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Forterra Desford factory redevelopment update

Forterra's Desford kiln test
Forterra's Desford kiln test

Redevelopment set to create largest and most sustainable brick making factory in Europe

SITUATED just two miles from the M1 with excellent transport links, Forterra’s new Desford site, in Leicestershire, will see a massive increase in the production of red and buff bricks for house builders, from 80 million to 180 million bricks per year. On a company-wide level, the Desford factory redevelopment alone will translate to a production increase of 19% from 2025 onwards.

At the heart of the plant’s efficiency improvements are two new kilns designed to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. The main benefit is its greater thermal efficiency, which comes from the kiln-carb design and additional thermal insulation, leading to greater emphasis on whole-life costings and energy savings. The plant will incorporate a tunnel dryer, which is superior in its thermal efficiency compared with the more common chamber dryer that was in place at the previous site and many other UK brick plants.


Additionally, more modern control hardware and methodologies allow for tighter control over the kiln conditions, creating the most efficient use of fuels for the process. Modern kilns also consume less gas and have more effective emissions-scrubbing technology, reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as other harmful waste gases. And the Desford factory will also generate a large proportion of its energy from solar panels. Currently, more than 7,000 solar panels are being used that will generate approximately 2.9 million watts of power – thereby constituting around 16% of the on-site electricity demand.

Cumulatively, these innovations will enable the new factory at Desford to emit approximately a quarter less CO2 per brick than the old factory – a reduction in emissions that is well in line with the industry drive towards sustainable production.

Moreover, with a goal of attaining a 50% reduction in single-use plastics by 2025, new technologies and methods are also being implemented to reduce plastic usage and wastage. Over the last three years, Forterra have partnered with packaging machinery and consumables suppliers to trial a new ‘bellyband’ packaging solution that can meet the needs of traditional hoodless packs without a drop in performance. This solution will be implemented at the new Desford factory, having already been put into practice across 30% of Forterra’s production, including at Accrington Brick and Kirton.

This new packaging solution will use 36% of the amount of plastic used in the previous packaging technology, and 30% of the material will be composed of recycled polythene, sized to be as thin as possible without incurring any reduction in performance. This is necessary because on a hoodless pack there is one layer of rotated bricks that is at a greater risk of falling out of the pack when being transported via forklift. The belly wrap was developed to specifically retain this layer of brick while keeping the amount of plastic used to a minimum.

‘The packaging solution complements several other investments and developments Forterra have made over the past year, such as a solar farm, which will render 70% of our power usage electric by 2025; a new eco-fleet of trucks, which will reduce our transportation emissions; and two redevelopments taking place at Wilnecote and Desford, both of which will implement new robotics and telematics technology, as well as the new packaging solutions,’ said Forterra chief executive Stephen Harrison.

According to Forterra, the overall philosophy of the new Desford plant design is two-fold. First, there should be no single point of failure, and second, when there is a breakdown, any repair should take less than 15 minutes to complete, ensuring the plant has leading levels of overall equipment effectiveness.

The Desford site therefore incorporates digital and telematic transformations. The new manufacturing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system can feedback the kind of faults a machine has suffered each shift, right down to a component level, so that the question of what needs to be fixed or optimized is not limited to what the human eye can observe.

With the SCADA system in place, faults will be pre-empted, meaning that they will be fixed more quickly, and more significant breakages will be avoided. Where machines previously needed to be serviced every few months to check for faults, regardless of whether any faults existed, the new technology will ensure that only those machines in need of repair will be serviced, thus allowing for a more economical, high-performance approach to production.

In combination, Forterra say these innovations will ensure that Desford is not only the largest brick factory in Europe, but also that its high production capacity is coupled with excellent standards of sustainability alongside a modern approach to streamlining and optimizing the entire production process. To ensure continued production during the redevelopment project, the existing Desford factory remains open and continues to produce high-quality bricks.


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