(Editor’s note: This is the 19th installment in a monthly series
highlighting some of the region’s ­unsung manufacturers that make
products essential to the economy and, in many cases, our way of life.)

Ralph Alviti had a simple request of his son, Steven, back in the mid 1970s when the Alviti’s were operating a manufacturing plant in Providence: find a better way to smooth out the rough edges of the jewelry pieces their -company was churning out. They didn’t know it at the time, but ­Steven ­Alviti Sr.’s minor upgrade in finishing the products ensured that their company survived after a mass exodus of the state’s jewelry sector, and it laid the foundation for Bel Air Finishing Supply Corp.’s work today.

“That’s where we came from,” Steven Alviti Jr., grandson of Ralph Alviti,
said recently. “We started by making equipment to do it rather than
doing it by hand. And now we make fully robotic systems. You can see
the evolution of everything here.”

Bel Air is now a North Kingstown-based manufacturer and supplier of mass finishing machines, equipment that other factories use in the last steps of making parts that require precision work. The finishing process is often meant to ensure parts are identical to each other or that pieces can fit together as close to perfect as possible. That’s why Bel Air’s equipment is used for aerospace components, medical devices, firearms and more.

“Our customers are manufacturing all of these components,” said Steven Alviti Jr., who is Bel Air’s vice president and sales manager. “They use our equipment in their production lines to deliver the desired surfaces to their products so they are application-ready. Whether it’s an implant for a knee
or a piece for an aero turbine.

“They will come to us to develop a new process and we give them the prescription and then prove it out and eventually install the equipment in their production line,” Alviti said.

Bel Air produces a variety of finishing equipment. From conventional tumblers and vibratory bowls and tubs to centrifugal disc finishers, which look like buckets filled with pellet-like material – otherwise known as media – that whirls around inside and can deburr and polish intricate parts.

Steven Alviti Sr., Bel Air president, is proud he was able to create a new business venture through his finish upgrades, which were born out of necessity and have allowed the company to remain family-owned a half century later.

“This is the third generation,” he said, gesturing to his son. “We are working hard at keeping it that way. We are a family that has been doing this for a long time. There are not many companies left who I was doing business with back in the day.”

Indeed, Bel Air has evolved since its beginnings.

The company started out under Ralph Alviti as a tool and die manufacturer in 1966, doing much of its finishing work by hand, and acquired a plating company and expanded to Attleboro in 1980. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Bel Air started distributing its finishing machines worldwide.

By 2007, Steven Alviti Sr. was running the company and moved the operation to the Quonset Industrial Park in North Kingstown. The company then acquired a tumbling media and compound manufacturer in Connecticut in 2011.

While technology has progressed, Bel Air’s philosophy is the same, the Alviti’s say. The company has worked with clients ranging in scope from small businesses searching for a better way to smooth out silverware to a contract with General Electric Co. for work on its fully automated engine blade system.

The largest revenues today are from the tool honing industry, additive manufacturing and post-processing of 3D printed parts. “We’ve been in the [3D] industry for 20 years,” said the younger Alviti. “Even before that. Because the jewelry industry was the original 3D printing.”

The company has 15 employees and an international footprint, with a majority of customers within North America. In addition to its workers, Bel Air hires local companies to make individual components of the finishing equipment that are sent to Bel Air for final assembly. Since Bel Air provides services to a diverse set of clientele, there are always surprises.

At the company’s North Kingstown plant, Steven Aliviti Jr. picks up a smooth white stone that at first glance looks like it belongs in a summer cottage garden. Actually, it’s a “Parting Stone” developed by a company featured on the reality TV show “Shark Tank.” The stone is made from the cremated remains of loved ones or pets.

“They used our equipment to smooth out the stones,” he said.

As for economic challenges, Bel Air has all but given up trying to stop the proliferation of foreign knockoffs of its machines advertised online, mostly
with Chinese internet addresses.

“It’s an endless cycle,” the younger Alviti said. “Of course, you have got to be aware of it if you compete internationally.”

The time and resources required to fight the intrusions of Bel Air’s 25 different patented technologies aren’t worth the effort, he says. It’s better to rely on filling orders on deadline with high-quality equipment. And fostering enduring partnerships.

The elder Alviti knows there is always competition knocking, but his surprise that buyers still fall for the fakes is never-ending.

“Originally it was Germany. Then China began butting into everything,” he said. “They use our name and photos on their websites and there is nothing you can do about it. I guess there are still a lot of people that don’t look deeper into it.”

And skyrocketing inflation in 2023 brought some uncertainty for Bel Air’s clients, although the Alviti’s say the company remains profitable. They
declined to disclose annual revenues.

“Last year, we saw a lot of people holding on to their money,” Steven Alviti Sr. said. “And we are usually the last step in the production, so we are the last thought.”

Bel Air is fully staffed now, but there has been a relatively high turnover rate among its workforce, which has created headaches.

“The training has been draining. We are a small company,” Steven Alviti Sr. said. “So, the $5,000 state grants aren’t worth the effort. You spend $1,000 in time and manhours filling out paperwork.”

He says the state could do more to shore up the industry by increasing tax breaks to spur private investment, which currently “don’t really amount to anything.”

“We continue to invest in research and development out of our own profits,” he said. “It’s always a give and take. But it’s definitely a relationship [with the state] that needs to be fixed.”

One constant for Bel Air is that it is family-owned. Founder Ralph Alviti stepped down from running the company years ago, and Steven Alviti Sr. took the reins. But Ralph Alviti continued to work at Bel Air into his old age even though he no longer had to.

He died in 2022, “a 50-year-old in a 92-year-old body,” said Steven Alviti Jr. “He died at his workbench.”