Morgan Driskell and I recently had the opportunity to visit the Florida Tile factory near Lexington, Kentucky, and see firsthand how one of the most durable and commonly used materials is made. While most porcelain and ceramic tile is made overseas in Italy, the rich deposits of limestone in the central/southeast area of the United States make it a great place to produce tile domestically.
Our favorite part of the tour was being able to see the mountains of raw material in a dusty warehouse transformed into a printed, glazed and fired tile!
We managed to take home this souvenir–a ceramic ball–that is used to grind down the raw material into a fine pulp. Our bags were searched by airport security because of this tool, so we got to explain its purpose in the process!
After the materials are combined and are ready for pressing, they are funneled into forms specific to the tile being made that day, and then pressed twice in this machine. There is a 15-foot deep concrete footing beneath this machine, and it must be lowered into the plant through the roof.
One printing process the tile industry utilizes is inkjet technology. This allows virtually any design to be printed on the tiles with the ability to change designs instantly. For example, changing woodgrain patterns better simulates the variation of a wood floor. Florida Tile is on their 4th generation of printing technology. Before you glaze and fire the tile, that printed image can be wiped off with a swipe of a finger!
Much of the tile moving and sorting process is animated. You have to watch out for moving robots who cannot see you! Florida Tile utilizes both human eyes and computers to sort tile and maintain quality control methods prior to packaging.
Relatively new to the market is the concept of thin tile panels. In up to a 39” x118” slab, this product can go on either floors or walls. It is great for remodels where you can simply lay this 3.5 or 5.5 mm thick tile right over existing materials instead of spending time and money on demolition. It is also a great, eco- friendly option, taking much less raw material to produce.
It was wonderful to see a different part of the country (with more horses than corn fields) and learn firsthand about materials we specify!