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 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 check out the institution’s latest investigations into new possibilities for ceramics and, hopefully, discover some of the possible future faces of tiles.
Interca brings the demountable ceramic tile floor one stage further. The system uses a rubber mat, with extremely accurate “grout” lines as a substrate. Tiles of the appropriate dimensions and thickness are simply laid into the grid to create a usable floor. Manufactured to very close tolerances, the Interca mat provides excellent grip, holing the tiles firmly in place. However, when required, the tiles can be removed and replaced. This technology has obvious applications in areas where and attractive, hard-wearing floor finish is required for a limited time period, such as exhibitions. It could also be used in show houses, where a developer wants to display a range of tile options. Potential buyers could simple select the tile of their choice. These could then be laid into and Interca grid in, say, a kitchen to show the overall effect of the chosen tile.
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. It 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.