As a manufacturer of composite stone products for over 30 years, Santa Margherita of Volargne (VR), Italy has become a world leader in this sector of the industry. And it recently added to its status by establishing its newest Bretonstone plant, adding to its existing operation for producing agglomerate stone.

The company has been producing Bretonstone products since 1988, starting with 122- x 122-cm slabs and eventually manufacturing larger slabs. The new plant will focus on the production for 305- x 140-cm slabs, with a maximum thickness of 3 cm. Production in the 10,000-square-meter plant began in the fall of last year, and the facility can manufacture 1,000 square meters of material in a 9-hour shift. Over the course of the year, the company is looking to run two shifts in the new plant each day.

The new facility is divided into two sections - production of slabs and finishing of slabs - and virtually all of the production, handling and finishing equipment is from Breton. The manufacturing process for the product, which is 94% quartz and 6% polyester resin, begins by extracting the raw material from silos. The first operation is mixing the quartzite with the resin and pigment, and there are two possible mixing processes, depending on the final product. For monocolor products, the pigment is added during the initial mixing process. For bi-color products - such as a material with a dark green surface and light green accents - the two shades are mixed separately, and are then combined later in the process.

After mixing, the material is poured into a rubber mold, and a polyurethane film is placed on top. The slab then moves through a press, and then into an oven that heats the slab for 18 minutes. The protective film is then automatically removed and stacked with other film. The mold is automatically separated from the slab, and a vacuum lifter moves the slab to a cooling unit, while another line cleans and recycles the rubber mold.

Once the slabs are cooled, they are automatically unloaded from the line, and a crane delivers them to the finishing line. The rough edges of the slab (approximately 2 cm) are trimmed away, and the slabs then move to calibration. Two polishers - a 6-head Levibreton KCP and an 8-head Levibreton KCP - are used for calibrating, and polished slabs continue onto an 18-head Levibreton KFG.

After calibration and polishing, the slabs are then dried. When the agglomerate material is being made into tiles, the slabs go through a cross cutter, and then through another section of the finishing line that bevels all four edges of the tile. The tiles are then dried and automatically packed in boxes and stamped with a sticker denoting the name of the tile, the production date and the UPC code. Another machine automatically picks up the boxes and places them onto a palette.

The increased production of Bretonstone - which had stood at 7,000 square meters per day prior to the expansion - was due to increased market demand, according to the company. Santa Margherita's directors decided that its 60,000-square-meter factory was no longer able to satisfy demand for the product. The layout and machinery of the new facility was determined by working directly with representatives from Breton, which has a fully equipped research laboratory to help determine new technical and aesthetic solutions for Bretonstone products.

Varieties of agglomerate stone include Agglosimplex (made of marble chips and polyester resins); Marghestone (made of marble grits and polyester resins) and Crystal Stone (made of marble grits with colored glass inserts). Slabs are used for applications such as kitchen countertops and vanity tops - primarily for residential and hotel projects.

A total of 95% of the company's production is exported, and the European Union is the company's top export market, led by Germany. The U.S. is the second strongest export target, and Santa Margherita is currently looking to increase its presence in the American market.