I am fascinated by technological advances in the potential applications for ceramic tiles. Some of the tertiary functions of ceramic tiles, beyond aesthetics and waterproofing, are perhaps obvious; such as photocatalytic (air purifying) tiles or hydrophillic (self-cleaning) tiles. Then there are photoluminescent tiles (emergency signage), photovoltaic tiles (electricity generation) and tactile pavements that provide sensory input for individuals with visual impairments.
The quest for new applications for tiles and indeed new types of tiles with different properties, is never-ending. 12 years ago I visited Alicer, the Spanish tile research institute, to see at first hand the institution’s latest investigations into new possibilities for ceramics and, hopefully, discover some of the possible future faces of tiles.
Located near Castellon, the Spanish ceramic tile production hob north of Valencia, Alicer plays an important role in keeping this vital industrial sector vibrant and progressive. Over the next six posts, I will introduce what was cutting-edge in 2004. Some of these concepts have moved forward into commercial production: others still wait for the right entrepreneur to turn theory into reality.
Loop investigates the possibilities of new, interlocking, tile shapes. The main tile shape used in Loop is reminiscent of the sprocket on a bicycle chain, features circular tile insets in a contrasting colour. A curve-edged diamond provides the infill.
Loop is just one of the many innovative tile forms that have emerged from ceramic student projects and manufacturers R&D departments in recent years. While many never make it through to commercial production, others are now very much part of the retail landscape.
The widespread availability of water-jet and laser cutting equipment has increased the scope for post production development of such innovative shapes on a commercial scale. One possible line of development for this research project is the development of specific patterns to reflect the prevailing imagery of specific applications, such as car showrooms, hospitals or restaurants.
Alicer is the Research and Innovation Institute of Ceramic Design. This non-profit association was established in 1993 in Castellon, Spain. Alicer’s main aim is to improve the quality and competitiveness of ceramics by developing innovative products. It also promotes an integrated design policy across the tile sector.
Alicer undertakes continuous research into the applications of new technologies and new materials. It also acts as a technical consultant to the tile industry in the fields of design and product development; and serves as a conduit for current information about ceramic design and helps in the generic promotion of the material.
The institute’s staff have a wealth of ceramic expertise. They also benefit from access to all the latest sector-specific technology including graphic software, CAD-CAM, photographic studios, a prototypes laboratory, a laser laboratory and an array of innovative printing equipment, including both ink-jet and serigraphy. The IT department offers both programming and robotics expertise, including a robotic decorating unit that can be used in place of traditional hand-painting.
In 2004, recent R&D projects had included:
- Development of laser tile decoration techniques
- CAD programmes for manufacturers
- Design of electric sockets and movement sensors formed from ceramic material
- Surface erosion studies
- Screen printing using ink jet
- New architectural applications for tile, including ventilated façades
- Development of robotic decoration processes
- Digital moulding as a step toward mass customisation.
This item first appeared in Tile UK, March 2004.