Our daily lives are being quietly evolved into something a lot more tech-based. Smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, lots of us have at least one or all three of these. And no doubt that many of your reading this have either Amazon’s Echo devices powered by Alexa, Apple’s Hompod or Google Home. These are smart speakers you talk to to perform a variety of tasks. It is these devices which will transform homes into smart homes, and is perhaps one of the most symbolic signs that our lives are becoming more automated and reliant on robots.
There has been much media hype over the last few years about the role robots and machines now play in our work environment and their increasing use. Are they really taking jobs from humans? Or is it a case of new jobs being created due to demand for automation, with existing job environment becoming more streamlined?
Does the window and door industry face a future where robots and automation take over more human elements?
It’s already with us
In many ways, the window and door industry is already operating with many forms of automation and robotics. Take a modern factory set up like that of Solidor:
Yes there are plenty of people there on the shop floor. But look at their jobs and what they’re doing. Much of the hard work is done by machinery, eliminating potential human error. This is very much like other modern-day fenestration factories, and advanced machinery and software is increasingly de-skilling human jobs, making them more productive and efficient.
That being said, as was evident last year, quality cannot always be guaranteed. 2017 was one of the worst years I can remember for complaints about quality. So despite the machines, errors can still be made.
Point is, automation and robotics are already present in the window and door industry, most obviously in the production side of things. And as tech evolves and gets better year on year, and companies seek to make their processes ever more efficient, productive and error free, investment in robotics, software and machinery will only ever increase.
But what does this mean for human jobs in the production part of our sector? Do installers have something to be worried about from the rise of tech? Will automation kill more jobs than it creates?
Powerless to stop it
Whether you realise it or not, technology has permeated just about every facet of our industry. Media and marketing is becoming heavily digitised, and cheaper than traditional marketing methods. The fact you’re reading this on a screen is proof enough. Lead generation is also massively reliant on the internet and digital world.
Production processes are now all virtually run from software, with humans now in charge of making sure materials enter the various machines in the right ways. Very little is hand made now. Installers can even track their orders at some window and door fabricators if they have invested in the tech to do it.
So much of our industry is now reliant on software and robotics, more than we at first appreciate perhaps. One area though is yet to feel the full effects of the rise of the robots and that is installation. It still takes human hands and heads to fit windows and doors into a house, be it retrofit or new-build. In fact, right now our industry doesn’t have enough of said humans to help facilitate growth for many installers.
Do I see automation coming to window and door installation? Mostly no. When it comes to the residential and commercial markets, it remains very human orientated. Realities such as weather, terrain, interpretations of situations and good old gut instinct will mean people will always play a vital role in window and door installation. Tech might get involved in future years, with devices to help aid installation, but I simply cannot see it replacing humans altogether.
That being said, take a look at this automated bricklaying machine:
Hour after hour, day or night, no matter the weather, that machine can keep laying bricks. More than a person could. All it requires is a person to keep feeding the materials into the machine. Then the tech does the rest. In a period where we need more homes than ever before, could machines like this be the future of construction?
The only scenario where I see window and door installation not requiring human hands is in the world of home pre-fabrication. Pre-fab homes are in an upwards trend once again, with massively automated factories around the world producing the major fabrics of a home at their bases and then simply assembling on site. Often huge panels of homes come pre-fitted with windows, doors, plaster boards, electric points, wiring, even external render and decorative touches. Workers in the factories put all of this together, removing the need for various trades on site. Good for the company producing the homes, and good for countries who need to rapidly expand their housing stock. Not great news for trades looking for work.
If general construction goes this way, which it could, then this is perhaps the key area where the window and door industry could suffer on the installation side. Production not so much. Windows and doors still have to be made to be put into those pre-fab holes.
Ultimately, we’re powerless to stop robots and tech from taking over where it can. In the end, all companies across our supply chain will always look to invest in ways to become more efficient and productive, and that almost always means technology. People may indeed lose their jobs over the years. The key will be for those people to have the chance to re-train or move on to a new profitable career and not be left behind by evolution.
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