By: Mary Ann Lucas There isn’t a lot you can do with dirt and water….right? It might be what most people think, but according to my work in the stone and tile business, that statement could not be farther from the truth. Our magnificent earth has made many amazing products with dirt and water all by itself and we are still finding new colors, veins and textures within the natural stones mined around the world today. As wonderful as that is, we believe the technology being invented and rapidly expanded into the world of man-made porcelain tile is proving to be even more extraordinary. Recently, a group of designers and members of Architectural Brick & Tile took a trip to Stonepeak Ceramics in Crossville, Tennessee. We walked the entire process of tile manufacturing from beginning to end….from dirty and dust that accumulated on our shoes to the shining showroom full of finished products. Enormous piles of different types of clay and feldspar filled a space large enough for semi trucks to directly pull in and raise their beds 40 feet high to unload their unearthed treasures. We learned all the important steps in making porcelain tile including batching, mixing and grinding, spray-drying, forming, drying, glazing, and firing. How do they control all of the different steps with such precision that the ending tile lots are so close that a robotic machine must judge them for sorting? How is it that a robotic lift carrying 1500 square feet of tile knows exactly where it is going in the factory without a human to guide it and sits down so gently that the unfired tile does not crack? And… how does an oven heated to 2200 degrees transform this raw material into a product that is almost as hard as a diamond and lasts for hundreds of years? Amazing! I find the whole process fascinating and marvel at the complexity of trying to make the same thing every time. If you know me, then you will understand my baking comparison. It’s all about measurement; pure and simple. Measure your ingredients, mix the same way each time, bake at the same exact temperature and you will most likely get the same product results. If you don’t follow the recipe, you better get yourself back to the drawing board…..that is, dirt piles and mixing bowls. Even though I understand the process, it is still magical to me. I love the creation of something wonderful, something versatile, something unusual and useable. As a former practicing designer, having plans come to life was the most enjoyable part of the construction process for me. In the same vein, I imagine those designers and manufacturing engineers at Stonepeak and all other porcelain tile manufacturers going through all of the same schematic design, design development, construction documentation and manufacturing that we do. Just imagine the size of your project being 6-8 million square feet per year and the design possibilities laying before you! As the manufacturing process continues to evolve in efficiency and production capabilities, the design process is becoming much more complex due to advancing computer technology. With the invention of large format presses, the inkjet printer and the size of tile we can now print on, you can expect the world of porcelain to continue to shine and make our projects even more spectacular!