August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6
By Ken Ryan
U.S.-based ceramic tile manufacturers—as well as several foreign entities—continue to ramp up domestic production with new builds or plant expansions. This latest trend began earlier this decade and has been picking up steam ever since.
Market leader Dal-Tile Corp. has been making the most noise lately. In July the company announced plans to build a second plant in Dickson, Tenn., just down the block from a now completed 1.8-million-square-foot facility that produces large-format 12 x 24 glazed porcelain tiles. Since operations started in March 2016, the original Dickson tile plant has produced approximately 100 million square feet of tile products, according to John Turner Jr., president. The new facility is scheduled to begin operations in late 2018.
Industry observers see many benefits to domestic production. For one, by producing stateside manufacturers are less exposed to uncontrollable factors such as exchange rate fluctuations and ocean freight price increases due to capacity shortages. Faster turnaround times on orders and possibly less expensive access to products are other advantages.
“Domestic facilities offer manufacturers a number of key advantages, including the quality of the local workforce, access to raw materials and an ideal location from which we can ship to a majority of the U.S. population quickly and efficiently,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product and marketing, Dal-Tile. “We are now able to produce products that are as visually appealing as the products being imported from Europe. At Mohawk and Dal-Tile we are leading the advancement of design and manufacturing technologies domestically so we can continue to deliver on our promise of providing our customers the best value through these innovative products and exceptional service.”
While Tennessee has become a hotbed for tile manufacturing, it should be noted that other companies have been producing tile in this region for decades. Crossville has been manufacturing tile in Tennessee since the 1980s. Located in the hills of the Cumberland Plateau, Crossville, Tenn., was chosen as home because of its central location to all primary raw materials. To this day, Crossville is no further than 400 miles from the sourcing sites of its porcelain and natural stone raw materials.
Likewise, the vast majority of Florida Tile’s flooring products are manufactured in Lawrenceburg, Ky., which is within 500 miles of the raw materials it uses from surrounding states. Florida Tile is one company that plays up the Made in America story. It is part of the “We Build American” initiative, a partnership with 84 Lumber that recognizes and encourages the use of domestic materials in home construction.
Tennessee is one of six states where Dal-Tile makes products. The company manufactures glazed wall tile in Dallas and El Paso, Texas; porcelain floor tile in Muskogee, Okla.; unglazed quarry tile in Lewisport, Ky., and Fayette, Ala.; and unglazed mosaic tile in Gettysburg, Pa.
Other market leaders are putting their stakes down as well. MS International has been accelerating its efforts in the U.S. with a new innovation center in Georgia. The 20,000-square-foot space within a 150,000-square-foot warehouse supplements its 200,000-square-foot showroom and nearby warehouse. MSI has also updated and doubled the size of its Bay Area showroom and distribution center. Today, the company features more than 500 surfacing products displayed and inventoried throughout 5,600 square feet of showroom space and approximately 160,000 square feet of total warehousing space.
Thanks to technology advancements, particularly in digital printing, companies now have the manufacturing wherewithal to produce higher-end visuals that replicate hardwood, marble and stone looks that rival Europe’s manufacturing prowess, proponents say. “Ten years ago it seemed like new technologies or techniques for ceramics and porcelain product started in places like Italy and were more exclusively found there for a longer period of time,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer/vice president business development and sales support, Emser Tile. “Today the advancement, regardless of the country of origin, seems to go global very quickly.”
While U.S.-based manufacturers are investing in new technologies at a feverish pace, there is significant investment coming from non-U.S.-based manufacturers. Several companies have built new plants that are now online while others are in progress—mostly in the Tennessee area. “Certainly the non-U.S.-based manufacturers see the opportunity to produce in the U.S. and serve, or partially serve, this market without having to export from Europe, etc.,” said Rick Church, executive director, Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA). “Clearly, this makes it more efficient to bring the product to market.”