers are choosing 20 x 20 in. concrete pavers instead because of their larger size. The company installed a new Swindell Dressler tunnel kiln in 2001 to allow it to produce 18 x 9 in. clay pavers, enabling it to better compete in the market for large pavers. Claypave is also investing in Internet marketing to expand its products on a global scale.
Baggeridge Brick plc in West Midlands, England, has also been forced to innovate its product line to remain competitive. According to Alan Baxter, managing director of Baggeridge Brick, the increasing use of “system building” in Europe has made brick an unattractive option because it requires so much time and labor to install. To overcome this challenge, Baggeridge Brick launched a natural clay cladding system called Corium® in September 2001 that combines the aesthetic beauty of traditional brickwork with the construction benefits of a fast-track cladding system. The system comprises profiled brick tiles that lock into plastic-coated steel backing sections, and the finished sections can be fixed to a range of sub-structures, including timber, steel, concrete and traditional masonry (for refurbishment applications). The product allows brickwork elevations to be completed faster—independent analysis has shown that designing with Corium can help cut cladding build programs by up to one third compared to conventional brick installations. According to Baxter, the resulting brickwork also tends to look better than conventionally mortared brick walls.
Manufacturing SolutionsAccording to John Snell, principal of Risk Management Inc., Chicago, Ill., natural gas is the most volatile commodity traded today, and this volatility will not go away. In 2003, gas demand is expected to grow 2.8% as the economy recovers across all sectors, and this increase in demand will likely lead to lower prices. However, the possibility of war with Iraq and the severity and length of the winter season could drive prices higher. Snell advised that companies should be reactive rather than proactive in purchasing natural gas. “Buy under budget, buy to protect against major price increases, buy lower than the competition and buy as low as possible. When gas prices are low, that’s the time to think ahead,” Snell said.
At Pine Hall Brick Co.’s Plant 5 in Madison, N.C., it was the burners rather than the natural gas supply that were creating problems with the consistency of the company’s pavers. According to Pine Hall’s Steven Knisley, the company was operating two pulse-fired Harrop kilns with SLNG Hauck burners. When the “salt and pepper” (white) tips on the burners began to oxidize, the company replaced them with new silicon carbide tips, but the burners began to fail in part of the kiln soon after the tips had been replaced. The company discovered that the replacement tips were too small (-12) for the -15 burners. It installed larger tips and immediately began producing a more consistent product.
For Cunningham Brick Co. in Grover, N.C., a hydraulic “Effie”-type setting machine was preventing the company from increasing its efficiencies in product changeovers. The plant produces 18 different colors of brick in eight different sizes with four different textures. Limit switches were everywhere, and they all had to be manually moved for every size change. According to Greg Grabert, Cunningham Brick’s technical services manager, the company replaced the hydraulics with electricity and added a programmable logic controller with a touch-screen monitor. Now product changeovers are done much more quickly at the push of a button.
New PlantsRedland Brick Inc.’s new plant in Harmar Township (Cheswick), Pa., began operation in July 2001 and was running at 85% of capacity by October 2002. The plant was designed to produce 60 million standard brick equivalents (SBE) with a 99%+ recovery rate. Its grinding plant, designed and built by the German company Handle, features Stedman Mega Slam™ and Grand Slam™ impactors, a Handle double shaft mixer, two Handle excavators, and a Handle extruder. The company’s batching system was designed by Ingredient Masters, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and its texturing and coating operations were designed by Hallamshire, based in the UK. The company chose Ceric to design and build systems for cutting, setting, firing, drying and unloading its brick, and it commissioned Procedair to provide a dry lime injection scrubber for kiln emissions. The entire project was managed by Middletown, Ohio-based MECO. According to plant manager John Vrobel, the new plant has met the company’s expectations, and the scrubber works even better than expected.
Boral Bricks’ new clay paver plant in Augusta, Ga., was a revamp of an older Keller plant. It features two new 16-car dryers and a Keller kiln modified by Swindell Dressler. According to Charlie McNeil, Boral’s vice president of manufacturing, Swindell Dressler moved the burners from the crown to the sidewalls to increase firing efficiency and also added a new deck to the old Keller kiln cars to facilitate under-car firing. Other equipment in the plant includes a J.C. Steele 75 extruder, robots and an automated dehacker from J C Smale & Co., kiln car handling equipment from Swindell Dressler and a dry lime injection scrubber from Procedair. The plant runs seven days per week with one shift per day and 20 employees.
A renovation of Acme Brick Co.’s 50-year-old Kanopolis, Kan., plant enabled the facility to increase production to 30 million brick per year. A Torit Model DFT2-12 downflow dust collection system designed by Kirk & Blum helps ensure that the air in the plant remains dust-free. A Hauck pulse firing system was installed in 1999, along with Kromschroder solenoid butterfly valves to facilitate pulsing. According to Tony Neeves, Acme Brick’s Midwest regional production manager, the changes have enabled the plant to reduce both product losses and fuel consumption.
Environment, Health and SafetyAccording to Mary Ann Keon, environmental, health and safety manager for Boral Bricks, behavior-based safety is the key to preventing accidents because it focuses on at-risk behaviors before they become accidents. Companies should identify critical behaviors, gather data about potential problems by observing employees, provide feedback to employees exhibiting at-risk behaviors, and finally remove any barriers that might be preventing employees from safely performing their tasks. However, Keon cautioned that behavior-based safety is a process—not a program—that must be driven by the employees.
With the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule looming, a number of companies are beginning to investigate scrubbers. Brick & Tile of Lawrenceville in Lawrenceville, Va., recently ran a pilot test of CECO Filters’ Catenary Grid wet scrubber. According to Leon Williams, senior vice president of production, the system was able to achieve > 95% removal efficiencies of both hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen chloride, and it efficiently scrubbed gases and filtered out particulate without requiring frequent flushing. However, the amount of water required to operate the system, as well as the resulting wastewater, could pose a problem for some companies. Williams cautioned that “one size won’t fit all” when it comes to scrubbers—every plant will have its own conditions and requirements, and companies should carefully investigate all of the available options.
Other Manufacturing IssuesAccording to John S. Steele of J.C. Steele & Sons, Inc., the Steele 90 extruder became 40 years old in March 2002. The company has sold 226 of these models since 1953, with 26 going to plants in North Carolina, 18 to Georgia and 12 to Texas. In all, the 90 extruder is currently operating in 28 U.S. states and 17 countries.
A number of additives can be used to improve extrusion, increase green strength and reduce shrinkage. According to Stu Weller of Hanson Brick, Columbia, S.C., the type of additive used depends on a specific plant’s material and process. Hanson Brick uses soda ash, lignosulfonate and protein colloids at its various plants, depending on the conditions and economics, and all three provide benefits.
Other topics discussed at the forum included the use of preheated combustion air to reduce fuel consumption, the importance of preventative maintenance in maximizing the life of grinding equipment, and the benefits of leasing versus buying manufacturing equipment.
Editor’s note: The 49th International Brick Plant Operator’s Forum will be held September 29-October 1, 2003, at the Littlejohn Coliseum on the Clemson University campus in Clemson, S.C. For more information about the forum or to purchase videotapes of the 2002 presentations, contact Dr. Denis A. Brosnan, program chairman, National Brick Research Center, P.O. Box 613, Pendleton, SC 29670; (864) 656-1094; fax (864) 656-1095; e-mail brick@Clemson.edu; or visit http://www.brickandtile.org.