Motion Control & Drives


Brickmaking plant boosted by upgrade

March 2022 Motion Control & Drives

A local clay brick manufacturer has upgraded its brickmaking plant with the assistance of drive and control technology specialist, SEW-EURODRIVE. Using advanced digital solutions based on Maxolution for factory automation, a new and optimised plant for making high-quality rustic face bricks has been installed.

The new plant, which is expected to produce 100 million bricks per year, was built on the back of growth in the local construction industry. Following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is seen as a key sector for South Africa’s economic rejuvenation and much needed job creation.

The rustication process used to make these textured face bricks is a masonry technique that involves chamfering the edges of a brick to allow the mortar joints to be set back, while texturing face surfaces using a roughened roller with blades. The process follows the extrusion of the clay to form the cross section required, with the bricks being rusticated on three sides, including the front face and both ends.

The brickmaker’s basic, existing rustication system was resulting in an unacceptable amount of waste. “With the introduction of an automated solution, we were able to reduce wastage significantly, which resulted in the brickmaker placing an order for another three rustication systems for installation at other operations in its portfolio,” says field service technician, Juandre La Cock. Describing how the problem was solved, La Cock explains that to produce consistently patterned surface textures, the client needed to be able to vary the speed of the rustication process, running slower or faster according to the viscosity of the clay. The drive units for the rollers also needed to enable the rustication process to match the line speed of the extruder.

The solution comprised three servo motors with industrial gear units between each to enable the relevant drive speeds to be changed electronically using MOVI-PLC controller software. Automatic synchronisation of the speeds, varied to match the specific clay conditions and texturing requirements, resulted in a continuous operation producing consistently textured high quality bricks.

The automated rustication system was commissioned within a standard delivery time of four to six weeks. The equipment was built in Cape Town and programming took place in Aeroton, Johannesburg. Most of the equipment was pre-commissioned to limit downtime and loss of production, which also reduced on-site commissioning of the system to between two and three days. In addition, the client was supplied with a drive operating panel, which enables users to interface with the MOVI-PLC and change the settings as needed, to change over to a new face brick style, for example. As soon as these settings are saved, the line can again be started to continuously produce the modified bricks.

Primed for service

Most of the equipment installed at the brick manufacturing operation, from gear units to conveyor belts, is supplied by SEW-EURODRIVE. The need for an accelerated turnaround time is vital, as every minute an operation is left standing idle equates to loss of revenue. The company offers extensive aftersales support, such as a 24 hour service hotline, a spare parts service, a repair service and an on-site technician service. Technicians can also log in remotely to assist clients with software problems.

The company’s field service comprises a standby team, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “While we offer telephonic support, if we are unable to resolve a client’s issue over the phone, a technician is on standby throughout the year to assist them on site,” says service HOD, Eben Pretorius.

The rustication project forms part of the company’s Maxolution division for factory automation and machine system solutions, offering a single source of innovative, 4IR-aligned technologies tailored to a client’s specific application and needs. With Maxolution for factory automation, clients can balance the need to keep their options open for the future and react quickly to market requirements. Instead of supplying inflexible systems, such as stationary conveyor systems, the company creates smart factory designs that comprise new flexible and adaptable modular structures.

The company is also directly stimulating the African construction sector by developing its own R200 million smart component assembly factory in Aeroton, over the next three to five years. The new 26 000 m2 building, that will also act as the company’s South African headquarters looking after 23 countries, is scheduled to be occupied early this year.


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