The best way of getting to know a material is to see how and where it is produced.
This is what the WEBLOG architects and bloggers (Elisabetta Rizzato | italianbark, Nora Santonastaso | Design Outfit, Carlotta Berta | unprogetto and Elisabetta Mattiello | MaisonLab did when they visited the Marazzi plant at Casiglie, Sassuolo ().
Employing almost a hundred people, Casiglie is one of Marazzi Group's "productive hearts" and one of the world's most avant-garde porcelain stoneware tile manufacturing industry plants.
Casiglie was the first plant to implement the large-scale introduction of the continuous technology: a process which allows porcelain stoneware to be manufactured in different sizes and finishes on the same production line.
The continuous line is the "continuous belt" on which the raw materials (the body mix of powders and chips from which the tile is born) are laid, and on which the various production processes are carried out, through to the finished product itself.
It all starts with a tidy layer of powders ready for transformation: the decoration is applied, dry, directly on the raw material, through the addition of a cascade of powders and chips (varying depending on the type of final product required), for a result of exquisite appearance with outstanding technical properties.
The layer of powder is then compacted by means of two machines (one 70 kilo followed by one 400 press) and only then is it cut, making the whole process much more flexible and minimising waste. After drying, the tile is ready for glazing, printing and firing.
For a full understanding and appreciation of the real revolution in ceramic tiles in the last 10 years, the focal point is the printing department: here, a large digital 3D printer uses the ink-jet technology to reproduce any type of effect on the ceramic surface. Working with extremely high-resolution files, it is possible on the one hand to print motifs even of very large size (up to 1300 x 1300 cm) and on the other to faithfully reproduce the distinctive patterns of natural materials such as wood and marble, in their different versions.
The most impressive part of the factory tour is definitely the visit to the firing department.
It is in the form of a corridor almost 200 metres long, with kilns on both sides. All this length is necessary to reach the maximum temperature (1210 degrees in the middle kiln) gradually, fundamental to ensure that the final product will have the necessary strength and to guarantee the dimensional stability of the various sizes, especially the largest ones.
The final processes are rectification (i.e. cutting to obtain perfectly squared slabs) and grade sorting. The grade sorting process checks the stoneware's colour, shade and mechanical strength, as well as its geometrical properties (gauge, flatness and rectangularity) by means of special machinery. Every first grade tile leaving Casiglie must be perfect.
The entire plant, in operation 24h a day, 7 days a week, is regulated and monitored by an extremely high-tech centralised system which guarantees the maximum safety and efficiency. Even the cardboard boxes containing the tiles ready for shipping are produced at the plant itself, in parallel with the production process, to avoid any supply shortfalls.
Eco-sustainability is another characteristic of the Casiglie plant: thanks to a cogeneration system, electricity is produced on site, while the hot air from the kilns is recovered to supply the driers and burners. Marazzi has always been a sustainability pioneer, reflected on the ground in closed-cycle production, which limits the consumption of natural resources and environmental impact, thanks also to the introduction of controlled management of waste, energy consumption and the recycling of industrial materials and wastewaters.
Ph Davide Buscaglia