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About face: Wisconsin start up TEC Products patents extruding process for thin concrete brick veneer and precast panel inlays.

The first time Terry Fellbaum and Todd Geisert teamed up to develop concrete plant equipment, they devised a system whose key function was forcing air. Seven years removed from selling their Ag-Flow Aggregate Heating technology to Mixer Systems Inc., they have unveiled a venture where air reverses course.

Armed with technology for vacuum-packed concrete mixes--covered by two North American process patents likely to be issued in early 2013--they have launched TEC Products to extrude and market a line of thin concrete brick for architectural precast panel inlays and a variety of veneer applications, including tilt-up concrete. The business formally debuts this month at the 2013 Precast Show and Icon Expo in Indianapolis.

"Our process brings great economy to producing thin brick in a wide variety of colors and textures," says Fellabaum. "The extrusion technology enables small or large volume output of an easily customized product on lead times measured in weeks. Extruded concrete brick units can be very competitive against clay alternatives, whose energy-intensive production has enormous start up costs and high volume requirements." Complicating the post-recession thin clay veneer unit supply chain, he adds, is a sharp capacity reduction among brick producers contending with the housing downturn and obsolete facilities.

"In talking to architects, precast producers, form-liner manufacturers and other prospects, we haven't had anyone discourage us," affirms Geisert. "The response has been: If you can extrude concrete in a footprint roughly the same as or smaller than concrete masonry, there's the potential to revolutionize thin brick veneer."

The TEC production process reached commercialization after 10 years of product development and patent pursuits. Those efforts proceeded along side day jobs in sales: Fellabaum, at Mixer Systems in Pewaukee, Wis.; Geisert, packaging equipment.

MACHINERY

TEC has repurposed idle industrial space for a veneer production line, shared with a Hartland, Wis., machine shop about 15 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Its charter workhorse mimics a small concrete block machine: A feed conveyor receiving dry mixes from twin belts charges a hopper slightly offset from a 4-ft.-high rectangular housing. Heavy on welded plates, bolts and clamps, a pressurized vertical chamber is the first thing that comes to mind.

Inside the machine, mixes are subjected to vacuum forces, then dispensed to 18- x 16-in. stainless steel pallets, 1/8-in, thick and machined in the TEC neighbor's shop. Concrete slabs of 5/8- or 1-in. thickness are extruded at the base through a profile plate--unit faces on top, horizontal ribbed portions (for embedment or substrate adhering or attachment) on the bottom. Pallets travel a roller conveyor through waterproof coating and surface treatment stations, the latter including an imprint roller for brick texturing.

The characteristics of extruded concrete enable nearly 100 percent recycling of green mixes from cull slabs, minimizing the plant's waste stream. The material can likewise develop strength with ambient curing throughout much of the year in the Wisconsin environment. TEC has begun production with manual pallet handling and transfer, both readily reconfigured to automated methods as plant volume increases.

Cured slabs are sawed to three thin brick (or companion corner leg) dimensions: Modular, 2 1/4- x 7 5/8-in.; Econo Modular, 3 5/8- x 7 5/8-in.; or, Utility, 3 5/8- x 11 5/8-in. An additional unit will be available to face half-high concrete brick.

The TEC production process brings two value propositions key to architectural precast producers and tilt-up concrete contractors: a) Sawing ensures very tight unit tolerances, eliminating much if not all grinding required at the point of placing brick on casting surfaces; and, b) the waterproofing agent prevents mix or paste adhering to brick faces--in contrast to clay units' wax-type coating, for which hot water wash is typically required at panel finishing.

SMALL BATCHES

With a strong emphasis on sales through architects, the company is promoting its use of fly ash at up to 25-50 percent portland cement replacement. The vacuum element is among factors that allow TEC to produce thin brick at a more reasonable binder factor than roof tile, whose cement-rich characteristics are key to successful extrusion.

"We have a lot to promote for conventional and green building projects: A moderate to high recycled content product from a process with limited waste stream and low water and energy consumption," affirms Terry Fellabaum. "Thin brick has proved itself in precast and tilt-up wall applications, especially as the mason labor pool continues to age. TEC has arrived with an affordable, durable and versatile option for a growing market segment."
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Comment:About face: Wisconsin start up TEC Products patents extruding process for thin concrete brick veneer and precast panel inlays.
Author:Marsh, Don
Publication:Concrete Products
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Words:744
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