Brazil's biggest producer of ceramic coverings is an authority in the industry and a worldwide reference for tile manufacture. From top technology, growing infrastructure, know-how and niches, Reuben Ford finds out how the market leader has it covered.
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Hot on the heels of the global leaders, the Incefra Group based in Brazil is a long-established name in the ceramic tile industry, comprising the companies Incefra, Incenor, Tecnogrés and Luxory. The organization has an installed capacity of 73,800,000 square meters of tiles a year, ranking it in the top five in the world.
Incefra invests in an expansive range of coverings that emulate the techniques and styles of Italian and European design. Brazil is the world’s second largest consumer of ceramic coverings in construction and national sales are rising. The group is leading the way with new ranges and tendencies that have resulted in a steady increase in production and sales over the last ten years.
Faced with recession, Incefra, which is no stranger to the complicated edges and corners of an erratic economy, is seizing the opportunity of a fall in the country’s currency to boost exports and domestic sales.
“The market is always looking for something new. Our focus is meeting market needs – all market needs – leading the way through strategy and successful results,” says President of the Incefra Group, João Adriano Ribeiro.
Thinking Outside the Box
When the group was founded in 1971, it manufactured roof tiles and bricks. Ribeiro describes the transition to ceramic tiles as a “production upgrade”. An extension of the grinding process used to produce bricks rapidly developed expertise in wet and dry grindings methods. Ceramic tile manufacture began in 1988 and the group turned its full attention to this industry sector.
By 1999, Incefra was producing the highest volume of ceramics in Brazil, equating to 16 million square meters of tiles a year. One year later the company began exportation of tiles manufactured through dry grinding: a method using hydraulic presses to guarantee maximum compaction, high productivity rates and optimum consistency in the press cycle time. The moisture content of the tiles produced is subsequently dried to ensure successful firing ad glazing.
In 2004 and 2007, the group opened two factories in Bahia, which complemented the existing facility in São Paulo. “Migration to the northeast of Brazil was a pioneering step for Incefra – we were the first to open this type of plant there,” Ribeiro says. The two facilities operate under the Incenor and Tecnogrés names.
The three facilities and brand names of the group are run and managed by three shareholders from the Fragnani family. “Many companies in this industry sector are family businesses, this we have in common. However, our differential is that strategic planning and results-driven management are overriding principles of our company culture. Technology and equipment are readily available to producers – management and planning are key.”
Today’s Technology & Infrastructure
Incefra’s manufacturing process starts with the selection of the raw materials that make up the ceramic tile from the company quarries in São Paulo and Bahia. Following extraction, materials are homogenized, in order to guarantee characteristics are consistent. The group uses both wet and dry grinding processes in order to disperse and reduce the particles.
“The technology we use is predominantly Italian – the world leader in ceramic production and design and our products aim to emulate the quality and finish of our European counterparts,” Ribeiro says. Methods of pressing, drying, decorating and finishing are directly inspired by Italy and machinery is imported from Europe (Italy and Spain). In the last five years, owing to reduced costs, there is an increasing number of Chinese technology available, however, Ribeiro emphasizes that Incefra’s in-house Italian consultants are an important part of both technology and design.
The acquisition of state-of-the-art machinery is an ongoing priority. “The manufacture of quality ceramics demands the use of high technology and a huge part of the process is carried out by modern equipment,” Ribeiro explains.
Incefra’s factory in Cordeirópolis in São Paulo state and two facilities in Dias D’Ávila, Bahia, also house distribution centers and employ in total 1,300 staff. Incefra, Incenor and Tecnogrés have respective production capacities of 3.3 million, 2.25 million and 0.6 million square meters of ceramic wall and floor coverings every month.
Approximately 10 percent of production is exported, primarily to Latin America (Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela) and Africa (Angola and South Africa). “In the past, differing exchange rates have allowed export rates of up to 25 percent. The present devaluation of the Brazilian real (while presenting many economic challenges) is favorable to a future increase in overseas sales,” Ribeiro comments.
Design and Decoration
The Incefra Group’s extended infrastructure, including two different methods of manufacture produces a broad range of ceramic and porcelain tiles for domestic and commercial applications. The company’s Luxory line, for example, produces high-end porcelain tiles through wet grinding methods.
“Our research and development team follows international trends and tendencies and our professionals attend trade fairs worldwide. Identifying niches and unique design styles create competitive advantage. New high-definition tile printing technology (up to 20 times more resolution) allows us to reproduce a variety of designs, such as textiles, stone and wood on ceramics,” Ribeiro explains.
The importance of ceramics in the Brazilian construction industry is growing. As the second largest producer and consumer of ceramic coverings, the country is a global reference in the industry. Ribeiro comments: “Ceramic wall tiles are increasingly used for building facades as well as interiors.”
In addition to market leadership and award winning products and processes that satisfy niche markets, Incefra operates fully sustainable manufacturing systems, including responsible handling of gases, raw materials and effluents.
In an undisputable pole position in Brazil, and top five ranking worldwide, Incefra leads by example. Investing in quality, strategy, technology and design the pioneer plans new facilities and product lines in the near future.
For the latest developments, top designs and strategic solution to industry challenges, look to the leader.