The raw materials used to form tile consist of clay minerals mined from the earth's crust, natural minerals such as feldspar that are used to lower the firing temperature, and chemical additives required for the shaping process. The minerals are often refined or beneficiated near the mine before shipment to the ceramic plant.
The raw materials must be pulverized and classified according to particle size. Primary crushers are used to reduce large lumps of material. Either a jaw crusher or gyratory crusher is used, which operate using a horizontal initial step in ceramic tile manufacture involves mixing the ingredients. Sometimes, water is then added and the ingredients are wet milled or ground in a ball mill. If wet milling is used, the excess water is removed using filter pressing followed by spray drying. The resulting powder is then pressed into the desired tile body shape.
Squeezing motion between steel plates or rotating motion between steel cones, respectively.
Secondary crushing reduces smaller lumps to particles. Hammer mill or muller mills are often used. A muller mill uses steel wheels in a shallow rotating pan, while a hammer mill uses rapidly moving steel hammers to crush the material. Roller or cone type crushers can also be used.
A third particle size reduction step may be necessary. Tumbling types of mills are used in combination with grinding media. One of the most common types of such mills is the ball mill, which consists of large rotating cylinders partially filled with spherical grinding media.
Screens are used to separate out particles in a specific size range. They operate in a sloped position and are vibrated mechanically or electromechanically to improve material flow. Screens are classified according to mesh number, which is the number of openings per lineal inch of screen surface. The higher the mesh number, the smaller the opening size.
A glaze is a glass material designed to melt onto the surface of the tile during firing, and which then adheres to the tile surface during cooling. Glazes are used to provide moisture resistance and decoration, as they can be colored or can produce special textures.
Once the raw materials are processed, a number of steps take place to obtain the finished product. These steps include batching, mixing and grinding, spray-drying, forming, drying, glazing, and firing. Many of these steps are now accomplished using automated equipment.