Quality inscribed in stone
In the heart of “the land of marble”, the new Andalusian Stone Technology Centre (CTAP) has become the mainstay for the region’s natural stone sector and a sound reference for innovation.
The Phoenicians were among the first to appreciate it. Macael marble, comparable to Carrare marble, has earned this area with 6 200 inhabitants in the province of Almeria the name, “city of white gold”. Macael lies at the heart of a 300km² region with 23 000 inhabitants, and has the highest density of small businesses in Andalusia, with 300 businesses dedicated to ornamental stonework, providing direct employment to 5 400 people.
This booming industrial district has been able to survive several crises, each time finding an outlet for its renewal. Thus in the 1980s, it focused on reinforcing industrialisation faced with the fall in the profitability of local businesses. In the 1990s, owing to the fall in white marble resources, it was able to make the most of its high-quality industrial craftsmen and develop innovative materials. More recently, a new factor appeared, leading to constraints that are likely to restrict the future expansion of the sector: environmental protection.
Combining the soul of stone and the spirit of innovation
In this context, the project was developed to create an Andalusian Stone Technology Centre (CTAP). The signature, in 1998, of an agreement between the Department of Labour and Industry and the Public Real Property Company of Andalusia launched the project and gradually the CTAP came into being. The project received ERDF assistance for the construction of the building and acquisition of scientific and technical equipment such as a test laboratory. The new Centre has been placed under the aegis of the CTAP Foundation where the public administration cooperates with the companies and economic agents in various fields of activity in the sector (processed stone, craftsmanship, the exploitation of calcium carbonate – the mineral of which marble is constituted) along with auxiliary companies and technological organisations.
The objective is to associate the highly traditional stone sector with the spirit of research and innovation with a view to maintaining competitiveness in one of the most important industries for the Andalusian economy. For this reason, the CTAP works closely with businesses, providing the “stone people” with the modern technologies required by the evolution of markets whilst promoting concepts from Andalusian craft heritage in these same markets.
Activities range from laboratory tests to the development of quality programmes and certification, via a whole array of services to SMI, in accordance with a five-point action plan: design, marketing, technological development, training and respect for the environment. Alongside its numerous specialist equipment items, the Centre contains a Natural Stone Observatory and a school of industrial engineering and marketing of stone products, managed in partnership with the University of Almeria.
In three years, the CTAP has set up such varied projects as the mechanical characterisation of stone columns, processing stone using high-pressure water, copying pieces of marble, exploiting underground mines, cleaning up quarries in the Sierra de Macael, a sampling service for architects and decorators, international competitions and a sectoral human resources portal.
There is no magic formula however, but a constant effort towards diversification and balancing activities, out of a need to convince everyone that stone can be a sustainable sector. It is significant that although growing businesses are confronted with a lack of specialist labour, the Macael area has no unemployment. It should also be noted that the CTAP is a leading applicant for patents and labels, as industrial operators are beginning to want to protect their know-how. In the medium term, the principal issues are the improvement of the classification of ornamental Macael stones and protecting the designation, as well as finding new applications for architecture and interior decoration.