As a result of advances in technology, tile manufacturers are continually introducing exciting new product lines, which offer endless design options. No longer are 12-by-12-inch tiles the norm. Tiles are now being made in a number of sizes as well as decorative architectural pieces.
Photo courtesy of Tile of Spain/Garagres

More than ever, homeowners are dedicating time to decorating their homes and investing in high-quality materials - creating a haven where they can relax, entertain and carry on their day-to-day duties. Many are chic and worldly, and they are much more knowledgeable of what home products are on the market as opposed to say the homeowners of five or 10 years ago. The number of home improvement and design programs on television today can be held partially responsible for educating the masses, but manufacturers have also stepped it up a notch in regards to marketing and product development. In particular, there has been an explosion of innovative tile collections flooding the market place in recent years - giving homeowners as well as architects and designers more options than ever before.

And because consumers are craving unique and exciting tile products to customize their designs, manufacturers have been pushed to stay on top of their game and expand upon their research and development programs to feed this demand. Not only are manufacturers working to continually introduce new tile collections, but they are always looking to improve upon product lines that are already on the market.

Advancement in technology is at the pulse of this surge in product development. Not only do tile manufacturers have to brainstorm new ideas, but they also have to develop equipment and methods to physically bring the new innovations into fruition. Technical developments can be credited with the textures that continue to look and feel more authentic and the range of tile sizes that steadily increase. Moreover, the number of color options today seems limitless, and state-of-the-art technology has allowed for various finishes, which further provides tile with dimension.

The tile products that are now available offer more than practicality and durability. While form and function certainly remain a high priority - especially in busy households and high-trafficked public spaces - consumers are also seeking vibrant and eye-catching materials that stir interest and reflect their personalities. As a result, research and development departments have had to create high-quality products that remain pillars of strength, but also offer numerous creative possibilities.

"Innovation is paramount because we are committed to always offer a better product to our customer," said Di Giuseppe of Trend USA. "In glass manufacturing, we also feel it is important to continue with important Italian traditions. We want people to see how glass was produced 100 years ago, which is why we own Orsoni Mosaici. This is a foundry in Venice, which was started in 1888, and continues to produce Italian ‘Smalti' by hand using the original techniques."
Photo courtesy of Trend USA

Developing technology

A leader among the tile manufacturers who are on the cutting edge of technology is Trend USA Ltd. of Miami, FL. The company continues to evolve and dazzle its customers with new design options on a regular basis. While it relies on technology that has been successful in tile production for centuries, the company is always looking to fine-tune its methods, according to Chairman and President Andrea Di Giuseppe.

"The core manufacturing process for glass has been the same for centuries," he said. "However, every time we've introduced a new product, we have created the technology to produce it. We produce a variety of glass mosaics, and every collection has its own technology. We are always experimenting with new glass, however, for us, the most important thing is the new materials. Once we have decided to move forward on a prototype, we need to study the way to engineer the entire process."

Di Giuseppe explained that a new technology is either the result of improving existing machinery or developing a new product that it wants to introduce. "We start with experimenting with different types of glass manually, and when we are satisfied with the new product, we then develop the technology necessary to create it," he said. "We will engineer our own prototype internally, and then we will partner with a manufacturer to produce the product."

Developing a new product usually requires more than a year of testing, according to Di Giuseppe. "We are continually adjusting the design and test again," he said. "It may take up to three years to develop the final machinery to manufacture the new product."

And while the core processing of tile manufacturing has remained the same, improvements have been made, said Di Giuseppe. "There are parts that have changed incredibly - making the manufacturing an easier and faster process," he said. "Our R&D department is always researching and conducting studies to discover how to improve an existing process."

In particular, the technology for engineered stone has made a critical difference, according to Trend USA's company president. "In the manufacturing of engineered stone, there have been significant technological innovations," he said. "Our manufacturing process for stone is totally unique. Most of the industry norm uses technology developed by Breton. We develop our technology internally, and then partner with different companies to make special tools for us. This allows us to have a unique product that is thinner, lighter in weight and flexible. Every technological improvement results in a more efficient and faster process to make a final product that is always stronger and better looking. We are proud to have the third generation of this machinery here in the U.S. at our new manufacturing plant in Sebring, FL."

With this forward thinking, Trend USA continues to take large strides to remain in the forefront of tile production. "Technology is very important if Italian manufacturers want to stay ahead of the market," said Di Giuseppe. "Innovation is paramount because we are committed to always offer a better product to our customer. In glass manufacturing, we also feel it is important to continue with important Italian traditions. We want people to see how glass was produced 100 years ago, which is why we own Orsoni Mosaici. This is a foundry in Venice, which was started in 1888, and continues to produce Italian ‘Smalti' by hand using the original techniques."

In addition to improving tile production, companies such as Trend USA are also considering ways to develop new installation techniques. "We see the potential for technological advancement in glass tile not so much in the manufacturing process, but in the installation techniques," explained Di Giuseppe. "We are working to develop new systems to simplify the installation process, which would make it less expensive. For engineered stone, we strive to find new ways to produce the tile to achieve better standards and to incorporate recycled content into the product."

