Modern Marvel

August 1, 2006
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Twin Press technology is used to manufacture tile that emulates rustic or natural stone.


Located an hour north of Dubai, R.A.K.'s main complex in the UAE covers over 11 million square feet under roof.
Since it began production in 1991, R.A.K. Ceramics has experienced phenomenal growth. It has become a market leader in Europe and has extended its exports to more than 135 countries. R.A.K.'s products are used throughout the world for hotels, hospitals, shopping centers and malls, department stores, restaurants, and auto dealer showrooms. The company's current annual sales are over $400 million, and tile production has steadily increased to over 105 million square meters (approximately 1.1 billion square feet) per year.

The company's main location, a complex of over 11 million square feet under roof, is located one hour north of Dubai in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), which is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Additional plants are strategically located throughout the world in countries such as China, India, Bangladesh and Sudan. Additionally, R.A.K. has sales offices and showrooms in many countries, including Sassuolo, Italy, the center of tile production. The company also recently opened R.A.K. Ceramics Corp. (USA) in Gurnee, Ill., to extend its reach even further by providing information and samples to U.S. architects and specifiers.

With top tile designers from Italy and state-of-the-art equipment, R.A.K. has a distinctive edge, enabling it to provide a wide range of tile for numerous applications. The company manufactures a wide spectrum of products for both ceramic and gres porcellanato (fully vitrified porcelain) tile. In the ceramic range, the company produces ceramic wall and floor tile, matching décor tile, listellos, pencils and cappings. The porcelain range includes thousands of models in soluble salt, salt-and-pepper, polished, unpolished, semi-polished and lapato finishes. Many of the patterns and finishes are created using new technologies such as roto-printing, double charge pressing, granitech, rotary diaphragm mixing, double filling feeding, Technoslate, Twin Press and dry glazes. Creative designs feature sandstone, 3-D graphics, tiles embedded with the look of textiles and tiles embedded with Swarovski crystals. In all, R.A.K. offers over 6000 varieties of tile, and new designs are added almost weekly to the product portfolio. All products meet or exceed ASTM and other international standards.

Astute leadership combined with the principle of acquiring the latest state-of-the-art technology and exacting outstanding quality has produced a company that anticipates change in the marketplace and addresses all issues proactively. A major factor contributing to R.A.K. Ceramics' success is its resolution to use the most sophisticated and advanced machinery in its factories. Sacmi supplies the majority of the company's equipment.

"R.A.K. is one of the most progressive and modern ceramics companies in the world," says Gian Pietro Piancastelli, Sacmi senior area manager. "They are always pushing us to develop new technologies."

Mixing Processes

The Sacmi easy oxide mixing or dry oxide mixing process involves mixing dry coloring oxides to the base body granules to produce uniform colored granules for salt-and-pepper and full mass products. After the base body granules have been spray dried, an electronically controlled batching system feeds them into a rotary mixer, along with a stain. The stain sticks to the whitish base material, creating a colored film that coats each granule. The colored powder is then stored in a dedicated storage bin and sent to the press feeding area when necessary.

Full mass products are characterized by the natural design of marble veins and shades, and sophisticated Sacmi MDR (rotary diaphragm mixer) technology was adapted to achieve this design. Various multi-colored powders, along with the basic powder, flow through different pipes while coming from the hoppers on the service platform over the press. The MDR simultaneously mixes the different powders and feeds the hoppers with a series of colored spots inside the basic powder.

A Sacmi ACD (double filling feeder) device is used for products that are double charged. The ACD places a second layer of material over the original body, and this layer can consist of virtually any kind of material required to achieve the final design, including spray dried powder, glaze, micronized powder, glaze chips or glass chips.

State-of-the-art equipment, such as this 7200-ton press, plays an important role in R.A.K.'s modern manufacturing process.

Pressing Technology

To produce large format tiles or slabs, R.A.K. has invested in the largest tile press in the world, the Sacmi PH 7200. At 7200 tons, not only does the press help achieve a large quantity of output, but it can produce porcelain slabs as large as 4 by 6 ft that can be used for exterior cladding of buildings or counter tops.

