Brick and Tile Family Business

Brick and Tile Family Business
Far up the Mekong Delta, yet still in the thick of civilization, there is a large industrial area with brick and tile manufacturers. Each business runs one warehouse and two to four beehive-like kilns to produce brick and tile. The photograph above captures two of these businesses. Work begins at sunrise, 6:00 a.m., and ends around sunset, 6:30p.m.

Boats like those pictured above bring in clay from nearby rice fields for processing. The clay is generally in blocks sized similar to that of a shoe box.

Conveyor Belt and Mixing Machine
The material is then placed onto a conveyer belt (ramp at upper right) that feeds to a mixing machine (top) such as pictured above. Once the material is pressed through a screen, it drops into a second box where it is extruded into a stream of uniformly thick clay. The clay is then cut widthwise so that the shape approximates a rough square. Rejected pieces can be seen awaiting reprocessing atop the extruder (above).

Drying Clay Squares

The squares are then laid out for a short time of drying.

Clay Tiles Being TrimmedStacked Tiles

Next, the material is delivered to another area where it is mechanically trimmed and squared-up (picture above left – note shavings at woman‘s feet, as well as at machine to her right). Once tiles are within desired size and shape tolerance they are stacked (above right).

Boats Delivering Rice Husks
All throughout this process – which continues throughout the day – boats arrive with rice husks.

Rice HusksKiln

The husks are used to fire kilns that the tile and brick are loaded into. The husks are stored directly across from the kilns (kiln, above right – husks, above left). Kilns measure roughly 56 feet high and about 40 feet across. A kiln filled to capacity will hold 200,000 tiles. It takes four months of firing for the desired strength and finish.

BrickStacks of Bricks

After touching at least 15 sets of hands, each finished tile is worth upper single digits in pennies. Another 5-7 people are involved at various tasks supporting the operation.

Burnt Rice Husks Taken Away to Use as Fertilizer

The burnt husks are brought back to the boats where they will be loaded and sold as fertilizer to rice farmers.

This summary is a remarkable case in point regarding underutilized Vietnamese resources. If this were a normal manufacturing operation, simple – I repeat simple – equipment could be implemented for a pittance of capital. The whole operation might be conducted by less than eight individuals – rather than the more than 20 extended family members that I counted.

Alas, the goal is not productivity, but safety and survival of the family. They rise together, work together, and retire the day together. In most areas of the world an industry consolidation would have already taken place. But these people have no incentive to become more productive through consolidation. Rather, they have an incentive to dig in and keep their heads down (please see ‘coffee money‘). While some readers may announce that these families are doing just fine – and to some degree I envy their family structure and focus – I reply that the country suffers due to an undershoot of both social and economic productivity. Socially, the young have no substantial variance of future apart of their parents narrow vocation. Economically, their future is roughly set as they take their first breaths. So, the country can not benefit from the next Bill Gates if Bill is stuck making tile and brick.