The modern porcelain industry is borne from the hand made and hand glazed ceramics of old and the classic small porcelain tile. Porcelain has been used for centuries to adorn important buildings or luxurious houses, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that mass production technology was developed that made these materials more accessible and that ceramic tiles started to be used more extensively in mainstream residences.  Over the last two decades we have seen the development of larger and larger format tiles and a sharp rise in their use both for domestic and commercial applications. And now we enter the next generation.

The MAXIMUM brand is represented in NZ by long term architectural product sector leaders Libby Parkinson and John Richmond. Combined, the pair have a wealth of experience in the stone, tile and design industry and now they’re championing the possibilities for large-format porcelain by introducing the Italian developed and manufactured Graniti Fiandre Maximum range to our shores.

Such large format porcelain slabs represent the latest iteration for porcelain production – well beyond the historic limits of standard tile sizes. And given that this material is available in sizes of up to 3000 x 1500 (by 6mm or 10mm) it provides an interesting alternative to panel timber, sheet steel, stone slab or precast concrete applications. In particular, Maximum porcelain panels offer an extremely lightweight and low maintenance wall cladding or flooring alternative – affording architects and designers access to new extremely flexible possibilities for their specifications.

“The beauty of this material is that the aesthetics of concrete, metals or stone can be presented on anything from kitchen

splashbacks or slab showers to large format commercial scale lobby flooring, cladding or even exterior applications in porcelain format with certain advantages over the materials that they were inspired by. Yet they are virtually indistinguishable and interchangeable” says Richmond. Natural stones, steel, travertine and the minimalist look of concrete, basalt or plaster are important from an architectural perspective and with this comes a need for such appearances to be realised at realistic price points and without intensive levels of maintenance or surface sealing being required.

Some of the more exclusive selections of natural stone products in particular have become prohibitively expensive like Calacatta and Statuario  – especially for commercial applications where large volumes are required.  Concrete in particular gets heavy and steel will rust.  As a result, people are looking for alternative solutions and the Maximum range provides a lightweight easy care option.  The large format has proved especially popular for airport and hotel lobby applications (where less joints lead to minimal rolling luggage traffic noise) and for car dealership showrooms where the extreme density and resistance to scratching and fluids is essential.  Even the light weight leads to lesser design loadings and faster installation for cladding applications.  And because these are thin-format panels, they can overlaid upon existing surfaces to provide a straightforward and efficient refurbishment option – without the need to uplift materials, reinstate substrates or disturb waterproofing membranes.

It’s an oft-discussed dilemma what materials to use for certain exterior applications to avoid issues around fading in ultraviolet light, etching due to pollutants or rusting. So more and more, we are seeing this product specified for exterior applications and facades. In particular, white panels are popular because of the flawless surface they provide and the stone alternatives for the fact that they won’t deteriorate the way that a natural material like marble might.”

Fiandre (the product manufacturer) is well recognised as a market leader in the porcelain industry so the technology that they use to manufacture their products is typically at least one generation ahead of other suppliers – one reason why these materials have such an authentic appearance.   “From a manufacturing perspective the raw materials are initially presented in a powdered form that is pressed into slabs by way of a 30-tonne press. A nominated finish is applied at this point after which the slabs are fired at 1,200 degrees Celsius to create this homogeneous material.

​Maximum has even secured CodeMark approval and certification for an adhesive fixing system that meets regulatory requirements for the application of vertical claddings without the need to use conventional heavy-duty mechanical fixings. “The strength of this system has exceeded the pull testing capabilities of the testing machinery – in excess of 4,000NM,” Richmond says.

Maximum panels are sustainable too.  Porcelain is a type of clay so it is a 100% natural material.  No sealers, epoxies or binders are required.  In addition the product incorporates a 40% recycled content and due to the extreme resistance to staining, etching and oils, the surfaces will remain unchanged throughout their lifetime without requiring the application of surface coatings or sealers.

Maximum NZ has recently opened a commercial space in Grafton that is more of an industry destination and resource than simply a showroom. Libby and John still have an equal interest in unique and interesting natural stones so it’s becoming a real hub for discussion and creation.  So rather than being retail oriented – this is a place for specifiers, architects, designers and their clients to meet, talk and take inspiration from their surroundings. A large meeting space boardroom table is available for specifiers and their clients to work in over extended periods when required – with the recognition that confidentially can be maintained and a full spectrum of other product selections and discussions may occur without the need for relocating a group of people who are working with large format plans and products.