Most of today's modern tile companies are less than 50 years old, creating a spirit of innovation in a relatively young industry. These companies are finding ways to set themselves apart from the pack by appealing to architects' desire for larger, slimmer porcelain forms.
Better known for Crema Marfil marble, Levantina has entered the ceramics market with a new slim-format porcelain line called Techlam. Other manufacturers are finding dynamic solutions for floors, walls, counters and exterior cladding, hoping to take advantage of the growing interest among design professionals for slim-format material—the lightest and thinnest materials are yet to come. One of the year's most exciting U.S. introductions from a ceramic manufacturer is Spanish manufacturer Porcelanosa's Krion solid surface, a 100-percent recyclable material made of natural minerals and resins. The formula creates a pore-free surface that is impervious to fire, stains, and bacteria. And because Krion sheets can be molded or thermoformed, architects and designers are beginning to see its versatility for ventilated facades
Innovations outside of the industry promise to bring competition, and innovation, to ceramic surfaces as well. Cosentino, a Spanish company whose history is in quartz and natural-stone surfaces, launched a new product called Dekton earlier this year. The ultra-compact surface is made of a mixture of inorganic materials and can be used indoors and out at sizes up to 320 cm by 144 cm with thicknesses of 8 mm, 2 cm, and 3 cm. Like ceramic tile, Dekton has design versatility and will be available in a full range of natural finishes and textures. Other companies, including Lafarge Ductal and TAKTL, will also be big competitors to the tile industry with thin-format, ultra high performance concrete facade panels that offer similar strength and versatility in outdoor applications.
Perhaps the biggest driver in the world of solid surfaces is technological innovation outside of the industry. Companies will continue to add new functions to traditional ceramics—photoluminescence and integrated photovoltaics will have new implications for reduced energy use in future buildings. Touch-sensitive glazing and nanotechnology can create responsive environments (turn on a light or call a waiter by simply touching a nearby surface) and biomimetic materials will clean air around buildings or in healthcare environments and schools, proving that the biggest advances in ceramics will likely be invisible.