‘Innovation’ is a word that comes up frequently when Robert Prasloski, Maintenance Manager for Austral Bricks, talks about his day-to-day work at the company with over a hundred years’ history of brickmaking. 

Originally established in 1908, Austral Bricks has been operating as part of Brickworks Limited since 1945. The company promises its customers a 100-year product warranty – which is more than most companies can commit to.  

“What’s really amazing about working with Austral Bricks is that they encourage innovation; both when interacting with customers as well as within the employees,” says Robert. “We run as much as eight to ten trials every week in consultation with the design studio to create new colour schemes and creative designs for bricks, precast pavements and stonework. Once the innovation part is done, it’s my job to help make these ideas viable for production.” 

As a maintenance manager with 30-plus years of experience, Robert joined Austral Bricks’ Golden Grove manufacturing plant in South Australia around a year ago and almost immediately, he started looking for ways to enhance the plant’s overall efficiency. In doing so, he also sought advice from the team at BSC’s Wingfield branch, with whom he had built a relationship for over a decade.

“I was fortunate enough to start working with the BSC Wingfield branch over 10 years ago. Today, we have a relationship where we have learned to trust each other and consult with each other very openly,” says Robert.    

The kiln was one of the areas in the plant where Robert says he found grounds for improvement, particularly in extending the life of kiln car bearings.

“After the wet clay mixture is extruded through the press, the wet bricks or pavers are placed on kiln cars and moved through the dryer slowly until the moisture evaporates. Our plant has 200 kiln cars that we keep in constant rotation and each car has eight bearings in it,” explains Robert.

But what prompted Robert to seek to improve the kiln cars, he says, was that the existing bearings required replacement on average every three to four months.

In consultation with James Robb, Branch Manager at BSC Wingfield, Robert decided to change all of the kiln car bearings to Timken branded bearings.

“I needed bearings that can withstand an average temperature of 150°C but occasionally, be able to tolerate short bursts of up to 1200°C in the kiln. James consulted with Mark Slaughter, who is the Engineering Solutions Manager at BSC, and they were able to determine the best Timken bearing to use and even the type of lubrication to use with the bearings,” says Robert.

BSC Wingfield Branch Manager James Robb recounts his side of the story.

“The reason we recommended Timken bearings, apart from the reliability of these bearings, was that Timken could deliver large quantities of their spherical roller bearings and deep groove ball bearings within the quickest timeframe and at a reasonable price. We then helped Robert to find the most suitable grease for their specific application,” says James.

Robert says he has also created a long-term maintenance programme to be able to evaluate the performance of the new bearings in the kiln cars.

“We decided that every time we had a bearing failure and a kiln car was taken for bearing work, we would replace all of the bearings in to Timken bearings. Even though this means it takes longer for us to repair a car when it is down, the cars where we have replaced the bearings have been running without any problem for one year and counting,” says Robert.

The cost savings from the programme, according to Robert, have already been apparent.

“We hadn’t realised how much the overall cost saving had been until we started analysing it. It is now clear to us that because we are getting as much as four times more life from the bearings, we have made around 30% overall savings in bearing costs as well as the reduced downtime. We have also gained 25% more productive time,” says Robert.

James says the BSC team follows closely how the programme will progress, making sure Austral Bricks will see maximum benefits from the bearing upgrade.

“We are highly invested in making sure that the programme Robert has introduced is successful. We talk with him several times a week to see how things are going and also to forecast when he might need to order new products. Initially when he started this programme, there were a lot of urgent orders, which we were able to supply with Timken’s support. Now we are finally getting on top of it so that we can have a bit of breathing room,” says James.

Robert says he is positive about the prospect of a continued partnership with BSC.

“Working with BSC over the years has had so many benefits for me. They have such big range of products and such a wide network that they can almost always look for what I need and source it for me,”
says Robert.

“At times when I’ve needed technical advice, like in this example, James has directed me to BSC engineers like Mark Slaughter and whenever they recommend a new product that I have not used before, I don’t need to second-guess it or worry about it. If they say this thing will work for you, I know that it will and that’s why I really like working with BSC.”