Ideas for new tile lines, such as Graniti Fiandre's Geo Diamond Collection, are often sparked by the fabric, textiles and clothing industries.
Photo courtesy of Graniti Fiandre

Committing to innovation

Tau Ceramica is another leading manufacturer that is known for devoting time and money to creating innovative technology that keeps the company at the top of its game - developing products that draw interest and maintain the company's competitive edge. It not only invests in state-of-the-art equipment, but it also realizes the importance of hiring a qualified staff to make ideas a reality.

Tau is committed to continually working on research and development projects of all sizes with a wide variety of universities and science centers. Additionally, members of Tau's team also regularly take part on numerous advisory committees and technological forums, which further gives the company insight into advances in technology.

Among one of the company's innovations in recent years is the production of ceramic wall tiles that can be used on exterior facades. "The evolution of the technology applied to the manufacturing of floor tiling, recently, has allowed us to obtain ever-improving tile formats, with excellent technical and aesthetic benefits," states Tau. "The ceramic tiles, which have been designed for this use, provide no end of possibilities and combinations of format, and an infinite range of textures and finishes. Tau has already used its materials for the ventilated facade and technique on a diverse number of hugely successful projects, including its headquarters and great architectural projects."

Advances in technology have permitted Tau to produce large-format tiles that can be installed using two different methods for exterior facades. One is the application of cement adhesives to the tile and the placement of the tile directly onto the sealed surface, which acts as a support. The second application method is based on the fixing of the ceramic tiles onto a metal structure, therefore converting the facade into a ventilated module.

Another recent product development for Tau is its Metallic Collection. This product line features ceramic tiles that contain the look and reflective qualities of metallic alloys such as steel, copper, aluminum and titanium. The sleek look of these tiles offer consumers a sophisticated option in design.

A recent innovation of Graniti Fiandre is its Geo Diamond Collection - a patented tile line conceived from the idea of offering a shining, brilliant tile product. The tiles, which are available in a variety of colors, include small metal embellishments.
Photo courtesy of Graniti Fiandre

Brainstorming new ideas

GranitiFiandre also leads the pack of innovators in the tile industry. "We have an extensive Research and Development department in Italy," said Jeanne Nichols, vice president of Trans Ceramica, Ltd., GranitiFiandre's U.S. sales and marketing company based out of Itasca, IL. "We're always striving to be on the cutting edge, and I think we've consistently achieved this throughout our 45-year history."

In recent years, the company has introduced a variety of tile collections to the market, which draw appeal for both residential and commercial applications. "I think one of GranitiFiandre's strengths is that we not only have the capacity to develop innovative products, but we also have a vehicle to bring them to market," said Nichols.

Nichols went on to say that the company researches new products in several different ways. "We approach research from an aesthetic, design and a technical perspective," she said. "We constantly pursue new and different ideas - many of which are often inspired by items in the textile, fabric or clothing industries. It is a huge advantage having our global headquarters based in the heart of Italy, and it certainly provides a great stimulus for design."

"We also seek input from our international clientele," Nichols continued to explain. "When white tile products were an important design element in Asia, we listened to our customers. Through the evolution of our Tinte Unite product, we were able to develop a product we refer to as ‘Extra White' for our clients in this market. We did our homework and, now that the U.S. is demanding more white products, we are already prepared for the market shift."

GranitiFiandre also oversees product development for clients with specific needs, which often leads to the introduction of a new product lines. "Our glazed products were developed for a specific hospitality client," Nichols explained. "We collaborated with this client to develop a product that was not only in sync with their pricing expectations, but was also consistent with the quality and environmental standards they had come to expect from GranitiFiandre.

"Different technology is required for glazed products," she continued. "Our new production facility in Tennessee is equipped with this technology and has enabled us to develop our new TCL brand. As a result of our advanced production capabilities, our glazed tile has unlimited random patterns."

Another GranitiFiandre innovation lies in its GeoDiamond Collection - a patented tile line conceived from the idea of offering a shining, brilliant tile product. "GeoDiamond has small metal embellishments," said Nichols. "It's unique, resulting in a modern and monochromatic tile."

In addition to constantly working on new products, the Italian manufacturer also is continually looking to improve upon past innovations. "Forty years ago, large-format tiles were only 8-by-8 inches," said Nichols. "However, as a result of our continued technological advancements, we are now able to develop units as large as 24-by-48 inches, creating interesting patterns that mimic quarried material slabs. Unlike quarried slabs which require a thicker product, we are able to use the thinner 1/2-inch porcelain product, which does not require a deep installation bed."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the company is also focusing on mosaics. "We are taking a new spin on mosaics by incorporating waterjet, which is different than the typical inlay pattern," said Nichols. "We've developed GeoDesign, which includes interesting shapes that are all mesh-mounted, as opposed to individual pieces. GeoDesign can be applied in the same way as a traditional mosaics."

When looking to future developments, Nichols sees several directions GranitiFiandre and the tile industry in general could take. "We have a lot of request for slabs," she said. "The market could be heading this way in the future. [Also], I wouldn't be surprised to see more products incorporating the popular metal look moving forward."