Witbank brick producer Tor Bricks is operating at full capacity to satisfy continued strong demand for its high-quality clay face bricks.
Considering the recent closure of rival brick makers, together with the mothballing of several other brick factories across South Africa, Tor Bricks' success could be seen as an indication of the efficiency with which the plant is operated. "We produce about 30 million bricks a year," Factory Manager Johan Humphries reports. "I believe the current strong demand for our bricks stems from our consistent quality, together with competitive pricing. We have achieved this ideal combination of quality and affordability by putting together a lean operation - based on outsourcing and contract-labour - and implementing an Adroit supervisory control and data acquisition (scada) system to ensure state-of-the-art process control," he says. With a remote user interface in his office, Humphries is able to access and assess the status of production in realtime, as well as read reports generated by the scada directly into MS Excell every 15 min over a LAN network.
By utilising Adroit's trending capabilities it is also possible to identify irregularities before they become disasters. In a process where the colour and identity of a batch of bricks depends on the time it spends in the oven and the temperature applied during that time, it is crucial for Kiln Manager (Lucas Venter) to rely on Adroit's monitoring of heat, airflow, batch tracking and the feed rate of fuel into the furnaces.
"Temperature and duration of heat treatment plays a determining role in our end products," says Chief Electrician Andre Robbetze. "Typically it takes a batch of bricks 37,5 h to complete this cycle, with temperatures of up to 1220°C being applied." A Modicon programmable logic controller (PLC) is used to obtain information from instruments such as the weighfeeders and supply this to the scada for processing. Consistent production parameters are ensured by downloading set recipes containing information regarding ingredients, heat treatment and other integral aspects needed to produce bricks of a certain identity.
The scada system also brings higher levels of accuracy to the whole process by precisely controlling parameters according to pre-set, set points. "It was important for us to install Adroit as it is South Africa's only locally developed scada, and we require fast, reliable on-site support," says Robbetze. "In addition, it has enabled us to optimise fuel consumption and minimise overall wastage. "On top of that comes advantages inherent in scada systems such as preventative maintenance and alarming, to name but a few. "The whole production process is now controlled by one person." With at least another 20 years of clay in its on-site quarry, Tor Bricks is confident that it has laid the foundation for a strong future.
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