One of the fun things about my job is that I get to see what products are trending. And just when you think last season's product introductions can't be topped, another new and amazing collection surfaces.

As the summer winds down and we gear up for another trade show season, I'm beginning to get excited to see what tile and stone manufacturers have come up with this time. In a few weeks, I head to Italy for Marmomacc — the largest international stone exhibition, which is held annually in Verona, Italy. This is always one of my favorite trips. For starters, Italy is a beautiful place with delicious cuisine, but beyond that, the show is a display of innovation. There are always new introductions of exotic stones and unique finishes.

On a trip to Italy earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Lapitec's facility. The company is a producer of large, full-bodied, sintered stone slabs. A product like this was a longtime in the making. It required years of research and development. Lapitec is among a new breed of products that is currently rising in popularity. In fact, because Lapitec, and similar products, such as Dekton and Laminam, are being used more in today's design, we decided to feature them in this issue of Contemporary Stone & Tile Design.

There are several names being used for these large slabs, which are made of material such as sintered stone, ceramic and porcelain, but we are calling them "Ultra Compact Surfaces." Manufacturers are promoting their technical qualities, which make them durable and slip resistant, as well as their aesthetic appeal. With such large sizes available, these products can be used for applications such as kitchen countertops and shower walls.

As with anything new, there is a learning curve. Products like these have brought some challenges to fabricators such as the proper and most efficient way to cut this type of material. Being that it is so strong, it wears more quickly on the life of a saw blade that is usually used for natural stone. Additionally, it also takes longer to cut, which takes more time away from other jobs. But, the stone industry is up for the challenge, and tooling manufacturers have already developed blades specifically designed to cut ultra compact surfaces. These types of products are being discussed among fabricators in forums and at trade shows. They are sharing experiences and knowledge with each other.

Our series of features on applications with ultra compact surfaces begins on page 18. As you will see, there are a number of ways to use these products in design. The architects for Lapitec's own headquarters took the challenge to use the product in innovative ways throughout the building's exterior and interior design. You can read more about their story beginning on page 30.