AN INSIGHT INTO BRITISH CERAMIC TILE’S FACTORY IN DEVON
SPACE’s Product Editor Tonje Odegard visited British Ceramic Tile’s factory in Newton Abbot, Devon, to see what it takes to make beautiful and high-quality tiles while remaining British…
Devon is home to heaps of natural resources such as clay and stone, making it perfect for making tiles. That’s why Candy Tiles set up a factory there in the 1890s. Building on the area’s legacy, British Ceramic Tile built their own factory on the same spot 20 years ago, and is now the largest manufacturer of ceramic and glass tiles in the UK. The factory covers eight acres (nine under roof), employs nearly 400 people, and is responsible for the creation of more than 19,000m2 of gorgeous tiles every day. This mounts to around 6.9km2 per year, which is the equivalent of more than the size of Devon, which is 6.7km2.
The lovely Barry, Manufacturing Support Manager and my guide for the day, took me through the factory and showed me all the different steps and stages of production of ceramic, glass and natural stone tiles made there. Introducing me to the brand and the factory’s history, Barry explained the fine balance between exciting technological innovation and locally sourced raw material. “BCT are never afraid to invest in new technology to improve themselves,” Barry said. I think that’s why BCT has seen such great success.
The company has grown massively in the last decades and the production process has developed equally as much. It used to take several days from start to finish to make a tile, but now, with the introduction of advanced technology, it only takes around two and a half hours.
The introduction of the HD Ink Jet machines in 2012 completely revolutionised production as it greatly increased the detail and design possibilities, especially in regards to digital print. Up to six different tile designs can be made at once, although these can be changed hourly over the course of 24 hours, making a maximum of 144 designs. This is especially impressive with glass splashbacks and upstands in mind.
Barry tells me that there’s a huge focus on recycling broken materials at the factory. As much as 20 per cent of the ingredients used in each tile come from recycled material, which is equivalent to 3,800m2 of tiles per day. Buckets full of recycled material could be spotted throughout the factory as quality checks take place constantly.
This green focus helps reduce the factory’s carbon emissions year after year. The fact that the raw materials are right on BCT’s doorstep and the majority of the tiles are sold in Britain also contributes to a more environmentally friendly line of production. It’s also worth mentioning that water, cardboard, metal, wood, paper and plastic are recycled within the factory as well as ceramic waste.
Although the majority of the production process is automated, the human element is still very much apparent and can never fully be replaced. Skilled workers overlook the production and take out tiles that have just the tiniest scratch and throw them in the recycling bin. This demonstrates the level of attention, detail and care that goes into ensuring the quality of the tiles.
And although the ink jet machines have made printing easier and more refined, there are still tiles that are hand-painted. Furthermore, the designs all stem from the talented onsite, in-house design team who develop all the company’s designs. Sourcing inspiration from the latest trends, the tiles always reflect the many and various demands of the current market. The design team also collaborates heavily with British designers such as Laura Ashley, Ted Baker, V&A, and Studio Conran to create beautiful ranges.
It is people who have built British Ceramic Tile into the business it is today, and it is still people who make sure it remains successful. Therefore the values of these people still stand strong and are infiltrated into the production process constantly – to be innovative, brave, collaborative and proud. Innovation and bravery is seen through BCT’s commitment to new technology and how they challenge the normal ways of thinking. Collaboration and pride is evident in BCT’s outreach in the community, it’s unwavering support for British manufacture and its close links to strong tile-producing countries such as Italy, Switzerland and Spain.
Walking through the factory in Devon provided a clear insight into BCT’s values. They were apparent in the attention the tiles were given, the level of accuracy in the production, the smoothness of the process and in the absolutely stunning tiles.