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10/11/2022 – Flooring / Argelith / Ceramic / Tiles / Covering / Gulfood / Hygienic

Argelith tiles: Heavy-Duty and Hygienic

Ahead of Argelith Bodenkeramik H. Bitter GmbH’s showcase at Gulfood Manufacturing 2022 in Dubai, Managing Director Eva Bitter and Export Manager Desiree Leinker describe the company’s key F&B industry projects alongside the many benefits of going ceramic when it comes to heavy-duty and hygienic floor coverings. 

Boasting more than a century’s expertise in high-quality ceramic tile production, German manufacturer Argelith Bodenkeramik H. Bitter GmbH today supplies its hard-wearing, innovative and stylish floor coverings to over 150 countries worldwide. Finding application wherever an extremely robust, durable, hygienic, acid- and alkali-resistant and aesthetic floor is needed, within the F&B industry such use cases for Argelith’s Hexalith and fully vitrified tiles include breweries, meat plants, dairies, wineries, chemical plants, retailers and bakeries.

Q. Could you describe the origins of Argelith, highlighting some of the major milestones in its development?

“Argelith is a manufacturer of ceramic tiles, specialising in extra strong, high-quality and extremely resilient ceramic floor coverings. With more than 100 years of experience, we produce porcelain stoneware tiles of the highest quality. Ceramic products have been manufactured at the Bad Essen site in Lower Saxony, Germany since 1870. The product portfolio has changed significantly over the years – from the early clay bricks to clinker tiles to today's fully vitrified tiles.

“In the early years – around 1870 – bricks were initially produced onsite using one of the first Hoffmann kilns in Europe. It was not until 1966, with the construction of a tunnel kiln, that the foundation was laid for special clinker production using the dry pressing method. 

“In the years that followed, Argelith continued to grow with industrial requirements and finally built its own fully vitrified tile factory in Bad Essen in 2001. The high-quality production of fully vitrified tiles is one of the decisive milestones in the company's progress. 

“With innovations and brands such as Dekortec, particularly decorative industrial tiles with individual designs, the Mvtec brand (micro-compacted technology) and Hexalith – the small hexagonal tiles, and our strongest brand to date – Argelith has continued to advance over the past two decades up to this day. We currently produce approximately 1.5 million m² of fully vitrified tiles annually, which corresponds to an area of approximately 240 football pitches. Our focus is on industrial use, such as in the food production industry, beverage industry, car workshops, and municipal buildings, as well as rescue stations. 

“Our products are used wherever an extremely robust, durable, acid- and alkali-resistant and aesthetic floor is needed. Specifically, this includes in breweries, meat plants, dairies, wineries, the chemical industry, energy drink manufacturers, retailers and bakeries.”

Q. What is Argelith’s current geographical reach?

“Starting small in the German market, Argelith tiles can now be found in over 150 countries around the world. We have supplied projects from New Zealand to Alaska. Due to the continuous geographical expansion of our sale, Argelith has now built up a worldwide network of distributors, tile installers, sales agents and its own regional sales managers.

“The size of the projects is of secondary importance to us – whether 100m² in Europe or 12,000m² in Africa, we look forward to every inquiry. The small projects, in particular, are often designed in great detail and with individual patterns in the tiled floor.”

Q. Could you outline your product range, highlighting any particular innovations you will be showcasing at Gulfood Manufacturing 2022?

“Argelith has a wide range of different tiles in different formats, colours, thicknesses and surface finishes. Our product portfolio ranges from rectangular 10x20cm and 24x11.5cm, up to square 20x20cm–40x40cm tiles with thicknesses of 12–18mm. 

“When it comes to the surfaces, we can focus entirely on the requirements of the customer and their production area. Whether filling areas or showrooms, with our surfaces (R09 – R13 V10) we meet all requirements. In addition, the different surfaces can be easily combined in a wide variety of areas.

“Argelith has been an EHEDG member for over 10 years and is in close contact with food manufacturers in order to help shape the basic hygienic conditions in production facilities. The tiles used in the food sector are HACCP International tested. 

