The 57th Clemson Brick Forum: „Back to the Basics“

The motto of this year‘s Clemson Brick Forum was “Back to the Basics“. The program included a new item called Forum Bingo. At most vendors‘ booths, brick people could present their Bingo cards and, hopefully, get all sixteen squares stamped (by separate vendors, of course) while gathering information about the suppliers‘ profferings. The obvious purpose was to get vendors and brickmakers closer together. The technical program encompassed the entire spectrum of brick and tile manufacturing, up to and including on-site applications.

1 Introduction

Professor Denis Brosnan, the program‘s director, welcomed around 400 attendees to this year‘s forum at the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center.

Sunday evening was the first opportunity to visit the exhibit hall and see what the suppliers brought along in the way of new products and innovations and to have some initial talks with colleagues. Like last year, lunch and dinner were served directly at the exhibit hall, so everything was concentrated at one central location.

In his opening address “Brick‘s future in the crystal ball“, Brosnan recapitulated the forum‘s past history. It all started back in 1955 in Clemson (or, alternatively, Raleigh) with admission costing $35. The famous steak cookout was instituted in 1959. The Ramada Inn, the Conference Center at Clemson University and the Sheraton Greensboro have all served as forum venues. Since 2008, though, the forum has been taking place at the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center. New this year: Forum Bingo.

Denis Brosnan thanked J.C. Steele for the company‘s long-standing loyalty to the forum and for holding the reception as a kickoff for the steak cookout.

Harold Newman, of Pine Hall Brick, an inveterate “teacher and preacher“ of the American brick making community, received an official send-off as a fledging retiree. Newman also took this year‘s “Best Speaker Award“.


2 Topics

Acme Brick CEO Dennis Knautz presented this year‘s keynote paper entitled “NBRC-BIA – Alphabet Soup or Something More?“ It is a vicious circle, he said, when high unemployment means more people have no money and cannot build new homes. The number of “For Sale“ signs has increased sharply in recent years. While approximately two million homes were put up for sale each year between 1999 and 2001, that figure rose to around 4 million by 2007, and even now, in 2011, we are still looking at more than 3.5 million. It used to be that between 1.4 and 1.6 million new homes were built in a “normal“ year, but between 2009 and 2011, that number was down to 500 000. In addition, competitive construction materials like natural stone, concrete, glass and metal are complicating the problem. Knautz expects the long-term market share of heavy clay products to range between 15% and 25%. Wooden homes are on the downturn. In 1985, frame construction was still accounting for over 40% of all new homes, but only between 5 and 10% in 2009. Hence, Knautz‘ conclusion that the brick and tile industry just has to stay strong, because the market is bound to come back sometime. The BIA (Brick Industry Association) and the NBRC (National Brick Research Center), for example, could engage in suitable joint marketing activities to help promote clay-based products.


2.1 Up to the extruder

Such was the focus of the first round of papers. Bobby Harris, Acme Brick, spoke on “Mining and exploration“. Exploration, he said, should always keep in mind what kind of raw materials are needed for production. Any search for new raw materials should also draw on external research findings from universities, research institutions, etc. He proposes a five-year plan as the minimum scope of long-term stratagems. Since the starting material can make or break the finished product, everything from laboratory experiments to production testing at the factory is needed to secure the targeted quality.

This year‘s “Best Speaker“, Harold Newman of Pine Hall Brick, reported on uncomplicated methods of analyzing and characterizing raw materials directly at the plant. The lime test, for example, detects a proneness toward efflorescence, drying sensitivity and susceptibility to cracking. Laboratories like the NBRC‘s perform more in-depth investigations. Newman urged his listeners to configure production plants according to raw material characteristics. He also talked about recyclable residues and their evaluation options, pros and cons, and effects on bricks.

Bill Daidone, also representing Acme Brick, told how to get the most reliable results from raw material analysis. First, of course, the delivered specimens and their numbering have to be checked. Then comes drying, followed by comminution, preparation for analysis and laboratory testing, and specimen processing. He recommended a number of analytical methods for raw materials, including DTA/TG analysis, mineral analysis and sulphur/carbon analyses.

