19 March 2024

Caption: Part of Northwest Brick Manufacturers plant.

This is Part 1 of a three-part series written by Johann Steyn of Northwest Brick Manufacturers, on behalf of the Concrete Manufacturers Association.

The delivery of high-quality bricks and paving blocks to the market at the lowest possible input cost requires a fine balance in the composition of material inputs which must to be monitored constantly to achieve optimal quality and cost efficiencies.

Over the years I have found that the three most important requirements of brick and block making to be aggregate quality, moisture control and production time cycles as measured in seconds, and these factors were paramount in the establishment of a new brick and paving block plant in Vryburg in 2020.

My initial exposure to the industry began in 1995 when I joined our family brick and paving block business in Bloemfontein. My first responsibilities centred on production systems and procedures, but even before I joined the company, my father told me of his excitement in 1974 when he bought his first brick and block making machine from PMSA.

The business expanded in 2013 with the acquisition of a brick making plant in Kuruman, and shortly thereafter, we acquired another plant in Kimberley.

Owing to my involvement in the Northern Cape market, I was presented with an opportunity in 2019 to become actively involved with Northwest Crushers in Vryburg, North West Province. The main purpose of this venture was the establishment of a brick and block manufacturing plant in a joint-venture with the shareholders of the existing crusher and ready-mix plant.  The new plant would source its aggregate from the plant thus forming a synergistic raw material to finished product relationship.

Planning, developing and erecting a brick making plant from the ground up posed a series of challenges, but that did not curb my excitement or enthusiasm and I relished the prospect of working together with Joe Deetlefs, a director and shareholder of Northwest Crushers, in bringing the project to fruition.

A unanimous decision was taken to acquire all the manufacturing machinery from PMSA in Johannesburg, a decision which was heavily motivated by past experience with PMSA equipment and the ready availability of back-up and spares.

Affordability also played a major role in our choice of equipment, long-term maintenance and product quality being the prime considerations, and we opted for a fully automated VB4X plant in combination with a finger car system, curing chamber and the newly developed Cuber (clamping and packing the bricks) packaging system.

The plant was ordered in December 2019 and the installation was especially challenging due to the fact that delivery and installation coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown. However, despite social distancing and other restrictions the first bricks were produced in September 2020 and we paid particular attention to the three main variables, aggregate quality, moisture control and production time cycles. It is critical that these three elements are continually monitored if the quality of the finished product is to be kept at a constant standard.

Continued in Part 2…

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