There are few other materials that can match the beauty of natural stone. Its biophilic appeal makes it a highly desirable surface option. But for the eco- and budget-conscious, it can have its drawbacks.
The extraction of stones such as marble from quarries is carried out primarily through surface mining, and the most widespread method of removing marbles from the mother rock is through wire cutting or other similar special equipment.
Studies have raised concerns regarding its production process because quarrying and processing activities demand significant amounts of energy and greatly affect the environment. Further, performing an environmental analysis of a production process such as that of marble requires the consideration of many environmental aspects, including:
- Dust and waste production
- Energy consumption
Perhaps no one understands the challenges (and opportunities) with stone manufacturing as the family-owned company, Cosentino, which traces its origins in the quarrying, processing and sale of marble from the Sierra de los Filabres in Almeria, Spain. According to its Chief Information Officer Gemma Hernandez, when the company was founded in 1980, Cosentino made a massive investment in innovation and research, which has led the company to apply the latest technology to produce new, innovative materials in an industrialized way that are not dependent on limited natural resources.
Advances in Manufacturing
“The main change occurred at the end of the ‘80s with the rise of new technologies and fabrication systems to produce engineering surfaces,” Hernandez recalls. “In a basic way, it was about developing technologies and plants for the production of what was once commonly called ‘agglomerate.’” These new materials were made of stone fragments bonded together by resins and other components and would be known as engineered stone, she explains.
Cosentino led that process based in research and development, and undertook an ambitious project which led to the construction of a revolutionary industrial plant, where production of Silestone began in 1990. This was a quartz surface with highly adaptable properties for use in public, commercial and private spaces, providing quality solutions and choices for 21st century design. The kitchen work surface sector was the niche market in which the Silestone product would make its successful mark in future years.
“By investing in the most innovative technology and putting quality first, we positioned [ourselves] as an industry leader in our market being able to develop an international expansion strategy,” Hernandez says. “Along with an effective marketing policy developed in all markets, especially in the North American one, Cosentino has grown constantly during these last decades and has continued to develop new products such as the ultra-compact surfacing material Dekton or the exclusive stain protection of Sensa granites.”
The Evolution of Materials and Technology
Hernandez points out that the surfacing industry as a whole is always evolving. Manufacturers are constantly looking to achieve better performances and also to advance in new finishes, textures and tones. As a result, “today’s decorative materials are stronger, durable and at the same time more attractive for architects and designers with multiple design and application possibilities,” Hernandez says.
“In our case, each of our brands has unique features and advantages that make them a great choice for indoor or outdoor projects,” she suggests. “Silestone surfaces are highly stain-, impact- and scratch-resistant, as well as having a low liquid absorption rate what make it ideal for indoor kitchen or bath projects.”
In 2013, the company created its ultra-compact surfacing material, Dekton, which is manufactured using Cosentino’s exclusive TSP (Technology of Sintered Particles). This manufacturing process uses an accelerated version of the high pressure and high temperature processes that nature applies over thousands of years to produce natural stone. Dekton is also highly resistant to scratching and abrasion; it has very low porosity and, therefore, almost non-existent water absorption and maximum resistance to stains. “This product is becoming increasingly popular among designers and architects,” Hernandez says, “because they can use the same material for the exterior skin of the buildings and for the interior, giving absolute continuity.”
“As I commented before, we are continually evolving, investing tens of millions in R&D every year to find new and better solutions,” she notes. For example, Cosentino recently announced an important achievement worldwide with the reformulation of its Silestone brand. Called HybriQ+ technology, the new Silestone is characterized by a significant reduction in the presence of quartz, replacing it with a mix of other minerals and reused raw materials such as recycled glass.
“This evolution makes Silestone more sustainable and environmentally friendly, a key trend in the future,” Hernandez explains.
The Future Is Now
Today, the most technologically advanced design materials are sintered or ultra-compact surfaces. With Dekton, Cosentino feels it has achieved what will be a future trend. “We’ll see more custom-made products, using ultra-thin materials and with higher performance,” Hernandez says. “Also, we envision more realistic expressions and variety in textures and finishes. All of that combined will make these products very versatile and used in new applications not seen before.”
Obviously, traditional marble or other natural stone products will coexist with these hybrid products. But the new requirements of both professionals and end users—a focus on versatility, better performance, and a true component of sustainability and circular economy—will make materials such as Dekton or the new Silestone HybriQ the go-to choice, according to Hernandez.
A Culture of Innovation
Innovation is ingrained into the corporate culture at Cosentino. “It is an integral part of our work and an essential tool for competitiveness,” Hernandez points out. “We apply innovation and new technologies in the fields of fabrication process and also in business and service model. We have evolved in just 40 years from that small local business with a marble quarry and only 17 employees to a global organization that has a commercial presence in 40 countries and has its own business and distribution facilities in 30 of them, with 140 hubs and almost 5,000 employees worldwide.”
This level of growth isn’t without its challenges, she says. “Even right now, our main obstacle is transforming into a true global company without losing our holistic point of view.” In this sense, Hernandez says it’s necessary to talk about another fundamental commitment of Cosentino: the digital transformation.
“The future leading companies will be innovative, sustainable and eco-responsible and also, necessarily, digital,” she observes. “Cosentino has a very clear goal of turning the company into an organization that is fully connected with digital ecosystems. We are implementing a comprehensive digital transformation project aiming to digitize the organization at every level.”
Hernandez says the company must think about logistics, shipping, storage facilities and delivering farther and faster to keep the customers happy. Additionally, Cosentino’s expansion required hiring employees throughout the world, which means complying with unique and often complex regulations. To that end, Cosentino used software provider TIBCO’s solid integration platform to seamlessly connect its enterprise of nearly 5,000 employees on five continents. She points out that automation and digitalization are the only ways to be sustainable and maintain the company’s DNA worldwide.
“Our goal now is progressing with the digital transformation of every process and helping our employees and clients to acquire the digital skills required for future updates of work tools,” she concludes.