It was February 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Winter Olympics were well underway. With an event of that magnitude, everything has to run like clockwork. There’s no room for error.
That’s why, when a major water pipeline in the Olympic Village sprang a leak, Olympic organizers and the local material distributor knew just who to call. When everything has to run smoothly, you need a company that has no margin for error. Because of an emphasis on being perfect every time, that company is Smith-Blair, Inc.
The company clearly is the industry leader when it comes to pipe joining, tapping and repair products. Not only are its products tailor made for each client’s specific needs, the turnaround time is so fast; if you blinked, you might miss it.
Winning the Race
In problem situations such as the one at the Olympic Village, the biggest factor in finding an appropriate solution is time. It needs to be right — right now. Blake Snider, marketing and business development director for Smith-Blair, explains the company’s response process.
“We have to be fast to accommodate our customer. Aside from product quality, speed is one of our strongest features,” he says. “All products at Smith-Blair are built to order. When an order comes in, it’s immediately printed out on our work floor. Production usually starts in 10-20 minutes once an order is booked.”
Smith-Blair prides itself on being a “lean manufacturer.” This means that it stocks nearly finished inventory. Product manufacturing is pulled through the plant based solely on customer demand. Smith-Blair’s strong relationships with key suppliers ensure that visually controlled inventories are rapidly replenished. In essence, everything is custom-made on demand. The plant runs on a 24-hour schedule. If an order is taken in the morning, a finished product can be to the customer in as little as six hours.
That’s also why when a major water vein in Cleveland, Ohio erupted, Smith-Blair was able to meet the challenge. When a water problem brings downtown Cleveland to a halt, it’s the company that can cross the finish line first that wins the gold medal being recognized for providing superior service.
A History of Victory
Smith-Blair, Inc. began in 1939, originally dealing in simple pipe repair products. Nearly 63 years later, the name Smith-Blair has become synonymous with the highest-grade of pipe repair, joining and tapping equipment solutions in the North American market and around the world.
Since its founding, Smith-Blair has extended its product applications to the gas and industrial markets as well as water utilities and hydroelectric power generation facilities. From its 44-acre site in Texarkana, Ark., more than 300 employees work around the clock to provide the proper piping solution products for the most challenging situations.
Specially skilled technicians work tirelessly to design products that go above and beyond the usual industry standards. Some of the products that come from the 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility are: expansion joints, tapping sleeves, pipe coupling and restraint products, service saddles, bell joint leak clamps, and the trade marked Full Circle™ clamps, Omni™ and Quantum™ coupling systems.
“Over the years, our commitment to excellence has produced a vast range of products, encompassing pipe sizes from 1/2-inch through 192 inches. These products have been supplied for a multitude of applications, and to destinations throughout the globe,” explains Snider. “This worldly experience enables Smith-Blair, Inc. to more adeptly understand the needs of our ever-expanding customer base and to continually develop products to satisfy those needs, as our industry becomes increasingly efficient and cognizant of the importance of the integrity of their piping infrastructure systems.’”
Gold Medal Quality
Smith-Blair has grown at a healthy pace for the last five years, posting record sales each year. As anyone at Smith-Blair will tell you, the secret to going from a simple pipe repair company to an international fabrication manufacturer with dominant market share is in the quality of the products.
“Within the industry,” Snider tells us, “Smith-Blair has always been known for its innovation. That has made us the company that everyone else has been trying to catch for decades.”One way the company has set its products apart from the fray once again, is by using a special powder-coat epoxy finish on all of its ductile iron and carbon steel products. Products made from these materials receive a powered epoxy finish before they leave the manufacturing plant. Most industry competitors still use a liquid paint finish. Snider explains the advantages.
“The powder epoxy coating finish is much more resistant to corrosion,” he states. “It’s really far superior to the liquid paint finishes that most of our competitors are using and results in extended product service life. This is just another way we are stretching our own standards within the company and providing a higher quality product to the customer at no extra cost.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
As any good Olympian knows, the more you train, the better your performance will become. Smith-Blair takes the same kind of focused approach to its employees, knowing now that the better trained and educated its personnel are, the better their products will become.
That’s why the company has initiated a brand new Black Belt/ Green Belt technician certification program. Originally conceived at Motorola Corporation, the Black Belt/ Green Belt certification program seeks to hone a technician’s craft on his product with the same focus and clarity a martial artist uses to focus on his body. A Black Belt certification would mean absolute mastery of your product and field.
“Many companies use these stringent criteria to train their personnel through independent organizations,” says Snider. “What we are doing is bringing this unique type of training in-house and localizing the expertise. The internal Black Belts are able to train the Green Belts. These certification achievements are recognized industry-wide and held in high esteem.”
By creating an internal certification program with international standards, Smith-Blair will be able to respond to a client’s needs with immediacy and pinpoint precision. Black- and Green Belt -certified technicians are experts in defining root cause and problem analysis and they use these tools to implement procedures to eliminate potential re-occurrence of problems.
The Next Competition
Being at the top of a global market, it would seem that Smith-Blair has no equal. The only “real” competitor for this forward-thinking company, Snider contends, is itself. Smith-Blair is always striving to find ways to provide faster, higher quality and more precise service to the customer. In that respect, the race continues.
Smith-Blair plans to expand its global presence in several areas, while exploring niche markets of large diameter fittings as well as specialty fittings. Plans also are in place to grow its natural gas division. No matter what Smith-Blair plans to do, it’s clear it will always stand atop the medal podium.