Research and Innovation rooted in the territory
Nicola Leonardi: The new Marlit production plant and R&D Lab inaugurated on Marazzi’s industrial site in Sassuolo completed the enlargement and strengthening of the Company following its acquisition by Mohawk Industries. All the production plants have been modernized; there was the Emilceramica acquisition, and showrooms were opened in London, Paris and Warsaw. It has marked a new departure for a Company that has always put R&D at the forefront of its concerns. What are the up-coming challenges awaiting Marazzi? Mauro Vandini: Research into and development of new products, which must always be more beautiful and made with increasingly specialized techniques to meet specific requirements. Processes must be improved so as to allow more time for thinking; we must upgrade our professional skills and know-how at every level: from factory floor to marketing; from sales to logistics. The toughest challenge, I think, will be taking on board the change in business model, which can no longer be just one single model. Today, you can no longer be good at doing just one thing. You have to be able to deliver different models depending on the countries, market segments, and specific demands you are dealing with. This requires people with different skills who are willing to put themselves on the line - not that easy to find. It is no easy task but I think it is necessary and also invigorating because it puts people, their capabilities and potential back centerstage - it is not just a question of machines. It is an opportunity to make the difference as professionals. N.L.: What are the strong points of the synergy between Mohawk and Marazzi? M.V.: The acquisition of Marazzi by Mohawk Industries has allowed us over these last few years to speed up our growth path, backed not only by our new size as a Group but also thanks to our leadership in terms of style, capacity for innovation and Marazzi’s brand positioning in the ceramics industry, which allows Mohawk to take the lead also in the flooring segment. The growth plan got underway thanks to our district’s technological development and know-how. The modernization of all our European plants was followed by the acquisition of other ceramic tile producing companies, a policy consistent with Mohawk’s consolidated international growth strategy, which has always been based on direct and indirect investments. N.L.: Marazzi’s plant in Sassuolo is a real campus whose architecture tells the story of the Company but also testifies to its involvement in the community, which in turn is born of an awareness of the importance of a continuous mutual exchange of the culture and knowledge that abound in both. Now, with the hindsight of a few years following the renovation and requalification of Marazzi’s traditional industrial site and the restoration of its historic buildings, how do you see the outcome of this operation? M.V.: Very positively, both from inside and outside the Company. In the past year we have completed the renovation of our plant and new laboratories. Previously we had restructured the headquarters with the office building, the Marazzi Crogiolo, and the Marazzi and Ragno brand showrooms whose extensive glazed windows look out onto the main road, Via Regina Pacis. Marazzi is a historic byword in the whole area of Sassuolo. It was founded in the 1930s, about thirty years before the ceramic tile district grew up. It has always been in the same location, has witnessed some eighty years of history and been part of the social, cultural and economic changes that have occurred. The requalification of Via Regina Pacis and the conservative restoration of the Crogiolo, Marazzi’s very first industrial building - today an events venue open to the public and hosting cultural events sponsored by the town authorities and associations - have both met with widespread approval. Not just architectural and urban renewal, this new space for cultural and leisure activities has strengthened the Company’s links with its own people and ordinary citizens in the community. N.L.: Your focus on product excellence goes hand-in-hand with concern for Marazzi employees’ quality of life. How impactful is workplace architecture on quality of life? M.V.: For the second year running we have been classed Top Employer by the Top Employers Institute, the international certification body examining company working conditions and work quality according to parameters ranging from training to corporate welfare. These are very important issues for us and we are working on several fronts, ranging from our Training Center, to agreements with third parties to ensure our employees advantageous rates for goods and services, and first aid courses, which incidentally, are now on-going at the Crogiolo. For sure, architecture plays a fundamental role for its influence on the quality of life of those who work in an environment. For work is large junk of a person’s life. The optimum would be to design workplaces starting from the workers and their needs; an ethically unassailable but not very realistic vision for companies like Marazzi whose plants and offices were built over a long period, each time to specific organizational and industrial criteria. We are progressively restoring and renovating all the company’s historic plants, starting with the Crogiolo and the plants in Fiorano, Finale Emilia and Sassuolo, aiming to make them all compliant with the strictest safety, earthquake and environmental regulations. We aim to ensure quality ergonomic parameters in all our work spaces and call on specialist architects, interior designers, engineering, urban planners and materials experts to help us in this. N.L.: What sort of technological developments can we expect in the ceramics industry in the immediate future? What has the combination of materials technology and digital technology brought about, and what does the future hold? M.V.: New production and digital technology have enormously increased the prospects for the ceramic industry to develop in several different directions. And research is in continual evolution. We are working across-the-board in all technology and product areas. We are very happy with our large slabs. Thanks to laboratory and assembly-line improvements, production now has a lower environmental impact; the slabs are perfectly flat and evenly reflective, thanks to a special polishing technique; they have no internal stresses or strains, thanks to our ability to control the product’s microstructure. That means ease of cutting and machining, an important feature for the new counter-top segment we are bringing on stream. In addition, the continuous improvement of digital technologies allows us to deliver stoneware tiles that appear every bit as natural as the wood, marble or stone they are modeled on, and with excellent resistance and cleanability properties. New technologies have also allowed us to propose new materials, the result of exciting cross-fertilization between different materials. Last but not least, we can explore the far-ranging world of customization and “made-to-measure”, a feature design specialists really appreciate. N.L.: What role do your R&D laboratories play in the search for reliable, resistant, quality materials? M.V.: R&D labs are a key corporate resource, the place where an idea becomes an industrial product. The new laboratory inaugurated a couple of months ago will carry out research on raw materials, ceramic-body mixtures, dyes and surface patterns in order to develop prototypes to be industrialized. The lab will also be in charge of testing materials to ensure top technical performance. The new facility has a covered surface area of over 3,000 sq. m. The various environments are luminous with glazed partitioning; it is a transparent workplace encouraging collaboration as well as ideas and information sharing.