Thinking out of the box
Bingham and Taylor is grabbing the bull by the horns as it heads into 2021 with new expansions, new products and new innovation for the success of its business
Born and bred in Buffalo, New York, Bingham and Taylor (B&T) has been serving the water and gas industry for the last 170 years. It is a name well-known for being the original manufacturer and patent holder of the iconic ‘Buffalo-Style’ valve box, as well as the first to create plastic valve boxes, injection molded meter pits and hundreds of other product enhancements to support its customers. By specializing in providing easy, safe, and secure access to underground utilities, the company works with its customers to produce custom solutions designed to meet specific access needs.
Having spent many years at its plant in Buffalo, B&T then relocated its manufacturing facilities to Culpeper, Virginia and continued to expand with an injection molding plastics plant and a blow molding plastics plant in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Across all of its plants, the owner, Laura Grondin, is actively involved in the well-being of every employee and has made safety a major part of the company’s ethos. All facilities include an in-house engineering, design and pattern shop to support design, tooling and sampling for projects.
As foundational members of the American Water Works Association and the American Gas Association – whose missions are to improve the quality and supply of water and gas throughout North America – B&T has long supported these important institutions to ensure that the standard of its products is of the highest quality. Speaking with Mike Latham, the Director of Product Engineering and Design for B&T, we learn more about the business’s tremendous manufacturing capabilities and how it has become an industry pioneer with hundreds of leading inventions.
The process of innovation for products is part of the success that defines B&T. “We work directly with the utilities that install our products to understand the issues that they may be having and ensure that we develop or modify whatever is necessary so that our customers don’t have those issues anymore,” Mike highlights. He goes on to provide an example of where the business was able to provide a customized service, which concerned a customer along the east coast. “They had been having some trouble with settling of their valve boxes during installation so we proposed a modified valve box with some flanges and a Valve Box Stabilizer to help with the installation process. This really took care of their issues,” he tells us. Mike states how the company strives to look for moments when it can truly be a partner with its utility customers on the solutions they need. This is partly how innovation at B&T works; the other way is by looking at the industry as a whole. “Being able to inspect whether the product line equires a new product, means keeping an ear to the ground of the industry. That is how we came to develop our most recent product line – the Bison valve boxes,” Mike says. The product is made from heavy duty polymer, which has become a great alternative to cast iron.
Mike explains another product line that the business introduced a couple of years ago that became highly successful as a result of its durability. “Our injection molded meter pits were very well received by the industry. Traditionally, meter pits have been made a variety of different ways – whether it’s rotational molded or concrete, but we thought that injection molded meter pits would provide a superior quality and efficiency in production that the others could not achieve,” he informs us. The product was well-received as a trustworthy addition to the industry.
However, the creation of these products would not be possible without its lean manufacturing facilities and the measures in place to guarantee efficiency. According to Mike, the business’s cast iron facility in Culpeper is a fully-automated foundry with tablets and custom apps at each work station to ensure that all operators are able to keep track of the production process. It also helps to keep track of the orders as they move through the line, while being able to cut down on scrap. “We just opened up a brand-new 80,000 square foot-facility in Fredericksburg and we are continually upgrading our equipment. We’ve also developed custom apps so that you can keep track of all the production as it occurs and really streamline the production there,” Mike highlights. The company’s injection molding facility is also fully automated. The company has invested in large injection molding machines with over 2000 tons of clamping force to ensure the products created are of a superior quality.
All these investments in machinery have allowed B&T to explore other industries. “Last year we were approached by a telecommunications provider to develop a custom access box for their installation in a developed urban environment. They commissioned us to provide a locking lid that deterred tampering, and we were able to come up with a solution that was minimally disruptive to the sidewalk where they were installing the telecommunications. They were really pleased with the product that we were able to develop for them and it’s certainly a type of access box that can be used elsewhere,” Mike elaborates. Although providing safe and secure access to underground utilities has been a focus targeted to the water and gas industry, telecommunications seems like a logical progression for the business. “Having said that, we don’t want to get too far out of the lane of what we do and what we do well, but we feel like providing access to facilities is certainly one of our strong points,” he emphasizes.
Even during the pandemic, the business succeeded in supplying at full capacity. By implementing measures in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and continuously reviewing and updating these measures regularly, B&T managed to increase its sales by approximately ten per cent. The company made sure that its suppliers had the necessary equipment and raw materials to support its operations. When supplies were limited, B&T worked with secondary sources to ensure they could keep the production lines rolling while still protecting its employees and customers. Now it has managed to successfully recover and is able to timely provide all of its products.
As much as B&T is dedicated to providing world-class and reliable products for the water and gas industry, it is equally as committed to a sustainable business practice of using recycled iron in its cast-iron manufacturing. Items such as used car rotors make excellent sources of iron when melted down and reused, which means that 100 per cent of the iron used in its castings comes from recycled material.
All these measures demonstrate how in the last four years B&T has seen a steady growth in its business, and there are no intentions to slow down. What the company aims to do is keep making investments in its own facilities to ensure it can keep growing with the demand of its business. “We never want to be in a spot where we can’t supply products to our customers, so we are making significant investments in the equipment in all of our facilities to help increase that capacity,” Mike says. These investments will include introducing additional automation into the manufacturing process and upgrading some of the machines that have reached the end of their useful life. Although these cast-iron machines typically have a long life, they do need to be replaced, which means that making significant investments into the molding lines will assist with increasing the capacity of its manufacturing.
As long as communities continue to renew their infrastructure, B&T will continue to support them. While the company looks to take on new ventures and expansions, it continues to focus on serving the needs of its customers by providing solutions to the issues they run into on a day-to-day basis. The business believes in getting the job done right the first time and by keeping safety, respect, accountability and commitment at the core of its practices and relationships, it is able to provide superior product quality and customer experience that is sure to see the sustainability of its name for many years to come.
Bingham and Taylor
Services: Product providers for underground utility access