Being a midsized, longstanding family business doesn’t mean a company isn’t forward thinking. A perfect example of this is at The Beck Cos. in North Smithfield, which manufactures granite, marble and soapstone at its fabrication shop, KB Surfaces; develops custom closets with Closettec; and also has commercial case work manufacturer CAS America under its umbrella.
In addition to the recent acquisition of Great American Recreation Equipment of Cranston, which makes pool tables and video-game cabinets, The Beck Cos. has added a brand-new, high-tech facility to house all its divisions. PBN spoke with Tracey Beck, who owns the company with her husband and brother-in-law.
PBN: Your company’s new North Smithfield facility is said to have state-of-the-art lighting, heating and cooling. What improvements do these systems offer?
BECK: The Beck Cos. is always looking for ways to reduce its footprint and do our small part to conserve energy and reduce waste. These additions – though more expensive – increase energy efficiencies and help provide a healthier work environment. The entire facility has new LED lighting. A greywater system for the stone division makes the division dust free. There are air filtration systems for the solid-surface division. Our latest initiative is to put solar on our roof. This has been a yearlong struggle with National Grid, but we hope to see this accomplished in 2018.
PBN: Robotics is an element of technology in your new facility as well. Can you explain how Beck Cos. is using this element in manufacturing, and how it’s benefitting your bottom line and product quality?
BECK: We use a dual-bed BACA robotics water jet to cut our stone. It increases our ability to cut faster and have more control and a much higher level of detail, such as making radius cuts, etching logos, etc. Our operator can also program one job while running another and unload a completed job, making operators more efficient as well. The quality is vastly improved, and our bottom line sees the benefit in being able to increase the amount of stone cut daily – with less manpower and more consistency in end product.
PBN: How do you navigate advanced technology in manufacturing and still offer personalized, customer service with that human touch?
BECK: We are in the process of going completely digital with our customer-related paperwork, template and install paperwork, as well as our product-viewing paperwork. Our customers love it. It makes things faster, enabling us to have companywide access to complete information pertaining to jobs. This lets us all communicate easier and more efficiently, thus reducing errors in manufacturing pertaining to edges, seams, veining, product and color choices.
I think in the end, it comes down to listening to our customers. We recently added LED lights into our gaming division, giving the games a little bling and a modern touch! Our CAS America division acquired a contour-edge bander to value engineer a curved locker system to optimize locker space for a gun club project.
PBN: What have you found to be the most challenging part in this transition to adopting technological advances?
BECK: People, people, people are our biggest challenge. Technology is changing so fast, with so many companies and so much machinery – we really struggle finding qualified candidates with both technical knowledge as well as knowledge of the material they are working with.
We used to have more trouble finding people with technology knowledge, now we are also having problems finding skilled labor who want to work in the shops, even with the training provided by the machinery vendors as well as in-house staff. The learning curves are steep, and you still have to worry about the individual picking it up, liking it, being reliable and staying after you’ve invested so much time and money. We now run five specialized software programs to run the varied divisions.
PBN: What have you found to be the most rewarding part in this transition to adopting technological advances?
BECK: The real-time exchange of information and the speed and creativity it allows people to achieve as individuals. My people can learn how to estimate or lay out a high-end granite for a kitchen very quickly with little to no prior experience with the extraordinary software tools at their disposal.
We enable our employees to get creative, listen to what our customers want and implement the ideas into reality. Our closet division Closettec is a perfect example. We just put our first mobile closet showroom on the road! From concept to completion, with the addition of a wireless printer and hotspot, we can design and quote real-time at any location.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.