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.
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.
“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.”
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.