David Denison, Stark RFID, presented an interactive “Shipping Kiosk“, i.e., a computer system for things like shipping clay.

“Size reduction – Now and in the Future“ was the subject of Chris Nawalaniec‘s and John Hewitt‘s contribution. Nawalaniec, of Stedman, surveyed the state of the art and diverse methods of comminution (impact, shear, compression, etc.). Then, he presented the brick and tile industry‘s most frequently employed size-reducing machine. Their advice: When investing, look at the process, not at the old machine, and do some experimenting, all the way up to industrial-scale trials, and do not forget to investigate such economic factors as performance, oil consumption and the cost of spare parts and laboratory services. Hewitt, of Interstate Brick, then presented his company‘s raw material concept. With a good 10 local clay quarries, Interstate Brick tries to run two stockpile campaigns each year.

Midwestern Industries‘ Scott Mazon discussed the art of clay screening. He compared various types of screens and explained how to facilitate the handling of screen-shy raw materials, e.g., with the aid of hot-wire screens. For the sake of screen durability, no material should ever be left lying on them.

Tom Moorehead, J.C. Steele & Sons, took “Extrusion“ as an example for the forum‘s “Back to the Basics“ motto. High-efficiency extrusion demands a consistent raw material quality, a constant supply of material, and an optimally designed and dedicated extruder.

For Joe Spence, of Acme Brick, efficiency reports are the key to the finding problems and, hence, reducing costs. The more detailed and precise the report, the better the results. Taking size reduction as an example, he illuminated a number of relevant factors. Good screening, for example, calls for an ideal feed rate and an optimal screen mesh.


2.2 Colour to kilns

Tom Henderson, Prince Minerals, presented wet, dry and other forms of colourant application. The first step in the development process is to analyze the color trends for the new few years. This covers everything from developing the coloured engobe to producing specimen tiles/bricks fired under industrial conditions.

Speaker Don Abernathy, Southern Color N. A., explained the connections between “Masonry and Mortar“. For the characterization of a given mortar, the particles‘ shape, size and distribution are very important, as are their surface texture, hardness and abrasion resistance, in addition to the mortar‘s behaviour in association with water, i.e., in terms of flow rate, moisture, temperature and electrostatic properties. Its processing requires close attention, particularly when mortar is being mixed by hand. Even the weather exerts an influence on the consistency of mortar.

“Drying Basics“ was the topic of a contribution by Rod Schutt, General Shale Brick, whose core message was that differences in a brick‘s shrinkage are the main cause of cracking. Good plasticity is therefore important for achieving more uniform shrinkage in order to prevent cracking.

Charlie McNeil, Boral Bricks, presented some “Alternate Fuels“. Power generation in the U.S. in the year 2010 relied on 45% coal, 23% natural gas, 20% nuclear energy, 6% hydropower, 5% renewables and 1% oil.

Vincent Stempfer, Direxa Engineering, focused on “Solid Fuels“, a decision in favour of which depends on numerous parameters like fuel value, moisture content and ash content. Particle size impacts not only the results of firing, but also the CO2 emissions. There are various ways to employ solid fuels: in the body, in the kiln, ... His conclusion: It works!

Fuels were also the main topic of Brian Sims, Jenkins Brick, who related the company‘s 12 years of (on and off) experience with landfill gas (LFG). Sims described a few typical landfills and how they work up to the point of delivering the gas to the brickyard, and he presented a case of application at a brick factory. One problem he sees looming for landfill gas as fuel is its gradually increasing oxygen content and decreasing methane content. Landfill gas has a major image advantage, as it is widely regarded as a “green technology“.

Don Denison, representing Denison Inc./Lingl, spoke on presently available kiln control options. Many brickmakers, he said, are facing the problem of not being able to find brick kiln foremen anymore, so the manager or his assistant has to take care of the kiln. A good kiln control system makes things a lot easier.