“Furthermore, we have combined the typical red clinker tile colour with our high-quality mvtec fully vitrified tiles. The new Mars-Red tile fulfils all the properties of being a fully vitrified tile and has the classic brick red clinker colour.

“At Gulfood manufacturing 2022, we will also present a new colour – ‘Crème-White’ – for our hexagonal tiles.”

Q. What are the major application areas for Argelith’s tiles within the food manufacturing, retail and hospitality segments?

“Basically, our tiles are used in almost every area of the food-producing industry, but are most commonly used by beverage manufacturers, meat processing companies and dairies. Argelith can, without a doubt, call itself the world market leader in this area of super-strong, fully vitrified tiles.

“Above all, the technical properties of a ceramic tile are advantageous, such as the high point load capacity, low water absorption, acid- and alkali-resistance, and the longevity of the tiles. 

“The longevity of ceramic products, in particular, is often forgotten. Here, planning is everything. With the right planning and installation of the floor covering, ceramic tiles offer decades without the need for any repair work. Should individual tiles have to be replaced, this can be done during on-going operation. At first glance, a ceramic floor is more expensive at a facility abroad than, for example, a coating or a polished concrete floor, due to the high labour costs when installing the tiles. Over the years, however, unplanned costs often arise with the latter as a result of required repair work (often causing halts to production at the facility), which could have been avoided with the use of ceramic products.

“Furthermore, hygienic risks are greatly minimised by the thickness of ceramic tiles and their correspondingly deep joints. To further minimise risks in the area of hygiene, we work closely with HACCP and EHEDG.”

“Our Hexalith (hexagonal tiles) are mainly used in the food & beverage industry. In addition to the already outlined advantages, Hexalith tiles give production areas an aesthetic and individual look. Acceptable point loads are highest in conjunction with the hexagonal tiles, too. Due to their shape and size, hexagonal tiles are the perfect choice for sloped floors and are therefore very well suited for wet areas.”

Q. Who are your major food-industry-related customers today?

“Argelith tiles are included in the specifications of many large companies and are used across a wide variety of areas. Even an extremely challenging area of the floor such as in a supermarket – one that millions of consumers walk across every day to do their shopping – does not pose a problem for our products, either visually or functionally.

“In addition to the global players that we supply, our clients also include many small and medium-sized companies from a wide variety of industries.

“Our largest Hexalith projects this year include one for E-Piim, a large cheese, butter and protein manufacturer in Estonia (11,000m²); for Martinez, a Dutch chocolate manufacturer (11,000m²); for a world-renowned energy drink manufacturer (30,000m²); and for Golden Chicken, a meat processing company in the United Arab Emirates (approx. 13,000m²).

“We are very proud that a wide variety of companies – small and large, national and international – build on our tiles.”

Q. What facilities and resources does Argelith have to support its operations today?

“The tiles are produced at our factory in Bad Essen, Wehrendorf, and shipped from here all over the world. However, much has changed in the key markets. Argelith's export business, in particular, has grown enormously in recent years. Since 2006, we’ve had a subsidiary in the USA: Argelith Ceramic Tiles Inc. Furthermore, we have several sales representatives and a very good international network of tiling contractors and trading partners. Project-related customer support, even over long distances, is very important to us. That's why we have country-specific sales representatives and key account managers who advise our customers individually and are also available on site.

“Through our own warehousing (for example, in the USA), delivery times can be shortened, and even short-term orders can be processed on time. We are also an approved exporter for our tiles, which significantly simplifies logistical processing and customs processing, and saves time. We can advise our customers on a country-specific basis, and have various certifications that simplify import/export, such as SASO, CCC and ISO certification. More than 1,000 trucks and 800 sea containers leave the Argelith plant every year.”

Q. Have there been any recent investments in the business?

“To name what is probably the largest investment in the company's history, we built our new fully vitrified tile factory in 2001. This has been continuously expanded over the years, and kept up-to-date with the latest technology. From raw material processing to sorting, we are largely fully automated. The last major investments included a two-stage Conti mill for processing the mass, several colour silos, a new slip tank and a new press including a production line for more efficient, flexible and faster production. The energy savings of such improvements should also be highlighted. Additionally, we are in principle currently working on other, more far-reaching sustainability projects. Our goal is to use as little energy and raw materials as possible in production.”

