Cultured Marble : Is there any way out for the Breton engineered marble plants?

Engineered marble or cultured marble as many call it, has been living a severe crisis since 2008. In truth while the engineered quartz production plants are almost back to normal production, the engineered marble or cultured marble plants are still in a deep crisis. When I refer to engineered marble, cultured marble, I'm referring to polyester resin based materials which use block technology.
In fact, their are several issues regarding this product, basically they are at a strategic point trying to re-think production to make the whole investment viable. Some of the European companies which use Breton Block technology are in deep crisis and fighting for survival. In the last few years Breton has sold more slab production lines than block production lines, nevertheless the block production lines produced in the last few years  most of them were installed in China.
In Europe the main cultured marble producers that use Breton technology are:
  • Quarella - Italy
Quarella is the biggest composite stone producer in the world, as they claim, and I figure they might have reason to make such claim. They have a few block production plants and have suffered seriously with the crisis. They export to almost every country in the World, and have been practicing very aggressive pricing in Asia.
They have created a product which uses the block technology, it's an evolution series which has given the product a greater superficial hardness. The Evo series was launched last year, and is a strategic solution for the decrease in market share in the cultured marble sector.
  • Rover - Italy
Rover is a Quarella group company, they mainly produce engineered marble products, however they do offer a limited number of colours in engineered quartz, they call it the Borea line. 
  • Marmol Compac - Spain
Marmol Compac or Compac Mable, as they had to re do the naming of their whole brand, they used to call themselves Marmol Compac, although with the engineered quartz plant project, it made it difficult to market both products using the same brand. So they have spent the last few years defining their brand strategy and exchanging/renewing all marketing material they had.
Anyway, Marmol Compac has bought land near Baza, southern part of Spain to install a new Breton Block plant. Nevertheless the current crisis on engineered marble has slowed or literaly stopped that project.
Marmol Compac has survived thanks to the engineered quartz plant, if it was not for that I believe that they would no longer exist, or maintain a major producer status. They have shifted most of their excess personnel from Spain (engineered marble plant) to Portugal (engineered quartz plant). They've dedicated most of their resources in the last few years promoting and developing engineered quartz products, leaving the engineered marble in stand-by waiting for better days to return. In a lunch meeting a few weeks ago, a friend told me that they have recongnized that the engineered marble has been left behind, and 2011 they'll be dedicating more resources to the engineered marble products. So I guess we may have some new engineered marble products in 2011.
  • Santa Margherita -  Italy
Santa Margherita, is one of the most technically evolved engineered stone plants in the World, it's Breton major partner. Besides being present in both engineered marble and engineered quartz markets, they seem to have survived with less sacrifice the engineered marble crisis. I guess due to the fact that they are smaller than the direct competition, and due to their well established marketing network.
  • Agglonord - Italy
Agglonord mainly produces engineered marble blocks, they outsource all the other parts of the business. They use the old Breton technology, and have some quality problems due to that. The founder of Agglonord was Mr. Quarella, the same founder of Quarella. A few years ago he sold Quarella and established himself again in the sector, although besides being one of the brightest minds in the industry, Agglonord still lack some quality standards, mostly due to the fact that the old Breton technology is less effective when producing fine grain products. Personally I admire Mr. Quarella, unfortunately I never met him, but had a chance to meet his daughter, to whom I expressed this feeling. It's important to have recognition for great accomplishments and I think that their are a few people who really did something for this Industry in the past. We should not forget that engineered stone today has a stronger brand than it did 30 years ago, marketing these products back then was a very difficult thing, they had to deal with a mentality that had established natural products as a natural stone solution.
  • RMC- Portugal
I was sad to know that RMC is going through a tough stage. They are the smallest in production, although they've created a few products which have marked positively their effort. I've received information that they are going through a deep crisis in sales. I hope they can re-create their whole production process, the European Industry needs as many producers as possible.

Why is cultured stone loosing market share?
  • Chinese competition
In Asia in the last 10 years many engineered marble plants have been set up, few with Breton technology and many with Chinese technology. The Chinese market is big, but we continue to see many Chinese engineered marble and engineered quartz arriving to the European market. The quality may not be as good, but in general they are capable of selling similar products in Europe at a lower price. So European companies are reaching out to creativity to block Chinese competition in the European market, although I doubt they'll succeed, the Chinese have proven in several other markets that they can overcome barriers.
  • New products with competitive price
While engineered stone in general are increasing in price, due to raw material costs which have been sky rocket in the last 6/7 months, other products like porcelain tiles are arriving to the European market at very low prices. The market today has many options, and most of them tend to be competitive in pricing. 
  • Similar textures with more resistance
More substitute products are being used, the washroom vanity top industry is being invaded by whole ceramic piece units, vanity and wash basin in one piece. The tile industry, has been overcome by ceramic, porcelain, natural granite, and other products. Even engineered quartz is sometimes looked at as an alternative to engineered marble, as it is similar in texture, but much more resitant.