Taking a facing brick factory as an example, Frank Appel, Lingl, showed how fuel consumption can be reduced by decoupling the drying process from the kiln. Such measures as optimizing the wall and roof insulation, reducing the TKCs‘ weight, lowering heat losses by eliminating leaks and incorporating heat exchangers are good, workable options for saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions.

Brian J. Taylor, Boral Bricks, told how employed fuels and raw materials affect “Flashing“, and he explained the benefits and drawbacks of this colouring method.

In times like these, when brick sales are definitely down, many kilns have to operate at a slow pace. Decelerating a kiln without altering the results obtained, though, demands attention to numerous factors. Jim Hopkins explained the “Vital Signs“, such as setting height, pressure profiles, firing curve and flashing conditions.

David McKeown, Hanson Brick, as the day‘s last speaker, spoke on the use of wet “Scrubbers“.


2.3 Kilns to the job site

On the second day of technical meetings, the third and last session was kicked off by Thuc Nguyen, Acme Brick. Speaking on “Energy Savings“, Nguyen presented a wide range of ways to save energy. Some of them were quite simple, like turning off lights that no one needs, avoiding peak-load periods, starting production runs earlier, optimizing daily production, etc. Designing new firing curves, for example, can help reduce natural gas consumption.

The Denton Plant needs a new kiln! What is to do? Brian Christenson and John Hobbs of Acme Brick presented their own do-it-yourself project. It would have cost $100 000 to copy the existing kiln, $130 000 to have one installed by a pedigreed supplier, and $118 000 to build one according to plans drawn up by a general contractor. Since there were a few things that Denton wanted to optimize anyway, they decided to go for the do-it-yourself option. This included improved hot-air circulation, several undercarriage cooling zones, a door for the kiln exit, preheated combustion air and temperature/pressure control. All this not only lowered gas consumption, but also enhanced productivity. On the other hand, it took a lot longer than expected to implement all the details.

Lynn Burchfield from Acme Brick reported on a new setter at the Denton Plant. The object of this project was to increase both quality and flexibility so that only minimal time would be needed for switching formats.

Terry Schimmel, Boral Brick, and Susan Miller, Brick Industry Association, gave a rundown on innovations in the field of emission control and surveyed the relevant control equipment. They advised everyone to ensure that their own plants are aware of their respective emissions.

Dr. Andrew Smith, Ceram, came over from Great Britain to explain how various clays of UK origin influence CO2 emissions all the way from pit to production and on to shipping. He appealed to all members of the audience to find out how CO2 emissions are affected by long raw material transport routes. In-plant water consumption, he said, is also an important item with respect to sustainability. All steps of processing should be examined for potential savings.

Brad Cobbledick, Brampton Brick, delved into colour consistency control mechanisms and called attention to differences between wet and dry methods. For wet application, he said, the correct density and viscosity are decisive, though the effects of firing must also be considered, since temperature, firing time and atmosphere all impact the products‘ final colour.

Patrick Kelly, Hanson Brick, recounted a “Testing of Wall Assemblies“ procedure by the Clay Brick Association of Canada (CBAC).

Bringing up the rear, Bryan Light, BIA Southeast Region, looked into “Issues at the Job Site“, where much can be achieved by simple means: Bricks stacked on pallets, for example, do not absorb rising damp or, consequently, the salt that comes with it. The same applies to plastic-sealed bags of mortar. Likewise important: the brick manufacturers‘ instructions on things like setting anchors properly.


3 A look ahead

John P. Sanders will be taking the reins of the National BrickResearch Center as of January 2012, while Denis Brosnan will be more intensively pursuing his passion: microscopy. The new Zi Annual 2012 will contain an article by the two of them entitled “Microscopic characterization of clay bricks and its application in forensic analysis“.

This change of leadership at the centre is occurring in times of economic difficulty. So, let us cross our fingers for John P. Sanders that he will be able to guide the U.S. brick industry‘s national research institution safely through the crisis. Our thanks to Denis Brosnan for all the good work he has done for the brick industry over the years!

The next forum is slated for September 30 through October 2, 2012. 


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