Corobrik installs quality-enhancing robotic technology at Lawley Factory

Improved productivity, environmental efficiency, flexibility and enhanced manufacturing quality are some of the massive benefits associated with Corobrik’s new robotic technology at its Lawley Factory.

In line with the company’s long-term plant efficiency programme, and following the highly successful installation of unique robotic systems at its Rietvlei factory in 2007, Corobrik installed a similar automated setting system at its Lawley factory in October last year.

This robotic system had to be specially designed for the Lawley factory because of its distinctive manufacturing requirements, making this a one-of-a-kind setting technology in the industry,” explained David Matlou, Corobrik Manufacturing Director. “By installing this innovative technology, the Corobrik Lawley plant is able to operate outside of peak electricity periods, reducing electricity costs whilst at the same time assisting the country with the shortage of electricity during peak periods, lowering greenhouse gases, and giving our customers even better products.”

Following the learning experiences of the Rietvlei robotics design and installation, the engineering team, led by Daniele Torricelli, Corobrik’s director of engineering and Andreas Ntseki factory manager at Lawley, delivered the project on time and within budget. The design specification was complex as it was the first robotic setting in the world for a Transverse Arch Kiln.

The low growth in the economy has resulted in contraction of work in the building sector,” says David Matlou. “Thus the market is very competitive – and in order to maintain and increase market share in these difficult times we continue to deploy technology designed to increase capacity, improve quality and reduce operating costs.”

The robotics enable significant flexibility in production and the consistent gaps in the setting pattern achieved by the robotics allow for easy penetration of heat during the drying and firing processes which optimises the amount of energy required for brick production. Matlou explained that the product quality is significantly improved due to the robots precision in handling the raw clay product. This eliminates handling damage resulting from manual setting. “These improvements in precision have resulted in a three per cent increase in yields. This yield improvement is achieved through the consistent packing of brick packs by the robots,” continued Matlou. “This advanced plant automation technology minimises defects which means fewer rejects, better quality, and more uniformity in the end product for our customers.”

Overall production output remains unchanged as the output of the kilns determines factory capacity. Should kiln capacity be increased, processing at the robotic brick setting department can be increased easily without further investment being required.

The robotics’ complex technical systems demand an extremely high level of skill to ensure smooth operation. To this end, Corobrik selected six internal staff members for extensive training on the system, enabling them to manage and run the machines efficiently. Positions catered for in the training process were: Process Control Managers, Process Control Superintendents, Electricians and Production Supervisors.

As trading conditions improve Corobrik will continue to roll out robotic installations and focus on other plant efficiency programmes across its factories countrywide.

In 2002 Corobrik set about considering the positive impact of the improving economic conditions on its business and the longer term ramification thereof in terms of production capacity requirements. In the drive for reductions in energy consumption at all its operations the goal remains on focused lowering green house gas emissions and making a positive contribution to a more sustainable environment.

Plant upgrades and improvements completed since 2002 include:

  • Installation of advanced extrusion technology in all its plants.
  • Corobrik was the first brick making operation in South Africa to make changes from coal to gas in respect of fuel type with the view of trading carbon credits.
  • 2007: The re-engineering of the Rietvlei factory included the installation of robotic brick setting stations; the commissioning of two new tunnel kiln dryers; and the conversion of fuel from producer gas to natural gas.
  • 2014: The Company achieves ISO 9001 accreditation. Corobrik Lawley also has ISO14001 and OHSAS18001 accreditation.
  • 2015: Installation of robotics in the Lawley plant.
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