Brick & Clay Record: The Bigger the Better

February 28, 2006
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Palmetto Brick is no stranger to innovation. Founded in 1919, the company has seen decades of growth as manufacturing processes have improved and consumer preferences have evolved. Palmetto's dedication to providing its customers with innovative, high-quality brick products continues, and toward that end, the company recently built a new $28 million plant at its existing site in Cheraw, S.C., to expand its product offering.
According to Andy Rogers, vice president, Sales and Marketing, and the company's fourth generation of family leadership, commercial projects are increasingly using large-sized brick. "Commercial brick comes in large sizes; we call it a utility size," he says. "You don't really recognize it from the highway, but most schools and hospitals prefer to use big brick due to the savings in labor [that are realized during construction]."

Palmetto Brick's completely automated process includes this brick pack unloader.


Palmetto Brick is no stranger to innovation. Founded in 1919, the company has seen decades of growth as manufacturing processes have improved and consumer preferences have evolved. Palmetto's dedication to providing its customers with innovative, high-quality brick products continues, and toward that end, the company recently built a new $28 million plant at its existing site in Cheraw, S.C., to expand its product offering.

According to Andy Rogers, vice president, Sales and Marketing, and the company's fourth generation of family leadership, commercial projects are increasingly using large-sized brick. "Commercial brick comes in large sizes; we call it a utility size," he says. "You don't really recognize it from the highway, but most schools and hospitals prefer to use big brick due to the savings in labor [that are realized during construction]."



Palmetto Brick's new dehacker.

Taking the Plunge

While Palmetto's two existing plants in Cheraw were operating just fine, they weren't designed to handle the larger sizes of brick that the company wanted to begin manufacturing. (With 280,000 combined square feet, those plants now focus entirely on making about 90 million brick per year specifically for residential applications.) "The utility is a higher-specification brick that needs to be offered in different sizes, whereas residential brick are all about the same size," explains Rogers. Palmetto spent about seven years in the planning stages for the new facility. Raw materials were stockpiled, permits were obtained and, perhaps more importantly, kiln manufacturers were evaluated before Palmetto settled on Lingl.

"We interviewed [several prospects] and we talked with a lot of people," says Rogers. "We went with Lingl because their engineering seemed outstanding." Lingl provided the plant's new tunnel kiln, in addition to handling the design and installation of the entire plant. From site prep to finished plant, construction of the new 117,000-square-foot facility took about a year.



Palmetto Brick's new automatic setting machine.

Advanced Processing

The new plant incorporates many high-tech innovations. The cutter system from Lingl enables Palmetto to ease, or cushion, every edge of the brick-including the bottom. Even when separated by paper, stacked brick with jagged edges can cause chipping on other brick in the stack. The new cutter system virtually eliminates those jagged edges, resulting in very few chips. "There are only one or two cutter systems like the one we're using in the world," says Rogers. "We're able to ease every edge and make a brick that reaches the job site with just about no chips. We've probably had 20-25 guests from around the world come to look at it."

The packaging process is also state of the art. In addition to stacking and unstacking, Fanuc robots actually package the brick as well. The entire process is completely automated. "Brick used to be touched one time by human hands before they got to the job site, and that was at the packaging stage. Now that we can automatically package them, they're not touched until the brick mason receives them. This system allows us to avoid one of the most expensive parts of manufacturing," Rogers says.

The tunnel kiln itself is no slouch, either. Designed wider than normal and with a lower setting pattern, the kiln allows for slightly fewer brick to be stacked on the kiln car. "It's easier to regulate the temperature from the top to the bottom of the car," explains Rogers. "Therefore, the brick are all getting the same heat treatment. They all shrink the same amounts, and they're all coming out just about identical. The dimensional tolerances are extremely tight." The kiln runs 24/7 and will fire about 60 million brick per year.



The Big Time

With a new plant, 150 employees and the capacity to produce 150 million total brick per year, Palmetto Brick is poised for big things. "All our distributors are excited because we're filling a niche that they didn't have before," says Rogers. "We are going after the big brick market, and the commercial market overall."

For more information about Palmetto Brick, contact the company at P.O. Box 430, Cheraw, SC 29520; (800) 922-4423, e-mail arogers@palmettobrick.com; or visit www.palmettobrick.com.

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