Ceramic Industry

SPECIAL SECTION/BRICK & CLAY RECORD: Automated Strapping Solutions

November 1, 2007


To remain competitive, manufacturers and sellers must get products to market quickly and efficiently while maintaining the highest possible quality levels. Competition also plays a key role in perpetuating cycles of change that require constant product innovations and improvements. In order to increase market share in the highly competitive construction market, brick producers are offering a more comprehensive product line and constantly improving their production output.

To do so, the brick industry has undergone a rapid move to automation over the last seven to 10 years. The trend toward automation has allowed brick producers to meet greater market demands while paving the way for a more comprehensive product line, which includes different sizes, textures and colors of brick products.

Automation Benefits

To stay competitive with block, vinyl and stucco producers, brick plants nationwide are undergoing major overhauls and renovations to incorporate newer automated systems and processes that are more labor- and cost-effective. From the gradual elimination of monorails to the addition of auto dehackers and robotics, brick plants are using automation as a primary means to improve market share within the industry.

As such, equipment suppliers must continue to satisfy the changing needs of brick manufacturers. They must develop new application equipment with the goal of reducing operating costs and keeping production lines running at full capacity. Their product lines must marry quality with speed, yet accommodate a constantly changing manufacturing environment. In addition, their equipment has to be easy to integrate into a production line without causing extensive down time.

Comprehensive protective packaging products supply advanced production efficiency and simplify storage, handling and transportation. With the potential for damage and handling difficulties in transit, proper packaging is essential to getting brick products safely to their destination. Protective packaging products for the brick industry include automatic strapping systems, polyester strap and edge protection products.

Automatic strapping systems lend themselves to the automated environment by providing speed, efficiency and reliability in the packaging production line. One of the first automated strapping systems to replace the labor-intensive method of securing brick loads with hand tools was introduced in the ’90s,* and a new system has recently been developed.** The two strapping machines use the same type of strap and offer many of the same production features, such as high tension and speed. However, the new unit was specifically designed in response to the industry’s need for strapping equipment that provides even higher tension, increased throughput and easy maintenance.

*The MHT-80, manufactured by Signode Corp.
**The Z-20, manufactured by Signode Corp.

An Innovative System

A focus on customer-driven development aided engineers in designing the latest strapping system. Brick manufacturers needed a system that not only provided higher tension levels to better secure brick cubes, but also faster throughput to keep up with changing production standards. In addition, customers wanted a system that lowered maintenance costs and reduced the downtime that would be associated with routine maintenance.

Taking into consideration a brick plant’s harsh environment, engineers designed a modular strapping system that provides the highest possible tension with the least amount of maintenance. The modular system separates the traditional strapping head into two components, a sealer module and a feeder module, each weighing less than 60 lbs. As a result, routine service now takes just two minutes, as opposed to the previous 30-minute process.

The system also incorporates a number of features that limit production downtime. Fully integrated troubleshooting displays and error codes help to identify any problems that may occur with the equipment.  An operator interface displays strap cycle counts for production tracking and preventative maintenance. The system also requires no warm-up time and can accommodate varying production runs, including half-packs and full packs, without making system adjustments. The end result is an innovative strapping system that provides better production efficiency and maximum uptime.

Ideally suited to the new automated plants, the strapping system can be used in a dual strapping station configuration. The two systems, used side-by-side, produce higher packaging speeds with faster cycle rates and less downtime. The addition of a second strapping system to the packaging line also eliminates any production backups if one of the machines requires maintenance, routine or otherwise.

To complement these innovations, a proprietary high-strength polyester strap has been formulated specifically for the brick industry.+ The strapping, which is ideally suited for settling brick loads, has excellent elongation and recovery characteristics, and stays tight for maximum package integrity.

+High-Strength Tenax, manufactured by Signode Corp.

Successful Relationships

Equipment for brick manufacturing must address the industry’s demanding needs, but it must also be integrated quickly and efficiently without sacrificing crucial production time. Suppliers to the industry should assist in the transition by supervising the installation of their equipment to ensure a smooth, trouble-free startup. Machine maintenance contracts and regular scheduled overhaul programs should also be in place to keep packaging lines running smoothly.

Responding to the brick industry’s changing needs, equipment manufacturers continue to create new application equipment with the goals of reducing operating costs and maximizing production efficiency and output. To be successful, these suppliers should have a dedicated team in place to address the needs of the industry and to develop the product and equipment solutions that help brick manufacturers remain competitive in a changing marketplace.

For more information regarding automation options for the brick industry, contact Signode Brick Industry Systems, 604 Green Valley Rd., Ste. 300, Greensboro, NC 27408; (877) 744-2742; fax (336) 632-8726; e-mail dduke@signode-ips.com; or visit www.signode.com.

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