Q. What factors have been most important to Argelith's success over more than a century, to become such an esteemed innovator in the hard-wearing ceramic tiles sector today?

“We at Argelith define ourselves not only through our products, but also through our service for the customer. We want our customers to get the highest quality flooring with the longest possible benefit. Due to the flexibility of our production, we can implement special customer requests quickly and smoothly. Even individual tile patterns can be realised for large projects and key account customers.

“The installation and thus co-operation with reliable tiling contractors is essential. We are therefore happy to recommend our installation partners – with whom we have been working well for decades – to our customers. Our own sales representatives can also support clients internationally on site, giving them important tips and information.

“Beyond that, we are able to significantly reduce long delivery times through our flexible production, large storage quantities and our own logistical processing.”

Q. How does Argelith approach the subjects of hygiene and safety?

“Traditionally, tiled or coated floors usually ruled out a defined slip resistance in connection with the appropriate hygiene, due to difficult cleaning processes. However, modern, fully vitrified tiles are no longer extruded but are manufactured dry in a single pressing process. The slip resistance can thus be transferred directly to the upper mold, as a profile, during the pressing process. The density of the tiles in the dry pressing process is significantly higher than in the extrusion process, resulting in less water absorption and allowing for better surface cleaning. Resin coatings are given a rougher surface with additives in order to obtain the desired slip resistance. The surface structure of the dry-pressed tile has significantly more advantageous cleaning properties.

“The profiles of the tiles are optimally adapted to the necessary areas of application. For example, floor coverings require an R11 surface according to the technical rules for workplaces (ASR A1.5/1.2) in cheese production. The surfaces adapted to the work area offer the optimum safety standards. 

“Hygiene is probably the most important aspect in the food industry. Every food manufacturer wants to ensure that the installed systems or floor coverings meet the legal standards. Argelith Bodenkeramik, as a supplier of floor tiles, is therefore a member of the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG). This offers an advisory function for machine and component manufacturers in the food industry, and tries to improve the food safety and quality of suppliers. Potential security risks can be identified quickly and prevented before they occur. 

“At the same time, Argelith works with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) concept. This system is intended to preventively ensure the safety of the food produced for the consumer and includes, among other things, extensive cleaning instructions and hygiene requirements.”

Q. What areas of R&D focus is your company currently pursuing to further advance its tile innovations?

“The R&D area is already very advanced in the field of ceramic tiles. Our fully vitrified tiles are produced on the basis of Mvtec (micro-compacted technology). Here, we can also name our honeycomb hexagonal Hexalith tile, which is characterised on the one hand by very good technical characteristics in terms of point loads and low water absorption rates, while the special shape and aesthetic pattern possibilities offer extensive and individual design options. We are constantly working on improved raw material compositions and colours in order to further develop the Argelith product in a positive way.”

Q. What current market trends, challenges and opportunities can you identify?

“Thanks to long-term partnerships with suppliers, our procurement of raw materials can be guaranteed to this day. 

Energy management has never been as important as it is today. Due to the on-going political upheaval and the associated gas and electricity supply constraints, we are in a challenging environment. We have therefore been working for a long time on many different sustainable but also economically interesting savings potentials in the area of production, without impacting the high quality of our end products. We are ISO 50001 energy management certified. 

“In addition, for us as a ceramic tile manufacturer, topics such as production with hydrogen and our own and independent power supply using regenerative energies are clear goals for the next few years. The priority here is the expansion of photovoltaic systems on our own production halls and thinking in terms of wind turbines. At the same time, our focus is on making the production process as efficient as possible.

“Ultimately, we as Argelith look forward to a challenging but good and successful future – with our employees, products, our know-how and our willingness to learn.”

Visit Argelith at Gulfood Manufacturing from 8-10 November in Dubai (Hall: Shk Saeed Hall 1 Stand: S1-G25). Learn more about the company here

Latest issue – Vol 1/23
– Health & Nutrition focus
– Gulfood 2023 Special
– Next level legume – The rise of the chickpea
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