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Over the years, Palmetto Brick created a few hydraulic guillotine cutters and hydraulic pushing units to augment its shapes operation. The company constructed a new building in November 1986 toward the back of the plant and purchased several new pieces of equipment, including a 30E JC Steele mill, an 18H cutter and an 88C clay feeder. This building served as the company's shapes room, and a full-time crew was added to run the shapes department. For several years, this setup was sufficient. But business was good, and it wasn't long before demand outpaced capacity. The company soon started falling behind on its production of shapes.
To increase production, Palmetto modified one of its two Lingl kilns several years ago to allow it to run 32 cars per day, for a total of almost 173,000 brick per day. This pace required the mill to set 40 cars per day, but this created a problem for the shapes department. Both the standard brick production and the shapes department obtained raw materials from the same conveyor belt, using a header board to divert or "plow" the dirt into one operation or the other, and the high production demands virtually stopped all dirt going into the shapes room. The company decided that it needed to rethink the way it was handling production of its shapes.
New EquipmentIn November 1999, the company broke ground on a new facility. It purchased three custom-designed feeders and several conveyor belts from Manufacturers Equipment Co. (MECO) in Middletown, Ohio, and bought another 88C feeder for the clay. It also purchased a JC Steele 50 mill to act as the double pugging system for the shapes room.
The company had learned from experience that inverters would be needed on each feeder to control the cycle speed, so it specified a control panel with four inverters. Each feeder has a separate on/off switch, giving Palmetto the ability to decide which feeders are used at what time.
The electrician wired all of the feeders, conveyors and the 50 mill into existing switches on the 30 mill, so that the mill operator could operate everything from the same station. The company eliminated the need for a feeder operator by installing cameras and a monitor to keep track of its raw materials. It also constructed another platform at its off-bearing belt to provide enough room to set up four pallets for stacking shapes.
New Forming ProcessesWhile new equipment was a big part of the company's strategy, it also realized that it could streamline its production by changing the way it formed its shapes. Instead of making all of its shapes as a solid piece, Palmetto began using center forming sections and dies made with bridges and core holes for some of its more popular shapes. This move increased production by 25%-using the same amount of material and resulting in almost no product losses.
Safety FirstSafety is an important issue at Palmetto Brick. In the shapes feeder room, the company was already using a safety switch on the front of the mill. This switch would automatically shut the mill off if the sheer pin broke to prevent any more damage to equipment or harm to personnel.
A catwalk was built into each mill's concrete foundation to allow safe passage during maintenance work. Steps and handrails were installed to facilitate access to these catwalks. Guard screens were placed around the mills, and each features a door for easy maintenance access. When the door is open or ajar, limit switches attached to the screen's frame prevent the mill from operating. The guard screen around the 50 mill was designed as a large, three-sided apparatus on coasters, enabling the operators to roll the guard screen away and return it with very little effort should additional access for maintenance be required.
The company also strung cables around all of the conveyor belts and attached safety switches; anyone leaning on the conveyor belt will disengage the switch and prevent the belts from starting. Additionally, a catwalk and ladder system was built to facilitate cleaning of the feeders.