For several years now, fabricators, who used to work only with natural stone, are now also working with materials such as large-format porcelain. What has been the working experience? We asked several people involved in the stone industry in Spain about installation, maintenance, shop and end-user knowledge, complaints, prices and trends of both materials. Here are their answers.
Vicente Alcácer DAS-TECH Solutions, Castellón. Company specialised in machinery
Porcelain tile machines for surface treatment tend to be less robust, so a marble machine can last for many years.
In terms of cutting, porcelain tile machines are more powerful as porcelain tile is harder.
The speed of porcelain tile is more critical, and more cutting motors and higher power are needed. For example, a multidisc stone slab cutting machine can work at 3 m/min with 1 motor of 15 HP. To do that in porcelain tile you need 30/40 hp motors and a minimum of 2 motors.
For porcelain tile transport, smaller but faster roller diameters are used, reaching speeds up to 40 m/min; in marble, speeds are usually lower, 2-3 m/min, and they are more robust, but less complex. In ceramics, more tools are needed, and a greater number of spare parts are generally required.
David Guillem, MÁRMOLES GUILLEM E HIJOS, Catarroja (Valencia). Marble worker
Porcelain tile is a material that has many incidents. I work with an insurance company and I can say that the number of incidents is very high.
This is due to the fact that the customer is not well informed about what they are being sold, and I am not talking about the marble workers, but about those in the shops who, in their eagerness to sell, do not explain the problems they cause and do work that is not well finished.
Then there is the issue of prices, which are not respected. Before, when there was not so much competition because there were not so many manufacturers, the prices were stable, but now, as there are many, they are lowering the prices to get their products out.
When you install a stone worktop, you go once, you lay it and you don't have to keep coming back. With other materials you usually have to go more times.
Because of the porcelain worktops, they are not doing the right jobs. Like making an "L" on porcelain worktops. It is madness. It should not be done because it generates a lot of tension in the material and it peels off, or like when you join the pieces together and the same thing happens. It is also important that the kitchen units are very well levelled, and this is not always the case.
Porcelain is a very delicate material. It is in no way comparable to natural stone.
I hope that all this is just a passing fad and we are already looking forward to its removal one day.
Pelegrín de Andrés MÁRMOLES PELEGRÍN, Aranda de Duero (Burgos). Marble worker
Due to many years of activity, it is easier to produce stone materials, although in porcelain tiles, due to the trend towards edge finishes and their matte texture in most cases, fewer machining tools are used.
The installation of the new materials, on the one hand, is more comfortable because they are lighter, making accessibility to the installation site easier, and on the other hand, the possibility of chipping is greater.
None of them (neither porcelain nor stone) gives problems of ordinary maintenance, except for very dark colours that require a more thorough cleaning than other colours, perhaps the material with easier maintenance is natural stone.
The durability of both types of material can be similar, although natural materials maintain their beauty for much longer than any artificial one, there are cases in which it is improved. A natural stone, even when deteriorated, maintains a special beauty and charm, much more noble, that an artificial material can never achieve, no matter how well it is imitated.
As far as customer complaints are concerned, in natural stone, there are few, as a consequence of the lack of knowledge of its origin and transformation, the belief that all stones are the same and the pretension to demand characteristics of other materials from a material. In quartz compacts, the complaints are about discolouration, warping and overheating. In porcelain tiles, the complaints are due to chipping at the edges,
The ranges of colours in all materials are very extensive, far beyond the needs of customers, what we must consider is that artificial materials have an easier and greater variation of tones, as a result of fashions, but natural stones are a huge source of colours with possibilities of texture changes, so many that many artificial materials are not if not imitations of natural materials.
In today's highly competitive times, the profit margin per material is directly related to the cost. Price stability is more a function of manufacturing, processing and marketing cost factors than of the nature of the product.
There is little or very little support in case of breakage, more influenced by the interest of the commercial relationship between supplier and processor.
With regard to the knowledge of the materials on the part of shops and end customers, very few shops know in depth the materials they offer; they are mainly governed by commercial and aesthetic reasons of the moment. The direct end customers of marble shops may know more about the characteristics of both natural and manufactured materials, while those who do so through decoration shops, pay attention to the information and expertise of the salesperson; in either case, it seems that they pay attention to the explanations offered by their interlocutor.
The end customer does not care much about distinguishing materials, he is more interested in meeting his requirements, be they aesthetic, practical, economic or social.
