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Effects of Automation on Flooring - Part 1: Manufacturing

A decade from now about half of the jobs we know today will be replaced by automation. U.S. Bureau of Labor and McKinsey Global Institute data suggest that not all jobs are hit equally. We’ll evaluate how this will affect the flooring industry in a three-part series from manufacturing to retail to installation and brainstorm a few ways you can prepare.

Manufacturing

Automation has already been ramping up in flooring manufacturing for years. An estimated 60% of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. will be performed by machines in the future. These lost jobs are not only limited to manual work and include many jobs that involve cognitive abilities such as sorting. While dealing with natural products can prove to be more challenging than other industries, advances in artificial intelligence will enhance a computer's ability to recognize patterns for performing tasks such as grading of wood. These tasks will surely be performed with higher accuracy and consistency than humans.

Manual labor costs in the United States are among the highest in the world. As robotics costs are driven down by competition, we are likely to see more manufacturers adopt these technologies to stay competitive.

The United States looks to remain the largest consumer of hardwood floors. Therefore, I would anticipate manufacturing will become a more lucrative business in the United States as setting up shop here will reduce transportation costs to the end-user and ultimately lower cost. Large manufacturers will likely be early adopters due to a high amount of initial investment and a consistent volume of orders to fulfill. These large manufacturers are poised to bring manufacturing back to the United States, however, that may not mean more jobs for the American worker.

If you’re looking to get into the manufacturing side of flooring, it would be best to seek out technical skills such as maintenance of robotics and engineering. Lineworkers will be hit the hardest as repetitive manual tasks are phased out in favor of robotics which can work longer hours with increased accuracy. Seeking out opportunities with manufactures focused on custom work such as reclaimed hardwoods or mosaic tiles may prove beneficial. These smaller manufacturers are less likely to replace their workforce with robotics due to lower volume and higher requirements for specialized training.

Want to learn more about how manufacturing will affect the flooring retail and installation industry? Look out for Part 2 and Part 3.

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