How ceramic tile is made

Bob Borson —  February 28, 2011 — 16 Comments

Ever wondered how ceramic tile is made? It is a remarkable process and the technology behind that process has moved forward in tremendous leaps during the last 15 years. I took all the photos in this post and I asked one of my new best friends, Ryan Fasan with p.a.t.t.i. tile, to help with the technical details. I was listening but instead of taking notes, I was taking pictures. Ryan is a serious expert on all things related to tile and he was gracious enough to agree to fill in the gaps for me.

.Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, factory at night

Keraben Ceramica was nice enough to give us a guided tour of their production facility in Castellon, about an hour outside of Valencia. The production lines were running full-steam, letting us get a first-hand look at the processes. Thankfully we had their production manager and a couple technicians to help our traveling experts Patti Fasan and Ryan Fasan explain what we were looking at (ooh look …. that’s tile. Look over there, more tile. Is that tile?)

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

After walking the entire length of the factory (a few football field’s distance) we started our tour off at the beginning – the presses. Above, you can the recessed and movable die (like a tray) where the atomized clay mixture will be loaded. This clay mixture contains just enough moisture  to allow it to keep it’s shape after compaction.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Once the clay has been set in place, around 10,000 tons of compression comes down and forms the actual tile. The bottom die lifts up and an arm gently pushes all 6 greenware tiles (greenware = non-fired tile) to the conveyor heading off to the glazing lines. In order to keep the delicate greenware tiles from having to be handled much, the entire production line moves the tiles in a straight line from begining to end.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

The first glazing step for all quality tiles is an engobe coating delivered by a bell or waterfall application (this is essentially a primer coat of glaze). Functioning just like a primer paint, engobe glazes give a clean white surface that is easy for the more finicky finishing glazes to adhere.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Next it was time to actually decorate the surface of the tile. For this collection Keraben uses the Roto-color glaze delivery system with multiple glaze rollers creating nearly limitless variation in their stone reproduction.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

As the tiles pass beneath the rollers, each one gets a different segment of seven different screens which creates a very realistic reproduction of natural stone.  Depending on the number of rollers in the production line, an almost infinite amount of variation can occur.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Here’s a good look at one of the drums actually applying the glaze. The lighter colored stripe in the center of the drum is the screen, which is in constant motion so that each tile gets a different segment of the drum in different areas of the tile.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Another close-up view of one of the screening drums.In the bottom right hand of this picture, you can see a bucket of glaze. Each one of these rollers applied a different color and screen of glaze creating a deeply varied pattern on the tile. To keep the frits and minerals from settling in the glaze, each glaze bucket is kept in constant motion by a rotating arm (seen attached to the side of the bucket).

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

After the tiles have received their glaze, the sides of the tile are gently brushed to ensure grouts can adhere to the body of the tile during installation.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

In this picture, the tile passes under high-heat lamps to help dry off the excess water from the glaze before it gets absorbed into the bisque. This step is so that the tiles don’t deform or explode in the high heat of the kiln.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Once the tile makes it through the glazing lines they are grouped together and arranged and placed in massive drying cubes. This is to ensure that as much moisture as possible is drawn out of the biscuits prior to firing.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Before the kilns is a massive amount of these pre-dried tiles waiting to be fired. The kiln is the most sensitive and expensive to run, piece of equipment in the factory. They don’t want it to ever have to shut down or run empty. The recalibration time and resource expense is horrible so a factory will always have a platoons of tile ready to fire to ensure this doesn’t happen… these cubes-o-tile are moved around the facility by robotic forklifts. We did find out they automatically stop for people… on multiple occasions.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

 Finally the tiles make it to the roller kiln, a massive natural gas powered furnace that bakes the tiles at temperatures up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit (1200 degrees Celcius) the white tubes you see there are industrial porcelain rollers from which the kiln gets its name. They are virtually the same material as is used to clad the space shuttles as it is the only thing that will withstand prolonged exposure to the white-hot heat of the kilns.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

This was most people’s favorite part of the tour because it was the only part that had even a little heat to it. Even though it looks like you’re staring into the depths of hell there, the amount of heat given off is so minimal- a testament to the efficiency of a good ceramic kiln. Any heat-loss is wasted energy and Spanish ceramic production prides itself on its efficiency and environmental responsibility.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

I both love and hate Bob for getting this shot. I’ve never been able to get a shot this good of this section of the kiln. I said white-hot and I meant it. This is the sintering point of the kiln, where the feldspar fuses with the sand and clay creating an inert and immutable ceramic tile. Even at this hottest point in production you can touch the ceramic rollers and they are merely warm to the touch… usually. I wouldn’t advise trying it out unless someone at the factory says it’s ok.

.

Keraben, ceramic tile factory, spainish tile, Reign in Spain

Here’s our amazing Reign in Spain group with our Gracious host Javier from Keraben in the bottom left frame. Ryan is the incredibly happy looking fellow in the upper left hand coner and I am the guy who is obviously trying to look like an architect on the furthest right hand side.

.

.

  • Antonio David Guerrero Contrer

    I’m a roller printer tester at design and development of new products,technical area in Daltile México and i really like your post , here comes technicians from Spain,U.S. France, and other places good job!!!

  • Anton Price

    I believe that the best tiles company in the world is Land Porcelánico, they really do amazing tiles. They can even bend tiles and give it a curve and they also do hexagonal tiles.

  • Pingback: How Ceramic Tile Is Made - ALL FLOORING GUIDE – ALL FLOORING GUIDE

  • James Botes

    I want to know the best operating procedures that can be used on the glaze lines with bell and disk with roto colour aplications?

  • James Botes

    I want to know the best operating procedures that can be used on the glaze lines with bell and disk with roto colour aplications?

  • James Botes

    I want to know the best operating procedures that can be used on the glaze lines with bell and disk with roto colour aplications?

  • http://buildipedia.com/community/profile/64-ryancarpico Ryan Carpico

    Plant tours rock! The great pictures and descriptions make it feel like we were there with you all.

    Can you comment on whether this production process is fairly standard throughout the industry? Or does Keraban have a unique way of making tile?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      for the most part, I think for their product line it is fairly typical of quality manufactured tile. I would not think that this is the standard everywhere but Keraben makes a really nice line of tile and other Spanish manufacturers use similar technology. Short version is the technology is available, it’s whether or not the manufacturer has it or not.

  • Pingback: Ceramic Art Pottery | ITALIAN CERAMICS COLLECTIBLES

  • Richard

    Great images Bob…Interesting process moderization has made to tile manufacturing industry compared to my first tour 27 years ago.

  • http://www.buildingmoxie.com jb @BuildingMoxie

    bob thanks for taking so many pics . . . architect/blogger/photojournalist in the right of the frame.

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    I promise to love their tile forever. And Bob? You are way hotter than that kiln. Just sayin’. Love the serious archi look you’ve got going. You look so…tall!

  • http://twitter.com/Tile_Trends Ryan Fasan

    Thanks for inviting me to guest post with you on this Bob! I love doing collaborative stuff. Anytime you’re up for it in the future let me know. It turned out great I think… Your shots are amazing!

  • interiors from spain

    Grear post, thanks

  • Emily

    Great to see the process in order. It’s so vividly represented that I almost feel like I was there for it…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Emily – we here at Life of an Architect strive to provide our reader with the best possible information – even if I make most of it up 93.7% of the time.

      Funny enough, there was an Emily on our trip … Thanks for commenting