Earlier this week, I returned home from the annual Marmomacc stone trade fair in Verona, Italy, and as always, the event never failed to impress me. From the onset, the show is impressive in terms of its sheer size, with 1,500 exhibitors and 800,000 square feet of exhibit space. But more importantly, Marmomacc is a leading international event in the sector because of the many new product introductions on the show floor, including new stone materials and finishes as well advances in stoneworking equipment and technology.

Similar to the fashion industry, it seems like the innovations in stone materials are first unveiled in Italy and then make their way into the U.S. market a short while later. If this holds true following this year's show, U.S. fabricators will be seeing a range of new exotic materials at their local distributors. These include new varieties of granite and quartzite out of countries such as Brazil and India. Also of note, there seemed to be more varieties of onyx on the show floor compared to past years, and they are not only coming from the Middle East, but also from the U.S. As I visited with exhibitors at the event, I spoke with two different major slab producers from Italy, both of which are bringing in blocks of onyx for processing into slabs. Obviously, these materials are not cheap, but they will be an interesting stone to offer the high-end customers who want a product that was "Born in America."

For shops that are looking to promote the eco-friendly aspects of natural stone, I saw two very useful developments for stone fabricators to communicate to their customers. In terms of stone itself, I attended an informative seminar on the Natural Stone Council's (NSC) effort to establishing a stone industry standard for environmentally sustainable extraction and processing methods. The program is still in its developing stages, but some extensive research on "Best Practices" has been conducted, and you can read about it at http://www.genuinestone.com/env_researchandresults.php. It might not be a bad idea for fabricators to summarize some of these points for customers who place an emphasis on the use of green materials, and hopefully this initiative reaches its goals in the not-too-distant future. Additionally, the "Industry Happenings" section of this E-Newsletter includes an official press release from the NSC that summarizes the sustainability initiative.

Specific fund-raising efforts to spread the word about natural stone sustainability were initiated by the MIA earlier this year, and you can read about them in the "Industry Happenings" section of this E-Newsletter.

Eco-friendly processes were also emphasized by technology providers such as Tenax, which highlighted a number of practices at Marmomacc. Among them, the company promoted its water-based enhancers, oil-repellant treatments and waxes; its abatement of VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions; its use of natural extracts as the base for its mastics, epoxy resins, hardeners and abrasives; and the energy savings achieved through the use of its resin products, which cure at the same speed whether heated to 20 degrees C or 40 degrees C.

Also respecting the environment, a number of quartz surfacing producers, such as CaesarStone, promoted materials made with recycled content, providing yet another option for stone fabricators looking to market to "green" clients.

Another innovation in quartz surfacing that I had not seen before was the display of blacklit materials, which are now part of the Quantra collection of quartz surfacing at Pokarna.

In terms of stone processing equipment, many equipment manufacturers have unveiled new models at Marmomacc 2010. These included large-scale machinery as well as technology for countertop fabrication shops. Among them, a range of advanced bridge saws are on display, including computerized models that also incorporate vacuum-lifting technology. Suppliers of tooling and supplies also offered new introductions in Verona this year.