A couple of decades ago, Caprock Manufacturing was a robust, labor-intensive employer with more than 200 people on the payroll.
Today, while it’s still robust, robotics and other efficiencies have trimmed the workforce to 65 people doing more with a higher skill level.
“We have a saying here that two $7-an-hour employees don’t equal one $14-an-hour employee,” company president Ryan Provenzano said. “This is no longer a place where you come out here to work at standing at a machine all day.”
The job demands have changed, and the minimum educational requirement for a machine operator at Caprock Manufacturing is a high school diploma or a GED.
Training for a machine operator’s job used to be about a supervisor showing the new worker how to run the machine, and how to tell good products from bad, Provenzano said.
Today, however, a lot more expertise is involved, as the operator needs to be able to set up the job, program the robotic computer and monitor the production.
The company, which manufactures injection-molded plastic boxes, housings and similar products for about 60 customers worldwide, isn’t exactly a household name, and much of what it does isn’t in regular customer circulation.
At one time, it made such things as cellphone casings, but, Provenzano said, consumer product styles change quickly.
Instead, the company’s products are in demand in industrial sectors where the component needs to last five years or longer.
Caprock Manufacturing products are marketed for three main industrial groups, including water, gas and electric meter manufacturers, the mass transit industry, and medical equipment companies.
For example, Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner, which is now in early production, will have about 70 components in the aircraft from Caprock Manufacturing, Provenzano said.
The business doesn’t have much in the way of local customers. It supplies protective boxes for Smartfield’s crop monitoring equipment, and provides some products for Tyco Fire Protection’s Lubbock manufacturing operation, Provenzano said.
“The vast majority of our business is across North America. We have customers in Asia and Europe, too,” he said.
“Of our 60 customers, probably eight of them make up a majority of our revenue,” he said.
On a recent plant tour, a visitor was shown the cover plates for dials on a gas meter, parts for a water meter, boxes for traffic control devices at intersections, and telephone covers for a secure telephone system.
Stopping at one workstation where one worker was managing the production of two machines, Provenzano explained how business had changed at Caprock Manufacturing.
The machines, whose outputs faced each other, were producing a box and a cover. The employee installed a gasket, put the box and cover together, and put the assembly in a box that he would later take to the warehouse.
In the past, Provenzano said, the machines might have been farther apart, with separate operators and a third person on a different shift assembling the units.
The changes are about adjusting a company to the world of just-in-time manufacturing, in which larger customers try to keep their supply and inventory costs down by ordering only what they need and only when they need it.
“Twenty years ago, an order might be 100,000 pieces for a cellphone,” he said. “Today, we may produce a hundred, to a few thousand of an item.” he said.
The company keeps reserve products for customers to keep things moving if a rush order comes in.
Caprock Manufacturing has been out on its present five-acre site on the city’s south side for the past 27 years. How it all came to be, starting four years earlier in a rented space, had a lot to do with the departure of Texas Instruments from Lubbock.
“Much of life is fate,” Provenzano said, adding that he went through college as a cooperative student connected with an injection molding firm that worked with General Motors.
After college, he was hired by Texas Instruments, and after stops in Sherman and Dallas, he said, he wound up in Lubbock, expecting to say a couple of years and move on.
When TI left, he and several co-workers put their heads together and thought about another line of work.
“It’s the seed of our staff,” he said, adding that they also got some start-up help from another local firm, Industrial Molding.
Provenzano said the company has been very supportive.
“We’re not really competitors. We serve very different markets,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever bid against each other on something.”
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