PENDLETON — If there were a “CSI” for bricks, this would have to be their lab.
It’s the National Brick Research Center in north Anderson County at the Clemson Research Park.
In the popular TV series, investigators leave no stone unturned, pardon the pun, in search of evidence in a crime.
While there’s no crime to solve at the brick center, a lot of stones are turned in search of answers for brick makers, ceramics manufacturers and related industries.
Researchers crush, heat, freeze, drown and squeeze brick material to learn how it is affected.
The result of their work is given back to industry, which uses it to make better bricks, to architects, who use it to design structures, or to government agencies, who need restoration ideas.
The brick center is a component of Clemson University, but is overseen by a board from the Brick Industry Association. The building opened at the research park in 1996. Dues from the association and fees for research support the 12-person operation. Next door is the Tile Council of America, which shares some research and office space with the brick researchers.
Jim Frederic, associate director of the brick center, said its mission is three-fold: research projects for the industry, service work for individual companies, and education, for industry and Clemson materials science and engineering students.
“We hold a lot of seminars for people associated with the brick industry,” he said.
Those could be technical training for brick makers, to inform them of new processes, or with architects, to tell them of changes in the materials, or with other related industries, he said.
Testing may be for durability, strength or water absorption levels of brick material. Or it may be environmental in nature — helping a company make bricks or ceramics more efficiently, thus saving energy, or determining if materials can be dumped under more stringent landfill regulations.
“A lot of waste materials are now used in brick manufacturing,” Frederic said. “We are working with all these plants on questions of what can they use, what causes problems, what are green products.”
The process of making brick has changed, but the fundamentals could be considered similar to that of the ancients: You mix a batch of clay (or like material), add ingredients for strength, color, and more, then bake it in a kiln for a day or a few hours.
That process mostly has become automated and expensive, Frederic said. In the past, bricks were made in small batches in coal-heated kilns, but today a brick maker may run 100,000 bricks a day in a fully automated natural gas-heated kiln that requires only a night watchman to check on it. If a brick maker has to shut down a kiln today, it becomes expensive.
So many will ask the research center to test materials to determine how they can be made, or what changes should be included in a formula. That way, they can run the kilns without shutting them down and incorporate the change into their operations, Frederic said.
While the less-glamorous side of brick and ceramics testing is the main focus, the center has begun working more with government agencies to test materials of older structures, said DenisBrosnan, director.
In his office are Fort Sumter wall materials, which the center is testing to help the National Parks Service decide how to replace eroding brick and mortar. It is one area where the center is attempting to broaden its services — and add revenues, he said.
“Our role is to provide materials analysis to help them come up with an analysis” of the structures’ conditions, he said. “We are trying to do more than testing, but look at what is causing wear and tear on a building.”
The center also has provided public service work, meaning free analysis. It examined materials from an old Pickens church and more recently analyzed brick used from an Anderson church that burned.
Via: Independent Mail
This place sounds a lot like what my research group does up here in Alfred, for the whitewares industry.