Our agglomerate slab technology was born in 1976. Thanks to our unique formulations and processing technology, we belong to an elite group of manufacturers, whose products are virtually impossible to copy. Like Coca Cola and Nutella, the secret is in the special recipes. Our product is so diffcult to replicate that our competitors shy away. Think about it, after around 40 years, we are still the only company in the world doing what we do.
How it all began…
The original patented design comes from Germany. An aerospace engineer wanted to create a lightweight, slim, robust finishing material that could withstand sufficient vibrations to be used on aeroplanes. The material had to be highly flexible, to fit the contours of an aircraft cabin, yet as strong, if not stronger, than a thicker substrate and lightweight for airborne duties.
The idea, the principle was correct. A blend of crushed stone, granite, marble, quartz, all mixed together with resin in a machine, using a vibratory motion, then baked into large slabs. Right idea, wrong implementation. The way the patent had been written was wrong and the idea would never have worked, so it was a failure. But one man’s failure is another’s opportunity and that same patented process was adapted and refined by us for architectural and residential remodelling applications. That was back in 1976, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed Apple, the Eagles recorded Hotel California and Rocky clinched the best picture Oscar.
The First Factory
Qualifed engineer, Pier Lorenzo Montagnani, was sure he could make it happen: create the world’s first thin, lightweight and flexible hard flooring, in large formats. His vision, his technology. The factory to produce this flooring material was built in Calusco d’Adda, west of Bergamo in the Italian region of Lombardy.
Livio Magni, now Production Manager at the E-Stone manufacturing plant in Sebring, Florida, was hired as one of the first workers, in 1978. Livio says that apart from the basic principle, today’s manufacturing technology is completely different from those early days. Like an organic system, the agglomerate production process is constantly evolving. Not just the manufacturing hardware, like the kilns, the polishing lines, but the hundreds of adjustments to our formulations and software, the resins, pigments, catalysers and accelerators, the kiln sequences and timing programs, adding up to thoursands of hours of annual maintenance and upgrades. That is what makes our production resource truly unique, very hard to master and virtually impossible to copy.
The first kiln used to cure our slabs was 90ft (30m) long, with a standard 3-hour process time. Our latest kilns are vertically-loaded and compact, just 30ft (10m) long with precisely programmable curing times.
Longest polishing lines
At our Sebring, Florida plant, we have what we believe are thelargest polishing lines in the world, within our industry. Most natural marble, porcelain slab and engineered stone is polished in lines that have up to 13 polishing heads and, in very rare instances, 20 heads. If it were a car, a 20 polishing head line would be the quivalent of a Mercedes. So what does that make us? A Ferrari.
At the E-Stone manufacturing plant, our polishing lines contain up to 40, even 60 polishing heads. Polishing Line 1 has 40 heads, performing a high performance and precise polishing schedule that lasts 1 hour, from start to finish.
Polishing Line 2 has a total of 60 heads and coats every slab with a fine layer of liquid resin, to fill in tiny holes created by micro-bubbles bursting in the bonding resin, and the whole sequence takes 4 hours, including 2 hours resting in the kiln. For each slab colour, the exact pressure of each individual polishing head and the shape of each set of diamond polishing pads have to be fine-tuned, in advance of each production run. Each polishing head has 6 diamond polishing pads and each slab colour requires a specific configuration, pad shape and hardness. To prepare a specific head composition, it requires an hour of work, plus kiln time, and this lasts just one day of polishing, processing up to 9,000 slabs.
Most diamond pads used nowadays for polishing stone slab derive directly from a series of original designs created by two people in Italy. One is our own Livio Magni and the other was his colleague Giovanni, working in the confined spaces of a small former canteen, beneath a residential building in Milan. They engineered a compact but powerful kiln for the manufacture of hand-made diamond polishing pads in various configurations. It’s said that each time the kiln was powered up, the whole building gently danced…
Today, much the same technology is housed at our Sebring location, controlling the abrasion, brilliance, resistance and endurance of our agglomerate slabs. The precision of our polishing sequence is paramount. Consider this: an average Victoria’s Secret store is 4,500 square feet, with roughly 150 flooring slabs that have to look exactly the same under specific lighting conditions. Each production cycle for Victoria’s Secret was 1,000 slabs and each sheet had to be exactly the same, with minimal variations between batches. They used roughly 550,000 slabs of our material for their store network and precision polishing ensured long-term consistency.
Mastering how to polish a slab is acquired with time and experience, based on understanding how individual material reacts to the touch of a polishing pad. This is why on Line 1, 10 of the 20 polishing heads are equipped with our own hand-made polishing pads. On Line 2, 18 of the 40 diamond polishing pads are also made in-house.
With our own polishing pads, we control the entire process and guess which last longest, the industrially-made proprietary pads or our own in-house components. Ours of course.
Factory stands alone
There are over 200 factories throughout the world manufacturing engineered stone using the Breton system, for brands like Caesarstone, Cambria, Silestone, Zodiaq… 100 of the plants are located in China, 40 more are in India. Our E-Stone manufacturing plant numbers just one. Each year, Breton plants turn out roughly 250 million square metres or 2.5 billion square feet of material, totalling around 57 million individual slabs. That’s enough to cover 46,700 football fields or 568 times the surface area of the Vatican City.
If the E-Stone plant worked at full capacity, we would have the capability of producing roughly 1 million square metres (10 million square feet) or around 250,000 slabs, only twice the surface area of Vatican City. In reality, we manufacture over 60 different colours and have the additional capacity to create custom colours and fulfill special volume orders. Since 2000, our average yearly production is 143,000 slabs or 0.0025% of worldwide output. Each production machine is designed and equipped to ensure the quality of a technologically-distinctive composite material. We continue to develop innovative new ways of applying our unique technology to improving and refining our standalone product.