Brick manufacturer gears up production with new drive technology

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As part of a planned upgrade of its brick making facility, at Nostell, near Wakefield, Yorkshire, Ibstock Brick is replacing all the drive technology at the plant with systems provided by SEW Eurodrive. The investment and upgrade is in response to increased demand for the company’s products within the UK market and is designed to increase production, improve efficiency and cut downtime.

Ibstock is the UK’s leading brick maker, offering a wide range of clay facing bricks and other clay-based construction products manufactured at 19 factories across the country. Its roots can be traced back to the 1820s and to the village of Ibstock in Leicestershire, where the business is still based. Today the company has over 400 different bricks in its product range, which also includes external wall insulation and rain screen cladding systems.

According to David Rotherforth, Ibstock Brick’s engineering manager at the Nostell site: “This upgrade isn’t just about updating drives with the latest technology. This is about future proofing the whole plant and forming a strategic partnership with a drive technology supplier that can work closely with us to enable us to achieve all our objectives in terms of cutting downtime, reducing stock, increasing production and optimising efficiency.”

As part of the upgrade SEW Eurodrive’s engineers conducted a survey of all the drives at the plant and entered their details on the company’s drive technology maintenance system, CDM. This records comprehensive details of every drive at the factory, including their condition, service history and scheduled maintenance. All this data is held on a secure online database that can be accessed quickly and easily by Ibstock’s engineers on multiple platforms such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

CDM will increase the efficiency of Ibstock’s drive technology maintenance regime. It cuts downtime, eliminates unnecessary stock, identifies potential problems in advance and enables engineers to quickly check the condition of each drive. According to SEW, CDM provides the best possible protection against against costly failures and unscheduled downtime as well as simplifying and streamlining maintenance as a whole.

The ability to respond quickly and provide a high level of support was a key issue for Ibstock’s engineers in choosing SEW as a drive technology partner for the upgrade at its Nostell site. With the capacity to manufacture some 13,000 bricks an hour, increasing efficiency and cutting downtime by replacing older, unreliable drive technology, was essential to achieve the objectives of the upgrade and meet the growing demand for the plant’s products.

Worst-case scenario

Previously, in a worst-case scenario, unscheduled downtime as the result of a failed gearbox, for instance, could result in 6–8 weeks of lost production. Not surprisingly, a key objective of the upgrade was to eliminate this as far as possible. To do so, and at the same time avoid holding huge stocks of spare gearboxes, motors and other components, Ibstock’s engineers needed a drive partnership that could provide a virtual integration with its own maintenance operations.

SEW’s ability to provide this level of support and respond rapidly was put to the test during the initial phase of the plant’s upgrade when an old motor installed on a slug pusher drive failed unexpectedly. Like all the machinery in a brick-making factory the drive components on a slug pusher often have to operate around the clock in the arduous conditions located at the early stage of the manufacturing process.

Raw clay from the two quarries at the plant is crushed into powder then mixed before it is extruded into columns and cut into what are known as slugs that will eventually become the individual bricks themselves. If the slug pusher fails then the whole production line grinds to a halt and so restarting production quickly is essential. As soon as the failure was reported by Ibstock’s engineers to SEW a new motor was ready to be installed within 45 minutes and downtime was kept to an absolute minimum.

As Rotherforth explains: “It was almost as if the replacement motor had come straight from our own stores. Reporting the failure to SEW was like reporting to our own people. We were all on the same team and we literally couldn’t have had the drive up and running again any faster.”

So far SEW Eurodrive has upgraded some 24 drive units on Ibstock’s setting plant, and, during the process, has completely redesigned and simplified the drive system on the plant’s hoist. This involved the replacement of an inefficient and unnecessarily complex arrangement of two worm gearboxes connected by a layshaft and driven by a single motor and pulley system.

The new, more efficient, design involved standard gearing, inverters and a bespoke bedplate that avoided any alteration to existing steelwork. Installation and commissioning was undertaken by SEW’s engineers and the new high-efficiency system has immediately cut energy consumption on the hoist by 25 per cent.

According to Rotherforth, engineers at Ibstock Brick’s Nostell plant are so impressed with what has been achieved so far with the upgrade to its setting plant that the company is now pushing ahead with plans to standardise all drive technology throughout the site with technology from SEW Eurodive.

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