In 2005 leading local wholesaler Trend Tile (NSW) launched 3 metre x 1 metre x 3 mm panels of porcelain at Designbuild in Melbourne. The product was the brainchild of System SpA a leading Italian manufacturer of machinery principally used in the production of ceramic tiles.
The industry’s initial reaction was understandably cool. There were natural concerns about the strength of the material. How brittle would it be?
Tile retailers and fixers accustomed to traditional 9 mm thickness ceramic tiles were hesitant. How could the material be transported, stored, cut and handled?
In the intervening years many of those questions have been resolved. Slim panels, tiles and slabs (12 mm and 13 mm) are manufactured in a variety of countries by tile manufacturers and specialist producers focused on the kitchen and bathroom counter top segment of the market.
Let us examine the reasons why slim tiles and panels will capture a significant segment of the market for hard surface finishes.
Raw material consumption
While 3 mm slim products have established a niche in the marketplace, 6 mm thickness tiles produced in a variety of popular formats and 12 mm slabs for bench tops offer the greatest potential benefits in our built environment.
The volume of raw materials used to produce a conventional 9 mm floor tile or a 20 mm slab of marble or granite are considerably higher. This is a significant factor, as manufacturers endeavour to reduce consumption of materials and energy.
Floor tilers and stonemasons, who face the challenge of lifting and laying 600 mm x 600 mm x 10 mm porcelain tiles or large units of natural stone, are beginning to discover the benefits associated with using 6 mm thickness product of similar dimensions, which weigh considerably less, or comparatively lightweight 12 mm slabs designed for use on counter tops.
The weight reduction provides corresponding benefits for all parties involved in the handling, storage and delivery of these materials.
Design and decoration
The original slim panels of porcelain looked like giant, plain vinyl tiles. Today, an increasing number of manufacturers use recent advances in digital decoration to produce convincing replications of natural stone and other surface finishes on slim tiles, panels and slabs.
Advance production technologies ensure that practically no two pieces look the same, enhancing the authenticity of the product offering.
Practical areas of application
3 mm tiles and panels:
One of the original perceived advantages of slim materials related to tiling over existing tiles and other surfaces. This alternative can provide significant advantages in regards to saving time, reducing labour costs, mess and inconvenience.
These products can be used on sound wall surfaces. Large panels can be cut into smaller formats to create unique designs, or they can be applied over existing tiles where there is sufficient tolerance around doors and window reviles to allow installation of the 3 mm product.
In some instances 3 mm material can be laid over sound, clean, existing or new floors, particularly in light traffic locations e.g. residential bathrooms.
Slim 3 mm product can also be adhered to appropriate timber surfaces and furnishings, including cabinets.
6 – 7 mm tiles and panels:
If wall and floor substrates are correctly prepared these lightweight products can be applied to new backgrounds or over existing tiles.
Counter tops and overall advantages:
We have reviewed this segment in depth in ‘Bench Top Trends and Materials’ in this edition. However, it is worth considering the advantages associated with handling 12 mm product on bench tops and matching slim material on the kitchen splashback, versus the difficulty associated with handling and manoeuvring 20 mm to 30 mm slabs.
Building facades and commercial interiors:
Last but certainly not least, there is the possibility of mechanically fixing large slim panels to internal walls and external facades. Once again the reduction in weight provides a distinct benefit to stonemasons and tile fixers who are usually physically challenged with the task of manipulating large units of tile or stone at great heights.
Conventionally, adhesive fixing of ceramic tile is outlawed above heights of approximately 3.4 metres. Heavy units of stone have to be fixed with anchors, pins or clips.
Mechanical post and rail fixing systems save time and reduce the risk of accident and danger to the public. Leading suppliers of slim panels and tiles recommend their own external mechanical fixing systems.
The building owner, architect, designer or contractor faced with tiling over tile, installing new bench tops, providing furnishings with a face-lift, or cladding the façade or interior of a building can now consider slim high-tech porcelain products and advanced materials like Dekton and Neolith as an alternative surface finish to conventional, heavier ceramic and natural stone products.
While authentic slim natural stone veneers have been used in six-star Green Star building products like the ANZ Bank in Melbourne’s Docklands, many of the available slim products are porcelain (ceramic). Ultimately, the stone industry may lose some market share to these products and materials like Dekton and Neolith.
There will always be a demand for traditional stone products, but the environmental, commercial and practical advantages associated with a well planned and carried out installation of slim products presents a new and currently underrated challenge.
Pictured: Lightweight slim 12 mm slabs such as the featured Neolith product by CDK Stone have multiple applications on all interior and exterior vertical and horizontal surfaces.