Engineered stone

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Engineered stone is a composite material made of crushed stone bound together by an adhesive, (most commonly polymer resin, with some newer versions using cement mix). The two common stones used in producing these products are marbles and quartz, the application of this product depends on the original stone used, for engineered marbles the most common application is indoor flooring and walls, while the quartz based product is used primarily for kitchen countertops. Related materials include geopolymers and cast stone. Unlike terrazzo, the material is factory made in either blocks or slabs, cut and polished by fabricators, and assembled at the worksite.

Engineered stone products are gaining in popularity. many shopping malls and department stores around the world uses engineered marble for floors. While research reported in Consumer Reports (2010) magazine reveals virtually no difference in performance between quartz based products and sealed granite.[1]

Engineered stone kitchen countertops with undermount sink and cooktop installed. Tops are cut and polished at the fabricator's shop.

Engineered stone (US name) is also commonly referred to as, agglomerate or agglomerated stone, the last term being that recognised by European Standards (EN 14618), although to add to the terminological confusion, this standard also includes materials manufactured with a cementitious binder. The Quartz version (which end consumers are much more likely to directly deal with) are commonly known as 'quartz surface' or just 'quartz'

Manufacturing Equipment[edit]

Breton S.P.A., a privately held company of Treviso Italy, is the dominant supplier of equipment for making engineered stone. A mixture of approximately 93% stone aggregates and 7% polyester resin by weight (66% quartz and 34% resin by volume) is pressed into slabs (or larger blocks) using Breton's "vibrocompression vacuum process". [2] [3]

Although Breton was the original manufacturer of moulding equipment and still holds multiple international patents on the process, there are now several other companies producing similar machinery.

Italy was by far and large the most dominating country in this sector from the 80s until the early 2000s especially in the marble sector of this product (and the original Italian companies such as Quarrella, Santa Maghretta and the Taiwanese company Romastone remains the most recognizable brand in the marble sector.) The rise of China have changed the market drastically as they are now currently the biggest market for new slab producing machines. There is estimated to be more than 100 engineered stone suppliers in China alone. India also has roughly 40 slab producing units as of December 2012.

Composition[edit]

Stone aggregates is the major filler, although other material like coloured glass, shells, metals, or mirrors might be added. A typical resin based material will consist of 93% stone aggregates by weight and 7% resin . Different types of resins are used by different manufacturers. Epoxy and polyester resin are the most common types. Chemicals such as UV absorbers and stabilizers are added. To aid curing, peroxide is added.

Prominent quartz countertop maker Caesarstone notes that 93% natural quartz aggregates are mixed with the remaining 7% of color pigments and polymer resins. The resins bind the particles together.[4]

Process[edit]

Demonstration of the Engineered stone manufacturing process (based on the Breton Marble block system, sources courtesy of *Romastone Taiwan.

The process of manufacturing engineered stone can be broken down into

1. creating / gathering the material.

2. forming the block / slab using industrial machine.

3. process the finished block / slab into tiles or other products.

The most essential is obviously the second part, some companies import boulders them self to crush into agglomerates (stone powders) of various grain size for their products, others simply buy already crushed stone powders.

After the block / slab is formed and cured (usually takes between 3 to 7 days depending on products and weather condition.) the stone can be processed in basically the same manner as their natural counterpart.

Properties[edit]

Engineered stone is typically worked in the same way as natural stone using a water jet cutter or a diamond blade. This is in contrast with solid surface materials which can be cut with regular saws.[5]

The material can be produced in either 12 mm, 20 mm or 30 mm thicknesses. The most common slab format is 3040 mm x 1440 mm for Quartz and 3050 mm x 1240 mm for Breton based marbles, but other sizes like 3040 mm x 1650 mm are produced according to market demand.

Engineered stone is less porous, more flexible, and harder than many types of natural stone.[citation needed] Less porous varieties are more resistant to mould and mildew than most natural stone types.[6] Since it has a uniform internal structure, it does not have hidden cracks or flaws that may exist in natural stone. Its polyester resin binding agents allow some flexibility, preventing cracking under flexural pressure. But, the binding agents often continue to harden, leading to a loss of flexural strength over time. The polyester resins are not completely UV stable and engineered stone should not be used in outdoor applications. Continuous exposure to UV can cause discoloration of the stone, and breakdown of the resin binder.

The material is sometimes damaged by direct application of heat. Quartz engineered stone is less heat resistant than other stone surfaces including most granite, marble and limestone; but is not affected by temperatures lower than 150 °C (300 °F). Quartz engineered stone can be damaged by sudden temperature changes. Manufacturers recommend that hot pots and pans never be directly placed directly on the surface, and that a hot pad or trivet is used under portable cooking units.

When used as floor tiles, care is required in ensuring compatibility with the adhesive used. Reaction resin adhesives and rapid drying cementitious adhesives are generally successful, but bond failure can occur with other cementitious adhesives. Additionally, agglomerate stone tiles are more sensitive to both thermal expansion and contraction and to dampness from underlying screeds, necessitating the inclusion of movement joints at a higher frequency than for stone or ceramic floor tiles (see for example British Standard BS 5385-5: 2011) and verification by testing of the dryness of underlying layers.

Difference between Marble and Quartz[edit]

Although both the marble and quartz based engineered stones are created through a similar process, and multiple companies produce both at the same time, there are distinct differences in their properties and applications.

Marble is a relatively soft material which is prone to scratching, but also makes maintaining them much less difficult. Typically they can be re-polished all the way until they become too thin. Marble is also much more common and accessible around the world and comes in a wider variety, which gives their engineered counterpart a significant edge in pricing and the variety in its pattern and colors. engineered marbles are typically most popular as flooring materials for large commercial projects such as hotels, shopping centers, business lobbies, where they combine the attractive appearance of marbles with more budget friendly prices and reliable delivery times.

Quartz meanwhile is a much harder material. the mohs scale of marble is roughly 3, where as quartz are usually at 7. This makes them much more resistant to scratching, however it also makes re-polishing and general processing of them a more difficult task. Which is why they are most commonly used for kitchen counter tops, where the value added through processing can off set their considerably higher cost.

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