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Batch Control Software

We have a tendency to focus on the mechanical aspects of our products as they go through the manufacturing process. From when they strip out of the block machine, transferring into the kilns, processing through splitters or antique finishing machines, and ultimately being palletized and rolling out of the plant. It’s all visual and sensory based with mechanical steps and audible cues. What we don’t think about though is really the heartbeat of the system, this being the batching control software that maintains the cadence of the operation. You can’t see or hear the calculations made on a batch-by-batch basis, but it’s critical to an operation’s success that the functions and steps are fully understood by personnel. Take the time to get to know your Batch Control Software, for more information contact NCMA Production Specialist Mike Maroney.

Hustle and Flow

The old adage is that the block machine only runs as fast as the batched mix allows. There are several aspects to this, but we are going to focus on one — water demand. All of us are aware of the water-to-cement ratios that govern cement hydration and workability. As an example, I run a fine textured architectural mix with a water-to-cement ratio of 0.59. The cement only requires a .22 to .24 water to cement ratio to begin hydration, everything past that is water of convenience. Along with or without admixture, the water of convenience allows the batch mechanically move from sub-hopper to feed drawer to mold in relatively fluid motion. There is no standard water cement ratio. There are ranges which are utilized based on the mix gradation. Rule of thumb: the finer the mix, the higher the water cement ratio. Whereas, my Architectural Fine Texture mix requires a .59 water to cement ratio, my standard sand and gravel blend may only require a .51 water-to-cement ratio. For more information, Ask Mike.

Color Matching

Eventually, one of your architectural salespeople is going to bring in a sample of concrete from another producer and ask if your operation can produce it. Don’t worry, because you may not be able to get an exact match, but you can certainly take a stab at it without tying up profitable machine time. Percentage out your closest matching architectural mix design to a 500-gram representative batch and adjust your pigment loading as needed. If you’ve got a vibrating table and a form, you should be able to simulate your consolidation. Put the samples on a blank pallet in your curing chamber and when the cycle’s complete, see how close you got to the salesperson’s sample. There are some nuances that need to be addressed when sample matching, so if you need help contact NCMA Production Specialist Mike Maroney.

Do you have a production question? ASK MIKE!

Smartphones and site solutions

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it’s also the best way to start the process of resolving issues on the jobsite. We all get photos sent to us to explain and demonstrate a situation that our customers are going through. The question is do you have a defined policy for whom to send the photos and a step-by-step, detailed process as to how that solution will be found. For more information on developing a documentation plan, please contact NCMA’s Production Specialist Mike Maroney.

Do you have a production question? ASK MIKE!

Cleaning house

If you scheduled your spring production correctly, your yard should be seeing some significant inventory turns due to the summer demand for hardscapes and do-it-yourself projects from the local hardware stores. As the inventory leaves, take some time to clean out the lots before you fill them again. It’s an ideal time to get behind the rows and clean up any debris or loose stretch wrap along the fence line. It’s also a great opportunity to take a look and see what inventory you made that didn’t take off as quickly as anticipated. Segregate it and get it out of your yard before you end up having degraded stretch wrap and aged pallet decay, potentially causing more than eyesore. For more information, contact NCMA Production Specialist Mike Maroney.

Do you have a production question? ASK MIKE!

Shift change and variability

Alan Perlis, a mid-twentieth century computer scientist stated, “One man’s constant is another man’s variable.” It’s a profound statement especially when considering the dynamics of operations running two shifts. More often than not, adjustments and settings are changed when one machine operator takes over for the next as every equipment operator has their own method of operation and adjustment, this is a fact, and it’s good as long as the information is being shared with the next shift operator. Once again, communication is the key to success and a way of maintaining consistency in production. For more information on variability and shift transition, contact NCMA Production Specialist Mike Maroney. Do you have a question about production? ASK MIKE.

Material flow and the feed drawer

If you start seeing a gradual decrease in the amount of material filling the mold box, don’t immediately increase your feed time. Stop the block machine in accordance with your safety policy and take a look at your feed drawer for buildup. When wet concrete builds up in the box due to hydration, your material flow can become restricted or clogged. For more information, contact Production Specialist Mike Maroney.

Runaway job orders 

A salesperson takes an order for 2,000 8″ split face units that are light tan in color. Having concerns about variability in the light tan color, the salesperson adds 5 percent to the order which bring the total number of units to be produced to 2,100. Either unknown or untrusted by the salesperson, the ordering system used has a built-in cull rate for that product and mix of 3 percent which effectively brings the number of units to be scheduled to a total of 2,163 units. At this point remember that the customer only needs 2,000 units and before the order has even been put on the schedule, the production order has increased by 8 percent. Two units are produced per cycle and placed in racks for curing which can hold 48 cycles which in turn means that scheduled order only needs 22 racks and 25 cycles to fill the order. The machine operator or plant manager decides to round up the rack requirement to 23 racks for just-in-case issues on the splitter, bringing the number of units produced to 2,208, an overall increase by the time curing starts to a total increase to the original customer’s needs by 10 percent.

Maybe there are some extremes here and maybe there aren’t, but the fact of the matter is that the example shows how easy it is to torpedo your own profit margin. When was the last time you went over the order process with not only your sales team, but also your plant personnel? For more information on capturing true costs, please contact Mike Maroney.

Time to check your curing temps 

Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner and will usher in barbecues, summer vacations and warmer weather. With warmer weather coming, please remember to take the time to check your temperature setting on your curing systems. More often than not, producers will run winter and summer settings on their systems, and if they’re not managed, there is potential for shocking your units and ending a production run. For more information, contact Production Specialist Mike Maroney.

Block machine height gauges 

Ben Franklin once stated that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’d add that there is nothing in a block operation that is so insignificant that it would be excluded; take for instance wet side height gauges. We’ve all seen them on the manufacturing line, thin flat rectangular sheets of metal with a handle in the center with the machine operator deftly moving it around the perimeter of the machine pallet checking the cycle height. It’s a simple tool that provides a level of comfort that heights have been maintained during the wet side production. They are a quick indicator, which can be used without stopping the line. Contrary to belief, the gauges can get worn down, and the units may need to be built back up to the necessary height. Set an easy to remember time to pull all the gauges to verify that they’re reading the correct height, like when you’re having your scales calibrated or during your monthly block machine preventative maintenance routine. For more information contact NCMA Production Specialist Mike Maroney.