Armstrong Flooring: Bringing Innovation and Durability to Consumers for Generations

Spring 2017 Catalyst

Chances are you’ve strode across Armstrong Flooring’s products at some point in your life.

It could have been the linoleum in your grandmother’s kitchen — the kind with a grid pattern of tiny squares and rectangles in varying shades of tan, rust and orange. It could have been the multi-colored vinyl tile in the school hallway where you met your best friend every day. It could have been the shiny hardwood floor in the living room where your daughter took her first steps.

For more than a century, Armstrong flooring has served as the stage on which generations of people in the U.S. and around the world have lived, worked, learned, healed and played.

Headquartered in Lancaster, PA, Armstrong Flooring Inc. has grown to become the No. 1 manufacturer of resilient and wood flooring in North America, with approximately $1.2 billion in annual revenue, 4,000 employees, and 17 plants in the U.S., China and Australia — including three in Pennsylvania.

The company traces its roots to Pittsburgh in 1860, where Thomas Armstrong was a partner in a shop that produced corks to cap bottles. He was a pioneer in standing behind the quality of his products, rejecting the cautionary expression “let the buyer beware” and instead adopting the motto “let the buyer have faith.”

The approach worked, and Armstrong’s business grew and expanded. This presented a new challenge: what to do with the dust left over from the cork cutting process. This challenge was resolved when in the early 1900s the company built a linoleum flooring factory in Lancaster after learning that cork scrap could be used as an ingredient in linoleum flooring. The move took the company into a new industry that would shape its future.

“Today, we remain deeply committed to our founder Thomas Armstrong’s pledge to ‘let the buyer have faith’ and look to embody his vision at every turn,” says Armstrong Flooring President and CEO Don Maier. “This way of doing business set us apart then, and it sets us apart now — along with our ability to collaborate and innovate.”

One of the company’s latest innovations is a key part of the production process at the Lancaster floor plant today: Diamond 10® Technology, which uses cultured diamonds to increase durability and provide exceptional protection against scratches and stains. Diamond 10® is a recent addition to certain flooring produced in Lancaster.

Sheet flooring production begins with 12-foot-wide rolls of a base layer — typically fiberglass or felt — which is coated with a mixture of plasticizer, limestone and vinyl. The roll gradually unspools and snakes through a production line that stretches nearly three quarters of a mile.

The sheet passes through a series of print cylinders that apply the design, and others that add protective coatings. Along the way, layers are measured to strict tolerances within a thousandth of an inch.

A second production line was added at the Lancaster plant in 2015 to produce luxury vinyl tile. “It’s exciting to be part of this process, because this is a product that we were sourcing from overseas, and we’re bringing it home,” says Plant Manager DaWit Teklai.

LVT starts with a base layer composed of a mixture of polymers, plasticizer and limestone. In this case, the print layer featuring the floor design is manufactured and supplied by another Armstrong Flooring plant in Pennsylvania. The plant in Beech Creek prints the designs on clear vinyl and sends them to the Lancaster plant, as well as to plants in Illinois and California.

A rigid wear layer and the Diamond 10® Technology coating are applied, and the floor is embossed for texture and cut into planks of various sizes. LVT is durable and easy to install — some products have inter-locking edges — and it can realistically simulate hardwood, ceramic tile, slate or natural stone. “The beauty of it is it’s unlimited in terms of what you can do with the printing and embossing,” Teklai says.

LVT is growing in popularity, but hardwood floors remain a popular choice as well. Armstrong Flooring has a plant in Titusville in western Pennsylvania that produces hardwood flooring under the HomerWood® brand.

Armstrong’s history in Pennsylvania was built on the dedication of thousands of employees over the years. Today, the company employs nearly 1,000 people in Pennsylvania. The Lancaster floor plant has nearly 50 employees with more than 40 years of service at the company. At least one is the fifth generation of their family to work for Armstrong.

The company and its employees have a long tradition of supporting the community and the nation. Outside the entrance to the Lancaster plant is a Court of Honor with memorials honoring veterans. One memorial lists the names of thousands of Armstrong employees who served in World War II. At the time, the company itself became a significant producer of supplies for the war effort, ranging from munitions to camouflage materials.

From its early days as a cork company through business challenges and global expansion, Armstrong maintained a consistent ability to innovate and adapt. Over the years, the company had diversified to produce ceiling and building products as well as flooring, and its name reflected those changes: Armstrong World Industries. In 2016, the company set a new course by dividing into two independent businesses. Armstrong World Industries Inc. now includes the ceiling products operations, and Armstrong Flooring Inc. became a separate company.

“There’s no doubt that 2016 was a tremendous year for Armstrong Flooring, and the single biggest accomplishment was our debut in April as an independent, publicly-traded company,” Maier says. “This marks an exciting new chapter in our 150-year history, enabling us to focus all our resources and energy on designing and manufacturing the very best flooring solutions for our customers.”

Stephen Trapnell is the corporate communications manager for Armstrong Flooring, Inc. He is the third generation of his family to work for the company. His mother, Suzanne Trapnell, worked as a senior administrative assistant, and his grandfather, William Trapnell, worked in the Lancaster Floor Plant.