Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How It's Made: Ceramic Blocks

Today was like an episode of the American (and Canadian) Television show "How it's made". The only difference, was that I was not in America and I was actually in the episode! Today, Valerio (The CEO and Founder of Tecno Logys) and I headed west to the town of Jundai (or at least I think that is what it was) to visit two manufacturing plants. This was also the first time I left Sao Paulo, which seemingly extends beyond as far as the eye can see. I can share some of the details as there is not a top secret formula for turning clay into blocks but for confidentiality and good business purpose I wont disclose the name of the factory or any of its employees. We drove about an hour west and arrived at the factory at approximately 10am. We were greeted at the front gate by one of Valerio's business connections, given "Visitante" badges, and headed inside.

 As you can imagine, when you are making ceramic blocks, clay dust is flying around in the air, which sparks the first signs of progress. We started at the back of the plant where we saw a large pile of clay chunks that was transported from a nearby site in the town where the clay is harvested. The clay is first put into a large bin which drops it onto a conveyor that leads to a grinder in order to grind the clay chunks into clay particles. From there it heads into a mixer that adds water before it gets compressed into the clay molds to give the blocks their shape. Coming out of the molds, the clay is in a continuous block, similar to what you would see using a Play Doh Fun Factory press. It is then cut into smaller sections before being moved through a press that uses wires to cut it into individual blocks. Because I care about my readers, I even took a short 9 second video for you to see this part of the process.

Once the clay is cut into individual blocks, the blocks are rolled onto racks that are used to place the blocks in the dryer. After drying the blocks, they head toward the last step which is firing the blocks in the kiln.

Clay blocks are grey before entering the kiln

That's right, just like middle school ceramics projects, these ceramic blocks head to the kiln to dry them at high temperatures to give them their strength. After being heated in the slow cooking kiln, they are stacked onto trucks or storage pallets for delivery to the customers. And that is pretty much it folks. After seeing the process, I was able to walk around the factory and storage areas to further analyze the process from start to finish, including looking down from the top of the kiln at the fires, to see if anything could be considered for my work with Tecno Logys.

After the kiln, the clay blocks have a red hue
This factory was a few years old and even though many machines were used, there was still some processes that were dependent upon manual labor. After leaving this factory, we headed to a newly build factory just a few miles away. This factory was not yet operational, as we saw crews installing a large machine that was being used to help automate the process. Even though the new factory the line was not in action, the shiny new machines and meticulous duct work were impressive. Even though I had a general idea of the process, it was great to see the process start to finish of how ceramic blocks are made.

If you are interested in how other things are made, you can visit the "How It's Made" television show website for more items. My favorite is How to make a "Cap Gun".

After visiting the factories, we hit the open road back to Sao Paulo. For a few moments, I forgot I was in Brazil as we listened to Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" racing down the freshly paved highway in a Dodge SUV.

Another day in Sao Paulo, another success.

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