Factory-fresh ceramic tiles

factory_bicyclesLast week, Tile of Spain invited 12 architects, designers, and journalists to Spain to show off the country’s innovative ceramic tile manufacturers. We spent three days in Valencia, visiting booths (or “stands,” as they say in Europe) at Cevisama, the tile show.
   We also toured two factories in the Castellon region, Spain’s center of tile manufacturing. One makes tiles with powdered ingredients that are formed in high-pressure molds. The other factory forces soft clay through an extruder, and the tiles are cut to size. Processes like ink-jet printing and drum rollers lay down textures, patterns, or images on the tiles before they are glazed and fired. Manufacturers turn out products that look like wood, marble, wallpaper, photographs, and, well, ceramic tile.
   The manufacturing process is impressive, but so are the factory buildings themselves. Skylights brighten (without shadows) the warehouses and factory floors. The day of our tour was chilly and I was expecting to warm up inside, but the 2,000+ F ovens are so well insulated that the heat does not radiate to visitors. The buildings are so vast that employees move around by bicycles. I was expecting to find benches and benches filled with hunched-over grandmothers painstakingly hand-glazing ceramic tiles.  Not so. Abuela must have been sunning herself at la playa. These factories are heavily automated (check out the videos). I swear that our delegation was larger than the day shift.
   In later posts, I’ll show you some new tile designs. —Jim Carper

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Traco adds some crystal to the trophy shelf

tracologoThe good people at TRACO, Cranberry Township, PA, have just announced that they have earned their fourth Crystal Achievement Award. This time they were recognized for their innovative manufacturing plant.
   The awards program, sponsored by Glass Magazine, the official publication of the National Glass Association, McLean, VA, selects winners based on significant innovations and achievements in commercial, retail, and fabrication markets. The winners were honored at the GlassBuild Show, held Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 in Atlanta. TRACO has previously won Crystal Achievement awards for “The Most Innovative Commercial Window” in a large category in 2007 and 2008 and “The Most Innovative Website” in a large category in 2008.
   The description of the winning entry tells us that the “1-million-sq.-ft. facility houses an advanced vertically integrated process for manufacturing architectural windows and doors. Manufacturing is divided into glass processing, aluminum extrusion, and final assembly. The facility has three aluminum-extrusion presses; an anodizing and paint line that offers color, finish, and design options; and nine assembly lines that form finished products from finished aluminum, glass, and components.
   “The company incorporates the philosophy of sustainability and responsible manufacturing through techniques that reduce the use of energy and materials, and contribute points for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, while minimizing waste and emissions. This year, the manufacturing facility incorporated three new initiatives following Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma principles: new assembly line layout and 5S integration; Production Part Approval Process; and In-Process Inspection and Final Product Audits.”
   “When discussing excellence in a manufacturing facility, there are some fundamental guiding principles,” said Rob Struble, Crystal Achievement Award judge and business communications manager, growth initiatives and performance glazing, PPG Industries Inc., Pittsburgh. “Lean, 5S, and Six Sigma show a commitment to disciplined process control. These, coupled with a commitment to sustainability, comprise the cornerstones of modern manufacturing. Traco’s employee process ownership, PPAP and IPA/FPA show how thoroughly quality programs reach through their processes.”
   Congratulations to TRACO! —Gary L. Parr