The Sacmi Twin Press is a double pressing technology that R.A.K. uses to manufacture tile that emulates rustic or natural stone, as well as semi-precious stones such as quartz and lazuli. The first pressing step forms the semi-compact body, where layers of powder decoration are applied, and then a final pressing is performed. This technology provides limitless possibilities for creating new glazed or unglazed gres porcellanato tile during the pressing stage.

Decorating Options

R.A.K.'s salt-and-pepper models are full body tiles produced through a Sacmi dosing system operation. Various types of color pigments in liquid form are mixed with the slip body in specific proportions by a dosing system while simultaneously being fed into a spray dryer. The dried clay granules are fed into the hydraulic press, producing clay tiles that are dried in a horizontal dryer and subsequently fired in a roller kiln. The mixture of color pigments creates the salt-and-pepper effect on the body of the tile.

Soluble salt printing technology is employed to produce the company's soluble salt models; silk screens are used as the source of the designs. Using a printing paste made of alkali or coloring salts, the designs are printed on the proper surface. A soluble salt solution is then applied over the printed surface to aid the print's penetration from 2.8 to 3.2 mm deep into the tile body.

Rustic tile is made from the basic body granules, pressed with structured punches and enriched with a suitable quantity of glaze and other application materials. Various types of printing and surface applications are employed to achieve the natural and elegant look of genuine stone. The rustic tile is printed by rotor color and dry glaze printing machines. The tile is then intermittently sprayed and brushed on the surface, enriching the natural effect.

Additionally, a new patented process called Technoslate, manufactured by LB Officine Meccaniche in Modena, Italy, produces through-bodied vein effects on textured rustic tiles. In this process, a small layer of the tile surface is removed using pressurized air to bring out the design inside the tile.

Water-jet cutting technology provides exquisite design solutions for floors and walls that look very different from those obtained by assembling patterns from stones such as marble and granite. The technology is executed through a highly sophisticated computer-controlled workstation. A water-jet with abrasive components cuts unique designs and patterns in various colors and sizes. The water absorption of the porcelain material is less than 0.05%, and its very low wear and stain resistance makes it suitable for use in high traffic areas. The intricate patterns consisting of small pieces fitting with and within larger pieces of a design can only be achieved through water-jet cutting.

Continued Innovation

R.A.K. Ceramics recently started commercial production at its 10th tile plant in the UAE. One of the most modern ceramic factories in the world, the new plant features Sacmi's dry and wet milling technology, the latest rotocolor printing machines, and-at 180.6 meters (approximately 593 feet)-the longest kiln in the world. The total production capacity of this plant is 45,000 square meters (484,000 square feet) a day, bringing the total production of the main R.A.K. campus to over 200,000 square meters (about 2.2 million square feet) per day.

"In order for us to remain an industry leader, we must think 10 years in the future-and turn those visions into production reality within two years," said Khater Massaad, Ph.D., CEO of R.A.K. "We are always 'pushing the envelope' in applying the latest technology."

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SIDEBAR: Not Just Tile

R.A.K. opened its first sanitaryware plant two years after it began producing tile. Today, the company produces 7000 pieces per day at the main campus, and it has additional sanitaryware factories in Bangladesh and India. Toilets, sinks and bathtubs are sold worldwide in countries including Europe, Australia, the UK and the U.S.

The latest venture is R.A.K. Porcelain. This new 650,000-square-foot plant produces fully vitrified porcelain tableware made from high-grade alumina. The facility can produce 15 million pieces per year for the worldwide hotel and catering markets.

Luminos tile.

SIDEBAR: Tile for Special Applications

In addition to traditional products, R.A.K. Ceramics strives to produce tile for particular needs or functions. For example, after intensive research, a glaze was specially developed for R.A.K. that inhibits the growth of microbes and reduces micro-bacterial contamination. The glaze helps create a much healthier living and working environment, and these antibacterial tiles are used for schools, foodservice areas, hospitals and nursing homes.

Additionally, through the use of a photo luminescent technology, R.A.K. Luminos tile glows for 8-12 hours, depending on the amount of its previous exposure to sunlight or artificial light. The tile with this phosphorescent glaze consists of chemically inert and stable silicates and aluminosilicates of calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Neither toxic nor radioactive, the glaze is extremely safe. Luminos tile is suitable for use on building exteriors, or for interiors of various commercial establishments, such as restaurants, nightclubs and casinos. It is also being used to help illuminate exit areas.

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