Features, STARTUPS

Concrete as marble substitute

Ivan Timshin, an entrepreneur from Kirovo-Chepetsk (North-West European Russia), was the first in Russia to produce transparent light-transmitting concrete. This unusual material was used to build facades for the Digital Business Environment building in Moscow downtown Pokrovka Street. When the daylight fades away, the building seems to be illuminated. At the moment, Ivan Timshin is developing special concrete for architectural works which resembles marble but is much stronger and very much cheaper.

The new material

Ivan Timshin was not the inventor of the translucent concrete but just launched its production in Russia and offered it at lower prices compared to those of Western companies. The innovative composite material had been invented by Áron Losonczi, an architect from Hungary, who brandnamed it as LiTraCon (light-transmitting concrete). LiTraCon is nowadays manufactured by German Lucem Lichtbeton and Heidelberg Cement Group, Austrian Luccon Lichtbeton, and Hungarian Litracon. Timshin named his product LumiCon. LumiCon is a mixture of concrete, water and marble chips, with optic fibers added thereafter. The fibers make concrete luminant. The mixture is Timshin’s own make. To produce it, he attended Moscow’s Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia. LumiCon is twice cheaper than any European alternatives.

After that, Ivan Timshin made an unsuccessful attempt to launch a business in Moscow. A large public company placed an order for LumiCon but then failed to pay for it. Therefore Timshin had to return to his home town of Kirovo-Chepetsk where in 2015 he jointly with his school friend Stanislav Dyukin founded Illuminart company. Timshin holds a 40% share of Illuminart and Dyukin 60%, but the partners share the profits equally.

Orders from Moscow

For two years, Illuminart only supplied its materials for construction of bar counters (Vyatich Brewery bar and Gaudi Hall bar in Kirov), a pedestal for a Dubai restaurant, piers for houses, home lanterns. For self-promotion purposes, the company produced and installed LumiCon benches in Kirov at Alexander Grin Embankment. But nobody bought Illuminart products for building outer walls of the buildings.

In late 2016 the government of Moscow requested a presentation of LumiCon facades for the Digital Business Environment building. That request was due to the efforts of Roman Udovenko, Illuminart representative in Moscow. In nine months’ time, the parties had a contract signed which amounted to dozens of millions of rubles. In late 2017, Digital Business Environment had new facades of LumiCon installed. That is by now the biggest Illuminart contract but the company declines to disclose its financial details.

It is just about a year and a half that we launched serious production and our activities started to look like a real business”, Ivan Timshin says.

In 2017, Illuminart’s revenue reached RUR 20 mio ($350K) whereas a year earlier it was merely at RUR 2.2 mio. The breakthrough was mainly due to the order from the government of Moscow for the construction of the Digital Business Environment facades. The other major order was that for the walls cladding at Sheremetyevo Airport’s arrivals in Moscow. Last year, Illuminart moved to Kirov and rented spacious premises for producing new construction materials. The business has already repaid the initial investments.

Concrete as marble and translucent wood

Currently, Ivan Timshin is developing an architectural concrete, a material barely manufactured in Russia.

In Russia, people tend to coat outer walls with siding or composite panels which are outdated since long. In Europe, aged bricks or architectural concrete resembling naturals stones are widely used now”, Timshin says. “We decided we should not focus on the translucent concrete alone but launch production of architectural concrete for designing any sort of facades”.

Architectural or exposed concrete is made of a mixture of cement, water, sand and crushed rock with a lot of mineral and inorganic additives. The material is much stronger than an ordinary concrete and allows producing any design including wall carving. It may be of any color and can imitate any natural stones. It is hard to find large quantities of natural marble identical in color, whereas architects often get requests for decorating up to 1,000 square meters of areas with some unicolor marble. Illuminart intends to manufacture exactly that kind of material. In Russia, exposed concrete is scarce and expensive.

According to Timshin, “It is quite difficult to produce concrete with a fully homogeneous, smooth surface, with no air bubbles, which looks like marble but is inexpensive”.

The material is now being tested and should undergo certification by next summer. Illuminart hopes, the new concrete may be used for covering facades and decorations in construction of residential buildings under Moscow’s housing renovation program. The material is priced at RUR 2K ($30) per square meter.

Timshin also aims to manufacture translucent wood. For that, optic fibers are to be placed between agglutinated layers of wood. After that, the wood is cut to get panels. The idea of the translucent wood was voiced to Ivan Timshin back in 2011 by his uncle, Vassily Zonov. The material can be used for making partition walls in residential and office premises, for interior coating at boats, or for furniture manufacture.

By Natalia Kuznetsova

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