In an industry that utilizes tile on a consistent basis, it’s easy to forget that there is a very detailed process behind its creation. How a tile is produced determines, not only its sustainability characteristics, but its quality and functionality for the end user.
Amanda Palmer with American Tile offered me the amazing opportunity to venture to Crossville, Tennessee and tour the StonePeak Ceramics tile factory to witness the production process in action. I could talk for hours about the fascinating events that occur on a daily basis, but who am I kidding – pictures are much more entertaining!
[ from left to right, top to bottom ]
1. RAW MATERIALS – It all begins with these large bags of crushed up recycled materials. Fun Fact: StonePeak employs a closed-loop process, recycling nearly 100% of raw materials and water wastes back into the production cycle.
2. RAW MATERIALS – An up close picture of the recycled materials.
3. GRINDING – The tiles are produced from a batch composition of many different raw materials with different characteristics, including: clays, quartzes and feldspars. Fun Fact: These materials come from quarries around the world – Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, France and Italy.
4. GRINDING – These machines grinds the raw materials in water to create the consistency required for pressing. Fun Fact: These “mills” work 24 hours a day, grinding and mixing the raw materials with water, fluxing agents and zircon alumina balls. At the end of this process, a liquid known as slurry is obtained.
5. COLORATION – During this phase, all-natural mineral-oxides are used to color the slurry created during the grinding stage. Fun Fact: This picture represents only one section of the more than 628,000 square feet of the tile manufacturing power house!
6. SPRAY-DRYING – An atomized powder is produced from the colored slurry and gets sent to one of the 64 silos [pictured] for storage. Fun Fact: Each of the 64 silos contains a different color. These colors get mixed to create specific blends necessary to produce a particular product.
7. They may look old-school, but these computers plan and control every phase of grinding and spray-drying. Fun Fact: For being so large, there are very few human employees working in the factory. Advanced technology plays a big role in this manufacturing process.
8. PRESSING – This machine is responsible for the pressing phase, where air is removed from inside the body and intense pressure is applied to compact it. The tile then goes through the drying phase to eliminate moisture from the tile. Fun Fact: These machines have laser sensors that detect when something gets too close. If a laser is triggered, the machine will shut down. Safety first!
9. DRYING, GLAZING, FIRING – Once the tile is dried and glazed, it goes through the firing phase. Fun Fact: The temperature in the firing kilns reaches a maximum level of up to 2282°F!
10. RECTIFYING – After it is fired, the tile is cut by rectifying machines that use diamond tools.
11. SORTING – During the sorting phase, the defective pieces are eliminated, the top quality tiles are separated from those of interior quality and the tiles are grouped by each class of quality. Fun Fact: Although the technology is highly sophisticated, humans still play a valuable role in the sorting process.
12. PALLETIZING – The finished product gets packaged in special cardboard cartons directed by computerized instructions and loaded onto pallets.
WAREHOUSE – This organized warehouse utilizes the help of automatic forklift robots, directed by a GPS navigation system to store pallets in their designated areas. Check out the robots in action in the video clip below. The warehouse is the last area where the final products are stored and ready to be shipped to customers.
Video clip: StonePeak Ceramics Factory – Robots
*Photos courtesy of Jenna Caradonna
*Information courtesy of StonePeak Ceramics