Bringing Bricks Back To Life with BrickRecyc

Words: Vera Autushka
BrickRecyc, a machine that removes old mortar from bricks, was invented by three entrepreneurs from Quebec in 2021. Tommy Bouillon, David Dufour, and Hugo Cartier were the innovation's source.

The invention emerged out of necessity. Tommy Bouillon, head of the Quebec Masonry Association, and David Dufour, co-owner of Masonry Gratton—a company specializing in historical restoration—sought an automated method to quickly and efficiently clean ancient bricks without breaking them. The traditional method of removing old mortar with a hammer resulted in a 30-35% loss of bricks. Damaged bricks needed to be reconstructed, and frequently the contractor had to order costly handmade replicas.

The traditional method had another significant disadvantage: workforce retention. Hiring and keeping workers willing to clean bricks with hammers was challenging due to the heavy, repetitive nature of the work and the excessive dust it generated. Naturally, workers preferred new construction projects over restoration.

The eureka moment for BrickRecyc came during a flight from Vancouver to Montreal. As the trio brainstormed, Dave sketched the initial design of a simple yet efficient machine on a napkin. They were amazed that such a straightforward idea had not been conceived before. However, transforming this concept into a functional machine required numerous refinements. After extensive development and countless macro and micro improvements, BrickRecyc was patented and made its debut on the scaffolds and work platforms of Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Canadian Market
In Canada, BrickRecyc was a much-awaited innovation because it met the needs not only of companies specializing in historic restoration but also benefited a wide range of masonry businesses. Several government programs in Canada offer incentives for contractors aiming to reduce construction waste. BrickRecyc recycled brick, and its built-in computer calculates CO2 savings, enabling contractors to earn tax credits for eco-friendly practices. For instance, reusing original bricks can save the equivalent of four tons of CO2 for a 1,000-square-foot wall.

BrickRecyc Goes International
In 2023, Fraco, the manufacturer of construction hoists and MCWP, launched the commercial production of BrickRecyc at its factory near Montreal, making the machine available on the global market. In Europe, BrickRecyc was well-received due to government incentives promoting environmentally friendly construction practices. Recently, it won the first prize for innovation from the French masonry organization SEDDRe.

Last year, BrickRecyc entered the American market too. One of its first significant projects was the renovation of Detroit's 117-year-old Cadillac factory, now being converted into an apartment block. The machine was employed to save historically valuable bricks, and it proved to be a valuable tool to preserve the historical heritage, automate the brick cleaning process, and accelerate the reconstruction.

Streamlining Brick Cleaning
BrickRecyc has revolutionized masonry work in several key ways. Firstly, it accelerates the cleaning process, handling three to eight bricks per minute. Its user-friendly operation requires no special skills or physical effort—simply place the brick at the laser-marked spot, press a button, and the machine safely cleans the brick inside and ejects it, free of mortar.

Secondly, BrickRecyc addresses transportation issues. Bricks can be cleaned directly on-site, even right on the work platform, eliminating the need to hoist them down and up again.

Thirdly, the machine organizes the work process efficiently. Clean bricks from various wall sections remain neatly sorted, avoiding any mix-up and ensuring they are ready for reinstallation.

The standard workflow involves one worker extracting bricks from the wall and bringing them to the machine. The operator inserts the brick, presses the button, and then dispenses the cleaned brick on the other side, ready for reuse.

BrickRecyc simplifies the work because it is user-friendly, requires no physical effort, and produces significantly less dust and debris than conventional methods. In an interview with a Canadian podcaster, Tommy Bouillon emphasized that no government incentives would make workers adopt a novelty if they don’t find it smart and helpful. Dave Dufour added that the purpose of the machine from the start was to retain workers in restoration, and he was pleased to note that BrickRecyc has been highly accepted by workers.

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