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The Metco innovation represents the first “structural” solution to the production of ceramic with active, certifiable, measurable and lasting antibacterial properties. Metco president, Graziano Vignali: “We have the opportunity to create an international brand to guarantee the client-consumer.”

Nobacter, Italian technology for an antibacterial ceramic

Nobacter is the “final solution,” developed in the Metco laboratories, for the production of ceramic with active, structural and permanent antibacterial properties. “These adjectives are not chosen at random – says Graziano Vignali, president of the company located in Valsamoggia and Fiorano Modenese with operative branches in Castellon (Spain), Criciuma (Brazil), Shanghai and Foshan (Cina), protagonist of the development and sale of digital soluble inks, in fact no alternative solution suggested to the market has shown until now performances that are comparable in lastingness and results, guaranteed through time and condition of use.” 
“Nobacter is a colourless composite that has to be sprayed on the tile before cooking it”, Vignali explains. “When subjected to the oven’s heat (1220° C/2228° F), the composite produces colloidal silver that, when immersed during the vitreous phase, produces permanent active antibacterial centres inside the outer layers of the ceramic body. This process does not have any consequence – the Metco president specifies – on the aesthetical and material properties, nor on the typical configuration of the ceramic productive lines. And last but not least, it doesn’t generate any release of toxic particles into the environment.”
Actually, the silver’s “antibacterial” properties have been known for centuries. Silver cutlery and cups – for those who could afford them – were an empiric remedy, relatively efficient, to the “crossed contaminations” (the direct or indirect passage of microbes between food and utensils or surfaces).
“The idea to apply these properties to the structure of the ceramic body – Vignali observes – was born from a double evidence.
Firstly, there are no reported cases in the scientific literature of resistance to the silver’s bactericidal property, while the occurrences of bacteria that “learn” to resist antibiotics are well known.
Secondly, in a strictly technological aspect, the solutions developed until now (photo-catalytic composites or various superficial post-cooking applications) have shown clear limits with the condition of use because of both the need of sunlight or UV rays to work and the issue of durability.
Nobacter – points out Vignali – it is NOT a simple film to apply on the final tile, which with time will wear out and leave a ceramic surface akin to a conventional product. Our technology allows to ‘incorporate’ active antibacterial centres inside the mass of the artefact, giving it a permanent antibacterial activity.”
It works in a very simple way. The silver, incorporated inside the vitreous mass, takes the oxygen away from the bacteria present on the surface by linking itself to the cellular membrane’s proteins.
Result, the bacteria can no longer breathe and loses its vital energy. “Tests conducted with some of the most important Italian Universities, like the University of Pavia (Molecular Medicine department) and the University of Bologna (Chemistry and Biotechnology department) showed, after the first three hours, a dramatic loss of bacterial load, which will basically reset (-99,9%) within 24 hours.”
Offering to the market not just a product but an actual service is among Metco’s priorities which, together with the above mentioned Universities, has come up with an accurate protocol (based on the CFU method, Colony Forming Unit) to measure and validate the antibacterial effects on samples of processed ceramic, comparing them with similar samples of conventional ceramic. “This – Vignali explains – allows us to conduct, together with the client, in our equipped laboratories, all the necessary tests to get the best possible result in production.”
These tests are, in fact, essential to answer simple questions like, for example, how many grams of Nobacter are needed to give the tile antibacterial properties higher that 99% (“this is the minimum standard for Metco”, Vignali specifies), or how does this product have to be applied according to the type of artefact and the ceramic surface.
Once the laboratory identifies the optimal parameters, a test batch of about one hundred pieces is made. This batch can be sent to the research laboratories of the Universities (not just those which partnered with Metco for the test until now conducted, but also laboratories and accredited research institution chosen by the client) for the appropriate validations, according to the legal norm ISO 22196.
The NOBACTER product can be applied on conventional ceramic by spraying, with a roller, or with a net, directly on the raw tile regardless of the format.
Sanitary ceramic usually makes use of applicators like collaborative robots. In this case, as well as with other coarse or lapped surfaces, a pre-treatment with Metasorb to act as evening base is recommended to guarantee Nobacter’s effectiveness.
These are the experiences tested until now on an industrial level, while “full digital” applications are being studied that would allow Nobacter (and, where appropriate, the Metasorb treatment) to be applied on a common digital printer, thus allowing a wider spread and consumption saving for the industrial producer.
Metco certified the effectiveness of the Nobacter technology following the international normative ISO22196/2011 (EN), “Measurement of antibacterial activity on plastics and other non-porous surface”. An innovative technology that adds up to the intensive activity developed by the company for the development of new eco-sustainable solutions. “Metco is in the frontlines with the development of a new generation of digital inks – says president Vignali speaking of the recent Eco-Ink project, co-financed by the EU, program Horizon 2020 –, water-based inks that reduce or eliminate the usage of organic-based solvents. Project Nobacter has to represent a further step in this direction, in an ample concept of sustainability.”
Not last among the advantages of Nobacter is the easy maintenance: a cloth and a common detergent are all you need to periodically eliminate the layer of “inactive” bacteria present on the surface of the artefact, whose antibacterial properties are, by definition, permanents.
“As often happens with the technological innovation, we have achieved and validated, during the research phase, an unexpected effect – Vignali explains –: the use of Nobacter reduces the adhesiveness of the inactive bacteria biofilm present on the surface,” a well-known problem in hospital settings.
Result, a faster and efficient disinfection with standard detergents, without the risks brought by the improper use of bactericides and disinfectant, but with all the advantages that this brings to the private construction and, mostly, to the commercial appliances (restaurant kitchens, public places, etc.).
The tuning of opportune protocols for normal and quick tests  –  “we receive tens of requests every week,” says Vignali – is another added value of the solution which the Emilian company proposes to the market, with the further ambition of “making it a distinctive brand in the world of antibacterial ceramic.” “The recent international sanitary emergency – Vignali concludes – made even more obvious the necessity to team up to propose to the global market real, certified and measurable innovations, that could represent a real added value to our products and to our final clients.”




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