We believe that the marble worker with a lot of experience prefers natural materials, perhaps due to professional deformation, but we believe that all of them have shown that they work with the material that, in one way or another, their clients ask for in order to keep them satisfied, even, in some cases, at the cost of their own health.
In terms of trends, porcelain tiles are occupying the place where, until recently, natural stones were mainly used, such as in façades, staircases and on-site paving.
They are also making us think about using both manufactured and natural products for furniture and decoration applications of all kinds and in all types of rooms such as living rooms, bedrooms, etc.
What we are seeing is that there is a tendency to think about personalising any area to be decorated, even mixing manufactured and natural materials in any area.
Francisco Fuentes QUIMICROSS, Aspe (Alicante) manufacturer of chemical products for surface treatment
The question about which material is more comfortable and easier to handle contains a very high degree of complexity, in both cases (porcelain and stone) the area or situation where one material or the other is to be laid must be coordinated.
In principle, natural stone is more problematic, unless it has received the ideal treatment for the function for which it is intended, and we also think that we must adapt the characteristics of the type of stone to that function. As for porcelain tiles, they have more generic characteristics but it is also necessary to make a suitable choice for the function they are to perform or the situation where they are to be installed. For example, installing a porcelain tile that does not have a suitable degree of anti-slip properties bordering a swimming pool or a bathroom is not the right thing to do, and this problem can also be solved by means of a chemical treatment.
The difference in durability is also very relative, since porcelain tiles are new generation prefabricated tiles and there has not yet been enough time to evaluate their condition over time. Natural stone has already demonstrated its durability over time, for example the pyramids of Egypt or the great wall of China.
STONE GROUP, Madrid. Company specialised in natural stone and porcelain projects
Both materials (porcelain and stone) have some advantages and disadvantages in the manufacturing process. For example, natural stone is usually easier to cut and, in the event that a repair or polishing is required, it is more grateful. Porcelain tile does not have these advantages, but it is, however, lighter, which makes it easier to handle and assemble.
Porcelain tile weighs less, making it easier to install. Natural stone also presents an added risk, and that is that each piece is unique. Porcelain tiles, however, are all the same and can be easily replaced in case of breakage, for example.
The maintenance of each material depends a lot on the use you make of it. For example, porcelain tile is not porous and stone is, so if you are looking for a kitchen worktop, stone will need more care to avoid damage. Especially if you use abrasive products.
On the other hand, as we mentioned before, natural stone is more grateful in the event of having to polish it to disguise any small breakage or flaking.
Natural stone, as a general rule, lasts longer. The clearest example is those granite worktops that our grandparents used to lay and which, to this day, are still standing and in perfect condition. Even so, it is true that, like everything else, they age with the passage of time and can change their tone with sunlight, just like any natural material such as wood. Porcelain tiles maintain their tone and colour throughout their useful life.
As far as customer complaints are concerned, in the case of porcelain tile, there may be more incidents related to breakage or flaking, mainly on the edges. Problems with natural stone tend to be more related to its use and care. It is a more porous material and is more sensitive to corrosive products.
As a general rule, porcelain tile offers more colours, ranges and textures, as practically any type of finish can be created with it. The variety of natural stone will depend much more on market demand. It should be borne in mind that each piece of natural stone is unique and created by the elements of nature, and quarries can be exhausted or the tones of the patterns can change.
Normally, porcelain tile generates more profit because it has a larger market, although it also has more competition. For the same sales volume, stone leaves a little more margin.
Porcelain is more stable in terms of price. The acquisition costs of natural stone are more volatile, so it is difficult to determine its price and the margin that can be made on it.
Speaking of support due to breakage, in the case of the materials marketed by Stone Group, we offer an after-sales service, so we analyse and evaluate the possible breakages that may occur in the material once it has been installed. In the event that we see that the incident is due to our error in the assembly or a defect in the material, or if it is covered by the warranty, we would be responsible for the repair or, where appropriate, the replacement of the part.
Distributors are becoming more and more knowledgeable about porcelain materials, although sometimes they confuse terms and do not know very well what composition each brand has. Everything is generalised under the same name. It is also more common to find professionals who properly inform users about the qualities and care of each material.
Users are almost always driven by fashions, by the general design of the kitchen. But they are also more and more informed about the products on the market and tend to ask shops for specific brands. Marble tilers are often driven by the profitability of the product or customer demand.
People are opting more for porcelain than stone, especially for kitchen worktops. In addition, there are the usual uses of porcelain, i.e. facades, floors, etc. Natural stone tends to play a more decorative role, for furniture or cladding.