It all begins with rubber
Photos by Valentina Sommariva
Rubber is a raw material with few rivals where resilience and basic elasticity are concerned. Using advanced processes that perfect its characteristics we are able to increase its technical performance. Mineral fillers, natural pigments and vulcanisation accelerators are added to the rubber in varying quantities depending on the specific product that we wish to obtain.
Mixing is the most important stage, fundamental for determining the right consistency of the material, but also for ensuring a uniform distribution of the colour. The raw rubber, left to cool and cut into swathes, already has an elastic aspect albeit in a form that is still rough and irregular.
The mix is then sent to the production line to begin the process that makes it possible to obtain a sheet between 2 and 5 mm thick. After the calendering operation, which precisely determines the thickness of the future rubber flooring, the material is subjected to vulcanisation, continuously passing between metal cylinders heated to high temperatures.
A continuous and perfectly flat ribbon, a surface with no irregularities, variations in thickness or structural defects, comes out of the process.
The production has always taken place in Italy: from the historical plant south of Milan in the 60s, in 1995 we moved to Cairo Montenotte where production is now concentrated. The plant has grown over the years, adding a modern, high-performance “mixing room” to the department where the flooring is embossed. We work twenty-four hours a day, for minimum of 5 days a week, to avoid interrupting the process. This schedule best uses the efficiency and quality advantages of our modern vulcanising lines.
The exclusive process, engineered within the group, customized the assembly of various units of machinery. Rubber flooring production follows precise and complex rules. Unlike plastic material, the essential nature of rubber is very delicate. It demands more precision than other resilient flooring materials. While many production stages, like vulcanisation, have undergone major improvements in reduction of waste, they essentially remain those used at inception. These important aspects make us practically unique.
With the Mondo creative technology, we can now fully integrate production of flooring in sheets. Today, the vulcanization lines are simply fed with the mix and 60 m further along the sheets of finished product are automatically packed, reducing the impact of labour and consequently the cost.
We are proud to have succeeded in devising a system that allows us to automatically recover the waste generated during production. This excellent example of respect for the environment, a primary inspiration of our research, is made even more credible synergized with cost reductions, according to the principles of reduce-reuse-recycle.
Another important development has been the introduction of surface treatments. We have a particular coating which, applied to the majority of our smooth surface products, has made the floorings much easier to clean and thus less costly to maintain.
In addition, we targeted the evolution of the formula for continual improvement. The emphasis in recent years has been on improving the technical characteristics, and in particular, minimizing emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) by the product in the environment where it is laid.
Original rubber flooring from the mid-1930s – Palazzina Reale of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Photo taken in 2016.
In 1872, in Milan, Giovanni Battista Pirelli set up the first Italian plant manufacturing elastic rubber. In just a few years, production, initially limited to simple items like plaques, belts and tubes, expanded to all kinds of rubber articles for technical, industrial, scientific and furnishing applications.
The innovative characteristics and their immediate success led Pirelli to invest in a separate division: Artigo. The next few years were an extremely eventful period for the company, in which company designers and renowned architects produced designs that were to decree its success during the years to come: Ponti, Mollino and above all Albini and his design for the studded flooring devised for the underground railway stations in Milan.
In 1992, Artigo was taken over by the Mondo Group. A long standing company founded in 1948, Mondo had become a leader in its industry. This change marked the beginning of a rapid development of advancing technologies, bringing with it crucial contributions of specific professional expertise and great experience. Today, the Cairo Montenotte plant produces high-performance materials, ideal as flooring in schools, hospitals, public facilities and many other uses.
Rubber flooring is continuous, insulating and durable: it is hard-wearing, it does not produce dust, is washable, waterproof, soft and it gives excellent aesthetic effects.
from advertising brochure Pirelli “Rubber floorings” 1927
From the very beginning, Artigo has strived to provide practical and high-performance solutions, characterised by appearances that are able to interpret a contemporary vision of space. The surface effects and the textures that form the distinctive trait of some collections are the result of the specific surface of the cylinders or moulds that, using pressure, determine the pattern and the desired finish.
Functional characteristics such as lightness, limited thickness, rapid laying, easy maintenance and the possibility of covering pre-existing floorings make it an excellent solution for renewing existing buildings.
A series of exclusive qualities that now make Artigo a reliable, dynamic and sustainable partner for any contemporary architectural project in which a solution associating resilience, flexibility and durability over time is required, but that is also able to express an emotion, transmit taste for beauty, tell a story of excellence and enthusiasm.