Date:June 23, 2016
In the Italian language, thinness gets associated with intelligence whenever there is a desire to better define sharpness of mind and capacity to solve complex problems through brilliant solutions. No wonder, then, that since they made their first appearance onto the world of ceramics for architecture, thin tiles have insofar amazed everyone for their intelligence, innovation, revolutionary productive processes, and capability to discover new areas of interest.
At the beginning of the years 2000, many doubts had been raised on a product that was so radically different from what was before; but it didn’t take long before its inner potential was recognized and exploited by both market and manufacturers, turning ‘thin’ tiles into one of the most dynamic products of the last decade.
To better understand the scope of this innovation one must consider that, not only were the first thin slabs made in thicknesses which had been, until then, unthinkable of; but they also showed surprising shapes, such as 3 metres by 1 metre. It is therefore the surface/thickness ratio, together with the global lightness of the product, to have marked a significant historic transition. We’re talking of values going approximately from 7.5 kg/sqm (for 3 mm slabs) to 11/14 kg/sqm (for 5 mm ones), so ranging between half and 1/3 compared to traditional products.
The industrial process employs a researched mix design, made up of a tested selection of clays, rocks, feldspars and pigments, which are pressed at a very high load on a continuous belt or by special presses, and which are subsequently fired at over 1,200 °C. This cycle can be defined as environmentally friendly, thanks to a limited use of prime materials, energetic resources, water and, consequently, to a reduced environmental impact.
Through this process it’s therefore possible to make considerably large ceramic slabs, which add, to the undisputed properties of porcelain stoneware, a considerable amount of flexibility. It is sufficient to think that 3 mm slabs, reinforced with a mesh, reach a bending resistance of about 90 N/sq mm, according to ISO 10545-4.
In order to appropriately satisfy the different binding and resistance requirements needed within the different applications, thin slabs have been going through a gradual engineering process of specialization, both through solutions of hybridization and through the definition of variations within the productive process.
Slabs may come today in different sizes, ranging from the 3 mm size (ultra thin slabs) to the 4.5 – 6 mm size (thin slabs); they may come in different thicknesses, equipped with a fiberglass mat at the back; or they can be sort of sandwich slabs, made up by coupling tiles of equal or different thicknesses with exposed faces squared off and interposed fiberglass tissues.
Sizes of single elements can vary from 3 by 1 metres (for the ultra thin and thin slabs, simple or sandwich), to 60×120 cm for some thicker single-layered products; up to the latest proposal of 6 mm slabs measuring up to 320×160. Of course, all submultiples are available as standards or on request for all the sizes insofar described.
As far as application is concerned, the properties of thin slabs, together with surface finishes and the capability of stoneware to look exactly as marble, wood, concrete, metal or some other material, have contributed to broaden the scope, by supporting new project solutions, both technically and from a compositional point of view.
Thin tiles have immediately been appreciated in house improvements, in flooring as in wall covering, as they can be easily applied on previous materials with no demolition needed, and, thanks to lightness, without weighing too much on the previously existing structure. Thanks to their lightness, they are also used to cover, or enhance, plasterboard panels, complex geometric shapes parts and surfaces, sliding and standard doors. They are also employed in exterior wall coverings, or coverings for new construction or remodeling buildings – where they are used both traditionally (ventilated application), or (thanks to their lightness, endurance, and thinness) as a finishing layer for thermal insulation coatings. Interior design, architecture, furnishings, as well as nautical furnishings are some of the other sectors where this new generation of tiles is being all the more applied, matching its thinness with the intelligence of its application.