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Manufacturing of Brick – Tech Note 9

INTRODUCTION

The fundamentals of brick manufacturing have not changed over time. However, technological advancements have made contemporary brick plants substantially more efficient and have improved the overall quality of the products. A more complete knowledge of raw materials and their properties, better control of firing, improved kiln designs and more advanced mechanization have all contributed to advancing the brick industry.

RAW MATERIALS

Clay is one of the most abundant natural mineral materials on earth. For brick manufacturing, clay must possess some specific properties and characteristics. Such clays must have plasticity, which permits them to be shaped or molded when mixed with water; they must have sufficient wet and air-dried strength to maintain their shape after forming. Also, when subjected to appropriate temperatures, the clay particles must fuse together.

Types of Clay

Clays occur in three principal forms, all of which have similar chemical compositions but different physical characteristics.

Surface Clays. Surface clays may be the upthrusts of older deposits or of more recent sedimentary formations. As the name implies, they are found near the surface of the earth.

Shales. Shales are clays that have been subjected to high pressures until they have nearly hardened into slate.

Fire Clays. Fire clays are usually mined at deeper levels than other clays and have refractory qualities. Surface and fire clays have a different physical structure from shales but are similar in chemical composition. All three types of clay are composed of silica and alumina with varying amounts of metallic oxides. Metallic oxides act as fluxes promoting fusion of the particles at lower temperatures. Metallic oxides (particularly those of iron, magnesium and calcium) influence the color of the fired brick. The manufacturer minimizes variations in chemical composition and physical properties by mixing clays from different sources and different locations in the pit. Chemical composition varies within the pit, and the differences are compensated for by varying manufacturing processes. As a result, brick from the same manufacturer will have slightly different properties in subsequent production runs. Further, brick from different manufacturers that have the same appearance may differ in other properties.

MANUFACTURING

Although the basic principles of manufacture are fairly uniform, individual manufacturing plants tailor their production to fit their particular raw materials and operation. Essentially, brick are produced by mixing ground clay with water, forming the clay into the desired shape, and drying and firing. In ancient times, all molding was performed by hand. However, since the invention of brick-making machines during the latter part of the 19th century, the majority of brick produced in the United States have been machine made.

Phases of Manufacturing

The manufacturing process has six general phases: 1) mining and storage of raw materials, 2) preparing raw materials, 3) forming the brick, 4) drying, 5) firing and cooling and 6) de-hacking and storing finished products.

PROPERTIES

All properties of brick are affected by raw material composition and the manufacturing process. Most manufacturers blend different clays to achieve the desired properties of the raw materials and of the fired brick. This improves the overall quality of the finished product. The quality control during the manufacturing process permits the manufacturer to limit variations due to processing and to produce a more uniform product. The most important properties of brick are 1) durability, 2) color, 3) texture, 4) size variation, 5) compressive strength and 6) absorption.

Durability

The durability of brick depends upon achieving incipient fusion and partial vitrification during firing. Because compressive strength and absorption values are also related to the firing temperatures, these properties, together with saturation coefficient, are currently taken as predictors of durability in brick specifications. However, because of differences in raw materials and manufacturing methods, a single set of values of compressive strength and absorption will not reliably indicate the degree of firing.

Color

The color of fired clay depends upon its chemical composition, the firing temperatures and the method of firing control. Of all the oxides commonly found in clays, iron probably has the greatest effect on color. Regardless of its natural color, clay containing iron in practically any form will exhibit a shade of red when exposed to an oxidizing fire because of the formation of ferrous oxide. When fired in a reducing atmosphere, the same clay will assume a dark (or black) hue. Creating a reducing atmosphere in the kiln is known as flashing or reduction firing. Given the same raw material and manufacturing method, darker colors are associated with higher firing temperatures, lower absorption values and higher compressive strength values. However, for products made from different raw materials, there is no direct relationship between strength and color or absorption and color.

Texture, Coatings and Glazes

Many brick have smooth or sand-finished textures produced by the dies or molds used in forming. A smooth texture, commonly referred to as a die skin, results from pressure exerted by the steel die as the clay passes through it in the extrusion process. Most extruded brick have the die skin removed and the surface further treated to produce other textures using devices that cut, scratch, roll, brush or otherwise roughen the surface as the clay column leaves the die (see Photo 6). Brick may be tumbled before or after firing to achieve an antique appearance. Many manufacturing plants apply engobes (slurries) of finely ground clay or colorants to the column. Engobes are clay slips that are fired onto the ceramic body and develop hardness, but are not impervious to moisture or water vapor. Sands, with or without coloring agents, can be rolled into an engobe or applied directly to the brick faces to create interesting and distinctive patterns in the finished product. Although not produced by all manufacturers, glazed brick are made through a carefully controlled ceramic glazing procedure. There are two basic variations of glazing; single-fired and double-fired. Single-fired glazes are sprayed on brick before or after drying and then kiln-fired at the normal firing temperatures of the brick. Double-fired glazes are used to obtain colors that cannot be produced at higher temperatures. Such a glaze is applied after the brick body has been fired and cooled, then refired at temperatures less than 1800 ºF (982 ºC). Glazes are available in a wide variety of colors and reflectances. Unlike engobes, glazes are impervious to water and water vapor.

Size Variation

Because clays shrink during both drying and firing, allowances are made in the forming process to achieve the desired size of the finished brick. Both drying shrinkage and firing shrinkage vary for different clays, usually falling within the following ranges:

  • Drying shrinkage: 2 to 4 percent
  • Firing shrinkage: 2.5 to 4 percent

Firing shrinkage increases with higher temperatures, which produce darker shades. When a wide range of colors is desired, some variation between the sizes of the dark and light units is inevitable. To obtain products of uniform size, manufacturers control factors contributing to shrinkage. Because of normal variations in raw materials and temperature variations within kilns, absolute uniformity is impossible. Consequently, specifications for brick allow size variations.

Compressive Strength and Absorption

Both compressive strength and absorption are affected by properties of the clay, method of manufacture and degree of firing. For a given clay and method of manufacture, higher compressive strength values and lower absorption values are associated with higher firing temperatures. Although absorption and compressive strength can be controlled by manufacturing and firing methods, these properties depend largely upon the properties of the raw materials.

Resource: Brick Industry Association-www.gobrick.org