  • Colour trend
The colour trend which has occured constantly has also done some damage to the engineered marble, dark colours, minimal designs, etc, etc... have come and gone in the last few years. We all know that, engineered marble has great difficulty in producing acceptable products in dark colours. The difficulty to manufacture them is equal to its application problems, flooring is out of the question, unless you have a maintenance crew constantly working. So basically, the light colour has been the main stream of textures.
Most companies have tried make a pure white colour, which you can easily find in Chinese producers, but have little traffic resistance. The solution for this type of products would be hardening the surface and making more resistant material, I guess maybe Quarella is on the right track, the rest should just follow and innovate on the way.


Technical said...

Hi, from Breton the block plant Hal Mann Intl.-Malta, Bellotti-Italy , Uralit-Russian Federation, while the block plant Rekostein-Germany closed down.There are another 3 plants, not fm Breton, manufacturing cement blocks in North Italy. Agglonord plant was developed independently by the owner, a real pioneer in agglomerated marble.As you say correctly he entered in business when market was not ready for engineered stone: 90% of the early purchaser of those plants went in bankruptcy.
By the way the patents covering traditional block plants machinery and process expired already.
Years ago Marmol Compact come out with a product using 30% of "allumina silicates" but the market was not responsive.In China at least a dozen of local companies are manufacturing 100% quartz blocks since 2007. According my own research at least 85 Chinese made block plants are operative at today. In China you can find cheap and low quality product (10 Euro/sqm) but also costly product that meet European standard (tests done in Verona). The world biggest slabs from agglomerated block are from China. The Westerner companies should invest more in research, be more innovative and get out from the market that require cheap products.Rgds

Tomson said...

Answer to Technical
Many thanks once again for your welcomed comments. The allumina silicates used by Marmol Compac I think was used on the inside of the mixer to avoid those grey smudges on the product and not directly in the mixture. The 100% Quartz Blocks would be impossible to saw using gangsaws, they use feldspar I think, that is not as hard as quartz, and can be sawn. I once had an idea of doing a industrial experience using silica sand in a block, the guys from the diamond blade company told me to try ... I actually never got approval for that from my administration to do the experience.
The patent on block plants has ended a while ago, actually Breton does have a few plants already installed in China.

Technical said...

Hi, I understand yr doubt but I did the job even with 20 mm white round quartz (pics available).The mixers has been coated to prevent the quartz to get dark by friction.The blocks 100% quartz has been cut in slabs either by granite gang saws (BM and Gaspari Menotti) or by big diamond disk when they need big tile 800x800 or 900x900mm or diamond wire.
Breton's plants in China: YunFu YueYun MC300/2000 + a slab plant 120x120cm, Sanbao MC186/1350 (in operation now as Cave Stone/Agrostone) , Beijing Marble Factory BB250/1200(removed fm original site), Quindao Import BB125/1200(half moved in Sansui and half to Philippines) and Shanxi province BB250/1200(purchased by Agrostone). The last block plant in 2003 YunFu Bretonstone(horizontal plus vertical mixers capable to use also alumino-siliceous sand) but the gang-saws, calibrating, polisher etc. are made in China. Alumino-siliceous aggregates ( feldspar,muscovite,orthoclase,adalusite etc even some gemstones are in this group) with diam. 0,8-1mm max was added to the mixture and from 2002-2003 become also a standard in block plants till recently. Now there are new patents for block plants and diamond gang-saws to cut siliceous blocks. Silica sand 0,8-1mm is not a problem if you keep within 30% ( diamond blades wear much faster the usual). In case you increase the percentage need to switch to special diamond gang saws ( patent Breton and Quarella) or traditional granite gang saws (in China make sense in Europe no)or diamond wire.

Tomson said...

Answer to Technical
I've already visited some of the plants you have mentioned in China. The crazy thing that I saw, was on one end top Breton block technology capable of competing with any European producer .... and on the other end, sawing, calibrating, polishing and cutting a total disaster ... old inefficient equipment. And the quality was below European standards. On my next post I'm going to publish a guided tour of a Breton Block plant, although I only have photos of old plants, but I guess everyone will have a general idea of how things are done.
I know Quarella has modified their gangsaws to work with harder materials, my sources have told me that, although they didn't quite tell me what they've done, as everything was done with some secrecy.
Anyhow my e-mail is tomson2101@gmail.com if you find it proper I would like to exchange some point of views. I understand you know the BB very well. Thanks again for your comments they have been very good.

Sudaref said...

Hi Thomson;
Who else, other than Breton, provides complete automated production lines for engineered stone slabs and tiles.
Thank you.

Tomson said...

Hi Sudaref,
Send me a message to my e-mail and I'll help you tomson2101@gmail.com

sunny said...

goOd day
i'm mr. sunny from Bangladesh wd like to set a artificial cultured marble production line.
pls let me konw how may i get help from u.
mr. sunny

Tomson said...

Hi Sunny,
Thanks for the comment, I can help you with that, or at least give you an idea of the possibilities you have. e-mail me directly if you need help.

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