A new flexible ceramic is competing with tile and conventional wallpaper as a hard-wearing, easy-care wall covering.

A continual patented process is used to apply a ceramic coating to the flexible carrier material, which is then hardened before it is given an anorganic topcoat.

Long-term sprinkler tests demonstrated that even after a week of thorough soaking, no water managed to penetrate the material.

The Miller family is very happy. They have a cottage in the country, a small garden with a sandbox and a swing for the children, and a freshly tiled terrace-everything looks great. The only project that Peter Miller, a painter and decorator by trade, has yet to tackle is the bathroom. Tiling is not exactly something he's crazy about, however. Cutting tile can be tough going, and the joins only look good if they run precisely parallel to each other.

Peter found a new solution for his problem at the Home Textiles trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany. Made by Degussa GmbH, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the German industrial group RAG, and sold under the name ccflex, the flexible ceramic product offers a number of advantages over traditional wall coverings. Mary Miller was able to choose the color shade she wanted, and applying the covering was child's play for Peter (after all, he's a professional). It took him just one day to get the bathroom gleaming in a beige-green shade with orange marbling. The wall covering not only looks superb, it also meets all the norms for fittings and fixtures in damp locations-even the spray from the shower won't damage the special wall coating. Three-year-old Lisa Miller has already tried it out; she wants to be a firewoman when she grows up.

Ceramic has always been regarded as a tough, hard and brittle substance, and is not something that can generally be rolled up or applied to a wall using a brush or paint roller. Yet that is precisely what Creavis Technologies & Innovation, the Research and Development unit of Degussa GmbH, has managed to achieve. The ccflex flexible ceramic product can compete with tile and conventional wallpaper as a hard-wearing, easy-care wall covering.

Figure 1. Four layers make up the flexible ceramic material. The base (1) consists of a nonwoven polymer that lends the necessary flexibility. The ceramic material (2) is applied directly on top of this from a metal oxide compound. The material can be pre-colored if required, or a wide range of different designs can be stamped onto the material (3). A transparent topcoat layer (4) is then used.

Understanding the Process

ccflex is based on a technology developed and patented by Degussa. The technology enables a ceramic coating to be applied to a flexible carrier material, such as a nonwoven polymer, in a continual process, with additional anorganic covering layers then added (see Figure 1).

Normally, ceramic materials only achieve their strength and durability at high temperatures. "We have succeeded in greatly reducing these temperatures, which otherwise would mean high energy consumption," explains Martin Wille, Ph.D., who is in charge of production and technology in the ccflex unit. The ceramic can be anchored and hardened onto the synthetic matrix at temperatures of approximately 250°C, which is up to 1000°C lower than traditional methods.

The process involves a special kind of adhesion or bonding between the carrier and coating. Once the surface has been printed to specifications, a transparent topcoat is applied. The entire process is patented, as is the special application.

The ceramic material, which consists of a mix of different metal oxides, can be colored or stained. Alternatively, patterns or motifs can be applied to the material after thermal treatment. Conventional printing processes such as Flexodruck can be used to decorate the material in this fashion.

Finally, a water-resistant topcoat is added to seal the surface, and a coating is then added to the reverse side of the material for adhesion purposes. After the product has undergone quality controls, the partner company assists in cutting it to standard measurements and packaging it for shipping.

"We are currently manufacturing 25 m rolls in 70 cm widths. We will also have 100 cm widths available in the near future," says Michael Schulze, the Creavis man responsible for the sale and marketing of ccflex. In the meantime, Creavis has acquired another production line that will be placed in its own hall. This production line will be able to produce rolls in widths of up to 150 cm, which should enable the company to tap into new markets for coating furniture or work surfaces.

The flexible ceramic material (right) was compared with a conventional woodchip wallpaper in a flame test. The wallpaper burnt to ashes within 10 seconds of flame contact. By contrast, the ceramic wall covering only glowed. It didn't break off into burning parts, and the fire did not spread.

Multiple Benefits

Because it is ceramic, ccflex is scratch proof; resistant to impact, chemicals and fire; and stable under ultraviolet sun rays. Ease of use is another important benefit. "Our product is easy to handle because it is sold by the roll," says Schulze. ccflex can be worked more rapidly and more affordably than tile, which has to be applied piece by piece and then grouted. And because there are no joins when the material is applied, there are far fewer hiding places for dirt to gather or mold to form.

The covering is normally applied using a traditional dispersion adhesive, which is another advantage. When the Millers move or redecorate, they can simply remove the wall covering-no more tedious dampening and scraping off wallpaper. The properties of the product can also be customized to suit particular purposes. For example, ccflex can be adapted to help significantly reduce the spread of bacteria and prevent mold from forming.

The product's low weight is another plus that opens the door to a large number of lightweight construction opportunities in trains, airplanes and ships, where high functionality combined with a luxurious look is needed. Demand could be particularly high in the premium segment (i.e., cruise ships or first class sections in trains and airplanes), especially as the ceramic material should receive a high fire protection rating.

A Flexible Future

Degussa expects to sell more than 1 million m2 of flexible ceramic by the end of 2007. Potential customers include architects, specialist plants and major construction companies. The housing construction company Rhein-Lippe, a part of the RAG Group, has indicated its interest in the product and would like to renovate its housing stock using ccflex.

Other applications for ccflex could include wall coverings in living areas, workrooms and sanitary units, and as decorative elements in buildings. As a response to all these potential uses, ceramic surfaces are available in a wide range of colors and designs. The Creavis team is also developing different designs to meet specific requirements and habits in the U.S., Great Britain and Germany.

The first ccflex samples met with great interest from users. Soon it might not be just the Miller family that finds their new "marble bathroom" exciting. Peter, the professional painter and decorator, has a good idea of how he can convince his customers as well. "If necessary, I'll just bring them home with me and show them," he says. "That will definitely work."

For business information regarding flexible ceramic wall coverings, contact RAG_s Corporate Press office at (49) 202177-4299. For product-related questions, call (49) 236549-4666, e-mail info@cc-flex.com or visit www.degussa.com.


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