In the beginning there was thin porcelain panels. One version was created by engineer Franco Stefani in 2001 of the Systems Group, innovator of the ceramic industry. This product was conceived by creating the production technique using a large plate pressing process for large thin porcelain panels called Lamina.
Another version of thin porcelain tile (TPT) using a roller press process which continuously moves the entire manufacturing, print, design and cutting process was created by the Sacmi Imola Group called Continua and now the Continua + manufacturing equipment/process.
The design communities fell in love with TPT, something completely new and very beautiful. So, installations began anywhere and everywhere. Then, unfortunately there were failures anywhere and everywhere, primarily due to lack of properly trained contractors as well as improper tooling available.
As a collective effort to reduce installation failures due to lack of product knowledge and proper installation methods, the panel manufacturers and setting material companies began providing installation training.
These panel manufacturers and setting material manufacturers like Custom Building Products along with The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) began conducting material testing and installation methods development from 2011 forward. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested in laboratory and installation method testing over five-six years in support of the TPT product segment.
As of September 2014, the industry was still in discussions about what to name the product, as there were still no current standards for the manufacturing or installation of the tile. Standards for this product category were still being developed by TCNA, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) who were in technical sub-committee with testing and document development.
With no standards available, the tile markets decided to move forward with recommendations based on the designs and materials available. In general, the consensus was that a 6 mm thick panel was good for exterior facades, interior wall cladding and flooring applications. At the same time, it was determined that the 3 mm thickness panels were ideal for millwork and tile over tile applications and finally, that 12 mm thick panels were excellent for countertop applications and slab vein matching accents.
TPT to GPT and GPTP?
Thin Porcelain Tile Panels did not clearly identify size or thickness of the various range of products available nor would one terminology allow performance standards to be developed for various products. Panel manufacturers and ANSI Technical Committee members discussed options and decided to utilize terminology from the wire industry, specifically the American Wire Gauge (AWG), which covers all thicknesses of product offerings and enables differentiation of product performance standards. The AWG is currently standardized by ASTM / American Society of Testing Materials B 258-18 / Standard Specification for Standard Nominal Diameters and Cross-Sectional Areas of AWG Sizes of Solid Round Wires Used as Electrical Conductors
In November 2017, a historical event in the tile industry took place. For the first time, a material and installation standard were developed, voted on and passed simultaneously through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Technical Committees.
Material Standard =
ANSI A137.3 / American National Standards Specifications for Gauged Porcelain Tile and Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs.
Installation Standard =
A108.19 Interior Installation of Gauged Porcelain Tiles and Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs by Thin-Bed Method bonded with Modified Dry-Set Cement Mortar or Improved Modified Dry-Set Cement Mortar.
Then came new manufacturing facilities, which were completed in the U.S. in September 2018.
Iris Ceramica Group, parent company of StonePeak, SapienStone, FMG, Porcelaingres, Ariostea, Eiffelgres, and Fiandre, invested $70 million dollars in an expansion that added 160 workers to the facility, which now measures 1 million square feet.
Then came the question: What about the size for exterior installations?
The IBC/International Building Code limits size and weight of exterior adhered veneers, such as porcelain tile, stone, etc. Currently the ICC/ International Code Council’s IBC: [BS] 202, TABLE 1404.2, [BS] 1404.10.2 for exterior adhered materials states - [BS]1405.10.2 Exterior adhered masonry veneers—porcelain tile.
Adhered units shall not exceed 5/8 inch (15.8 mm) thickness and 24 inches (610 mm) in any face dimension nor more than 3 square feet (0.28 m2) in total face area and shall not weigh more than 9 pounds psf (0.43 kN/m2). Porcelain tile shall be adhered to an approved backing system.
This clearly excludes most gauged porcelain tile panels when used in common sizes, even though GPTP weighs as low as 3lbs. psf.
This led to confusion for projects where the IBC standard was listed in architectural specifications and in some cases held up panel installations. General process is to apply for a variance from the specified standard and because GPTP is lightweight, most projects have approved and installation has proceeded. Nonetheless, specifiers and contractors all needed more information and they needed it yesterday and that leads us to the latest “anticipated” developments.
On May 6, 2019, compliments to the efforts of the TCNA/Tile Council of North America and the IMI/International Masonry Institute, the IBC initially approved revisions/updates to code/Chapter 14 as below scheduled to be published in 2021.
So what’s next?
EXTERIOR Installation Standard =
A108.20 Exterior Installation of Gauged Porcelain Tiles and Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs by Thin-Bed Method bonded with Modified Dry-Set Cement Mortar or Improved Modified Dry-Set Cement Mortar.
The ad-hoc group plans to present a draft to the ANSI committee sometime in 2020 for voting and approval.
What was initially perceived as a niche type product in the tile industry has become very popular with millions of square feet manufactured, sold and successfully installed.
Then came hundreds of GPTP installation training sessions over several years administered by the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), panel manufacturers and setting materials manufacturers like Custom.
Training is crucial to a successful installation for those contractors who have never installed GPTP. It’s so crucial that the ANSI A108.19 Technical Committee included language specific to what a “Qualified Installer Program” is, which can be found in section 10 as a requirement to complete before installation is to proceed. So, what that means is, if your project has GPTP and has ANSI A108.19 listed in the architectural specification, you need to have this training.
Additionally, because installation knowledge is so crucial to a successful installation, more language has been submitted to be included in the next publishing that clearly outlines what an Installer Qualification Program will be required to consist of in way of training content and hands-on training elements.
Then TPTP became GPTP, rode off into the sunset, solidly bonded and admired forever and ever. The end. For now…