A NORTH Yorkshire brick company has praised its production manager for designing and building a new brick dryer from scratch.

Steve Pittham, who has worked for York Handmade Brick Company since it was founded 30 years ago, created the state-of-the-art dryer from scratch.

The dryer is capable of handling more than 33,000 bricks at a time, significantly speeding up the production process and making the company even more efficient.

David Armitage, chairman, said: "Steve is the most loyal and dedicated employee one could wish for. Even since we formed York Handmade, Steve has been the bedrock of the company.

"He is also extremely talented. A new dryer would have cost us about £300,000, but Steve’s ability to design and build our machine has saved us about £200,000. This has been a labour of love for him and he is very modest about it all. But it is a fantastic achievement."

Mr Pittham said the previous dryer had run its course and just wasn’t capable of handling the pressure of their increasing order book.

He said: "We had the choice of buying a new one or building one ourselves. I liked the challenge of the second option and I am delighted it has worked out so well.

"It took about four months to build the dyer and it has already made a huge difference to our production process, doubling the amount of bricks which can be dried at the same time during a 48-hour cycle."

A fast and efficient dryer is a crucial part of creating handmade bricks. All clay bricks, when formed, contain water which makes the clay flexible enough to shape. This water must be removed before the bricks can be fired.

The process must be carefully controlled so as not to stress the product, which could lead to distortion and cracking. York Handmade’s new dryer can now remove 4,000 gallons of water at a time.

The rate at which a brick dries is controlled by adjusting temperature, humidity and air movement. A typical drying cycle starts with low temperature - around 30C - and high humidity and ends with high temperature of up to 120C and low humidity. The movement of air, controlled by fans, is used to help evenly distribute the air around the product and remove saturated air.

York Handmade is extremely busy. Up and coming projects include a £300,000 contract to build a new library at Magdalene College, Cambridge; prestigious housing developments at Lancer Square in Central London and King’s Cross; and a significant restoration project at St Albans Cathedral.

Mr Armitage said: "It is encouraging that brick remains the building material of choice for many architects and specifiers across the UK. Providing the economy doesn’t implode, we anticipate a very successful and enjoyable 2019."

Since it was founded in 1988 the company has grown to 30 employees and a turnover of £2.5m a year with a target of £3m this year.