By Frederick M. Hueston
Most people are familiar with the Jetsons, a cartoon featuring 20th century futurism, and how almost everything in the show was automated, from coffee makers to self-driving, flying cars. Today, real-life advances in technology are eerily reminiscent of the world of the Jetsons. We’ve got voice-activated appliances, computer-controlled robots pack and move goods, writing robots are generating stories that used to be written by journalists, and autonomous drones have been replacing humans in the military and in the distribution sector. Robots have replaced chefs, surgeons, postal workers, and many other jobs. Will stone and tile setters, restoration contractors, and fabricators eventually be replaced with automation and robots? Some of this automation is already here. Let’s take a look at the latest automated technologies in the stone and tile industry and have a little fun speculating about what might come next.
Stone Countertop Fabrication
Many fabricator shops are already fully automated. With advancements in CNC technology, many saw operators and polishers have been replaced. Material handling, such as loading of slabs, can be accomplished with automation. Even extracting the stone from the quarry can be automated. Although this automation replaces skilled fabricators, it also creates opportunities for other jobs, such as computer programmers.
If you think that it would be difficult to replace stone floor technicians who clean or polish floors with robots, then you may be stuck in the stone age. There are now programable floor machines and auto scrubbers that can operate without an operator.
As of yet, there are still some tasks that cannot be performed by robots, such as making judgment calls about selecting the most appropriate products, tools, and methods. Performing delicate or highly customized restoration work may always require the precision of a craftsperson. Who knows what the future holds?
Stone and Tile Setters
One might think that tile setters could never be replaced. How could a robot ever install a bathroom shower, which requires detailed waterproofing and tile setting knowledge and skills? In recent years, companies have developed some amazing technologies. For example, SurePods(surepods.com) manufacturers complete bathroom pods that include a sink, vanity, shower, and toilet all in one unit manufactured with CNC machines. Each unit is lifted into a building, then the plumbing and electrical are hooked up, and BADA-BING, it’s ready for use.
Can automation replace art? It sure can. CNC machines are already being programed to carve stone to the exact copy of famous sculptures, such as the Venus De Milo. Also large, 3D printers are already widely used. They are even capable of building a home.
Future generations will see more and more automation being introduced to the stone and tile industry. A study by Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) estimates that by 2057, robots could replace or displace 2.7 million jobs in construction. There is no need to hang up your trowel or put away your floor machine just yet, but you have been warned. The Jetsons era has arrived.