In the quiet town of Monroe in the north-western United
States, around 30 miles northeast of Seattle, an unassuming
tree-lined street is home to the headquarters of a business
that has made itself part of US refractories history.
Bricking Solutions Inc, formerly Pneumat-O-Ring
International, manufactured the industry’s first
bricking machine in 1966 to give refractory installers a safer,
more efficient alternative to manual installation methods.
The business was officially started in 1967 by Maurice
("Maury") Drenkel, a well-known refractory contractor, to
supply rotary kiln bricking machines to refractory
Bricking Solutions, as it is known today, was formed by the
US business’ merger with Swedish industrial
company Brokk in 1994 to create an international market
participant in kiln refractory installation solutions.
To date, the company has sold more than 800 machines in 75
countries, and international sales make up more than two-thirds
of its business.
Since January 2019, Bricking Solutions has been led by
managing director Heather Harding, who joined the
company’s marketing team in 2008.
In keeping with the company’s founding ethos,
safety remains at the heart of Bricking Solutions’
approach to product development. And according to Harding, this
is paying dividends with increasingly welfare-focused
"Customer feedback should drive product development," she
says. "Safety is a key concern for process plants worldwide.
For this reason, our safety inspection cages and personal
protection tunnels have always been popular products."
Cages and tunnels provide workers a sheltered area to repair
and inspect the kiln, keeping them safe from the debris that
commonly falls when coatings shrink and expand.
"Another safety- and productivity-enhancing product
we’ve seen a lot of interest in is our kiln access
ramps," Harding notes. "These are custom-designed to fit the
specific needs of each facility. They use a lightweight modular
design, meaning they are safe to use, but also safe and fast to
Harding explains that even though the refractory maintenance
business has become increasingly competitive over the past
decade, the company has stuck to its core business proposition
and has managed to preserve both quality and margins, despite
rising commercial pressures.
"Bricking Solutions has been making refractory maintenance
products for more than 50 years. It’s all we do,"
she says. "While other manufactures have dipped their toes in
the process industry, making a small selection of products as
part of larger catalogues, we have taken a different
"Since we are dedicated to this industry alone, we are able
to produce the most efficient and safest products while
maintaining our margins."
Bricking Solutions capitalizes on more than 50 years of
company experience, bolstered by the several decades of
combined industry knowledge among its highly skilled technical
staff, to develop products that Harding says are tough for
competitors to match in terms of quality, efficiency and
precise application to customer requirements.
|Heather Harding has been at the helm of
since January 2019.
As for any refractory products or solutions manufacturer,
raw material and energy costs account for a significant part of
Bricking Solutions’ business and budget
"Sourcing material and parts should always be a concern for
manufacturers. We choose to work with local vendors that meet
our expectations of quality, availability and price," Harding
"By partnering with local vendors, we are able to acquire
materials quickly and ensure quality control over the entire
supply chain. An added benefit of sourcing local materials is
the transportation cost savings, which we are happy to pass on
Over the past half-century, Harding says the company has
fine-tuned its operation to use the most efficient and
effective manufacturing processes, which keeps a lid on energy
costs to an extent.
"We’ve been able to achieve this through
experience, education and constant evaluation of our methods.
Even in industrial manufacturing, new technologies are being
developed every day. Bricking Solutions utilizes these new
technologies to improve the quality of our products and help
reduce manufacturing energy costs," she says.
Bricking Solutions is not alone in its customer-led approach
to product development.
Refractory products and maintenance companies across the
world consistently highlight the need to design around specific
requirements, anticipating industry needs wherever they can and
responding to requests for improved performance rapidly to
prevent being usurped by competitors.
Supply chain management is also essential, so customers rely
on carefully chosen partners to produce products and provide
maintenance services that, due to bespoke contracts, no other
business can easily fulfil.
Harding feels that it is important to maintain close contact
with suppliers, so that the quality of raw materials does not
slip and the reliability of deliveries is not compromised.
"As a custom-design manufacturer, we work closely with
suppliers on many of our products. Being local, we are able
visit suppliers in person on a regular basis, allowing us to
foster relationships and monitor quality. We treat these
relationships as partnerships, since both companies benefit by
producing valuable products," she says.
|Bricking Solutions produces refractories kiln
products including access ramps
Where many heavy industrial companies in Europe are
struggling to adapt to strict new emissions regulations, the US
has so far taken a lighter-touch approach to its industrial
But Harding says that tighter emissions controls around the
world are having an effect on Bricking Solutions through its
"While we are not directly affected," she says, "we feel the
effects through our raw material vendors. Strict emission
regulations can occasionally lead to price increases from
larger industrial factories."
But, she notes, careful management of the efficiency of
processes and material usage generally allows the company to
adapt to price fluctuations, without greatly affecting
On top of stricter global regulations squeezing the
refractories sector, the US government’s
increasingly adversarial approach to a number of its trading
partners is causing consternation for many of its importers and
exporters, including refractories companies.
"Bricking Solutions is a worldwide company. We sell roughly
70% of our products internationally, so US trade agreements are
very important to us," Harding says. "Because we source our
materials locally, we don’t foresee any
significant problems [in that part of our supply chain].
However, we pay close attention to how agreements can affect
our customers, and do our best to mitigate any negative
Harding admits that the outlook for the global refractories
business and Bricking Solutions’ customer base is
uncertain, with competitive pressures doubling down on top of
wider macroeconomic issues.
But, she says, Bricking Solutions is well-placed to adapt to
changes in the market.
"One size doesn’t fit all" is
Harding’s stoical response to the suggestion that
her company is facing many and varied challenges over the
"We are always finding ways to improve our line of products
and create new offerings that will be beneficial to the process
industry. We enjoy working closely with plants to find creative
solutions to their unique challenges," she says. "As the
industry evolves, we are excited for the opportunity to develop
new products to meet the needs of tomorrow’s