CRANSTON, RI - The temptation was too good to pass up. With the 2000 Radiant Panel Association (RPA) conference in nearby Providence, the people of Taco, Inc., took the opportunity to open up their doors to contractors, distributors, and even journalists for an inside peek at their plant operations.

Mark Chaffee, residential product manager, explained that the company has been a part of this Rhode Island community for more than 75 years and is housed in an old trolley barn the company purchased 60 years ago. The company's current name was derived from its original moniker: Thermal Appliance Co.

Founded in 1920 by Elwood Sanger White, the company today employs more than 500 workers and has manufacturing facilities in Cranston and Fall River, MA. It has remained in the White family since its inception.

The $100 million company specializes in hydronics and hvac markets, with products including circulators, pumps, heat exchangers, zone valves, flow controls, air and expansion controls, relief and reducing valves, energy-conservation products, pressure vessels, and accessories.

Chaffee pointed out the benefits that the company's employees receive, including continuing education classes in many different venues, such as culinary arts and oceanography. "We have a great association with local colleges that support our ongoing educational programs," he said.

Chaffee also stated that employees have the opportunity to test new production equipment before its purchase, since they will be operating the equipment. The employees actually give the final authorization to purchase the equipment. That may be one of the reasons behind the company's touted annual turnover rate of less than 0.5%.

During the plant tour, Chaffee took time to point out a section of the plant where returned products are tagged and logged in for evaluation purposes.

And in the area where zone and valve controls are assembled, Chaffee said that Taco's purchase of Swift Controls Co. necessitated that a special section of the plant be devoted to the increasingly popular line of controls.

Visitors also observed workers assembling zone valves and adding a personal touch to each one. After the valve is assembled, each worker adds a sticker to the bottom with his or her name on it.

Chaffee pointed out Taco's process of testing each pump for balancing. Workers are able to adjust the rotor and cartridge of each assembled pump to fit into strict balancing standards.

"It's similar to balancing a car tire," he explained. "The result is to create less wear and tear on the product."

After final assemblies, the circulating pumps get a fresh coat of paint.