Manufacturing Tile in the U.S.: A Look at Crossville Inc.

A couple of months ago, I was asked if I’d like to take part in Crossville, Inc.’s upcoming media tour of their Tennessee-based tile manufacturing facility.

Crossville Tile welcomes the editors

Of course, I’m never one to pass on an opportunity to see how tile is made. You gain a greater appreciation for the decisions being made in terms of the designs, patterns, and formats. The best part is the behind-the-scenes look at how it all flawlessly comes together.

From R&D to installation training, the people at Crossville have taken everything into consideration in producing their tile products.

Since only porcelain tile is produced at their Tennessee facility, that’s what I’ll be focusing on in this post.

Materials Matter

First up was Scott Branch, Crossville’s plant manager. He explained how all the tiles are LEED-certified, while stressing the importance of consistently producing a well-made product.

Plant manager Scott Branch explains the materials used in creating the tiles.

Plant manager Scott Branch explains the materials used in creating the tiles.

Further, it was really interesting to learn how 80% of their tile products feature a complementary color underneath. They apply as little as 1 to more than 20 applications of the desired surface treatment to achieve the perfect look. The visual and textured elements are produced by a 400dpi, non-contact printer.

R&D: Where Passing or Failing Matters

Taking a tour through their lab, here’s where you can appreciate the need for quality assurance (QA). Not only does the lab perform new product development and QA, but it also investigates new materials for each phase of the production process, and conducts extensive research to develop new colors and body materials.

Fun Fact: Crossville keeps about two weeks of raw materials on hand at all times!

Crossville Tile Tour: Approximately two weeks worth of raw materials are kept on hand at all times.

Tile Production

With a combination of locally sourced raw materials, and state-of-the-art dryers and hydraulic presses, Crossville’s tiles are fired for about an hour in kilns that measure 425-feet long. With temperatures that reach more than 2,200-degrees within the kilns, we were all getting a little dewy from the heat! Phew!

Kilns that measure 425-feet long.

Kilns that measure 425-feet long.

A peek into one of the tile-firing kilns.

A peek into one of the tile-firing kilns.

Hydrotect Protection

For their Hydrotect-coated products, there’s a separate kiln that applies the microbial finish using an airless sprayer. Hydrotect is an invisible, proprietary coating that is applied, by request, to inhibit the growth of mold and mildew.

Moreover, it protects the tile from the bacteria that causes odors and stains. The coating is then flash fired at 750-degrees for 16 minutes.

Not Just Any Large Press

While on the tour, we got to see the 7,500-ton, Italian-made tile press. As the largest of this type of press in the Western hemisphere (more than 21-feet tall and weighing approximately 180 metric tons), we were told bringing in this baby and installing it was quite the engineering feat!

The 7,500-ton tile press

The 7,500-ton tile press

Amazingly, from its oceanic journey, to shutting down traffic during transportation to Crossville, to the specially-trained equipment installers, this larger-than-life press lives up to its grandeur as it is responsible for producing the larger format tiles.

About Crossville Tile

Finally, it should be noted that Crossville recently marked many firsts within its three-decade history, including: manufacturing tile with certified recycled content; developing the ability to recycle fired porcelain (Tile Take-Back® Program) in partnership with TOTO USA; achieving TCNA’s Green Squared certification for its U.S.-produced tile lines; and first to distribute Laminam by Crossville, a line of large-format, thin porcelain panels.

Recycled fired porcelain waiting to turn into tile. Part of Crossville's Tile Take-Back® Program in partnership with TOTO US.A

Recycled fired porcelain waiting to turn into tile. Part of Crossville’s Tile Take-Back® Program in partnership with TOTO USA.

Lastly, I hope you enjoyed the insights and observations. My heart-felt thanks and appreciation to Crossville for allowing me come and fully appreciate what it takes to produce what we sometimes take for granted.