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Manufacturing innovation

A partnership which helped design special purpose brick cutting machinery and introduced Lean manufacturing principles to the construction industry.

‘Fit’ manufacturing

Brick Fabrication factory
Brick Fabrication factory

Brick Fabrication Limited manufactures pre-fabricated building products for the UK house building industry and has supplied the major house builders for nearly 20 years.

Over recent years, the company has undergone significant expansion and reached a point of diminishing returns with the factory layout and production equipment. Market opportunities presented by an increased use of pre-fabrication in UK house building meant that production capacity had to increase in order to keep pace with customer demand.

A KTP project with Cardiff School of Engineering was developed, focussing on helping the company increase its production effectiveness and capacity. It also sought to design and implement a ‘Fit’ or Lean manufacturing system which would feature automated cutting machinery with 3D CAD-CAM design capabilities. The team recruited KTP Associate Sajith Soman to manage the project and ensure that the academic expertise was successfully embedded into the company.

"We feel fortunate to have been able to attract a candidate of such a high quality as Sajith. The next few years will see the company grow considerably and the introduction of Lean Manufacturing is fundamental to that growth."

John White, Chief Executive at Brick Fabrication Ltd

Best practice techniques

The project led to the redesign of the factory layout in line with Lean principles and down-time on existing machinery has been reduced as a result, via the automation of 2D and 3D drawing. The design and manufacture of one machine component in particular has increased life between breakdowns by 500%.

All staff have been trained in Lean principles, leading to a culture change within the company. Brick Fabrication employees now have greater confidence in the use of automation and best practice manufacturing techniques. Additionally, the project has contributed to a recruitment drive, which will aim to bring 31 new jobs to the company's Pontypool facility over the next three years.

The academics gained an enhanced understanding of the complexities of machining and assembly line operation in a house building context. Teaching materials and research papers have been developed as a direct result of this new knowledge along with student research projects.

Furthermore, the KTP opened the door to further collaborative research projects between the University and Brick Fabrication Limited, resulting in a second successful KTP project with Cardiff Business School.

"The KTP has provided a unique opportunity for academia to be involved in manufacturing system improvement projects, which required a balance of the application of research-based system optimisation tools and industrial practical considerations. As a direct result, the KTP has generated ideas for new research projects whilst contributing to the launch of a newly designed MSc course in Manufacturing Engineering Innovation."

Dr Michael Packianather, Cardiff School of Engineering