A New Business Model for Contract Manufacturing

A brief review of “Business Transformation: The Roberts Story” by Jim Hull with Brad Hart

In this new book, Brad Hart, CEO of Roberts Tool Company, describes how a manufacturer of aerospace components can meet the customer’s price and achieve healthy profits by building effective processes for the right kind of work. Read my review of this book here.


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When I met Brad Hart at Roberts Tool Company to write about his shop’s approach to cellular manufacturing, the clarity of his vision for how to manufacture complex aerospace components profitably impressed me greatly, as did his ability to articulate that vision in clear, persuasive language. He made it easy for me to write the article.

Now Brad and business consultant Jim Hull have written a book that details Brad’s broad approach to business management. It explains how he transformed this southern California manufacturing company (Brad eschews the term “job shop” because it implies a business that he considers obsolete) so that techniques such as cellular manufacturing became part of a comprehensive, integrated plan to serve customers in a new, compellingly different way.
Many excellent books about business management are available today, but very few focus on the unique challenges that face a metalworking job shop. “Business Transformation: The Roberts Story,” is squarely focused on that topic. Much of the content is derived from Jim’s interviews with Brad, and is delivered in Brad’s own voice. Narratives of key experiences during the company’s transformation bring important lessons to life and make them memorable.
My article about Roberts Tool centered on the configuration and operation of representative machining cells in place at the shop. I wanted to convey what made them technically successful as production resources. The book by Brad and Jim provides the larger context for how these cells contribute to a successful business model.
On the second page of the book’s foreword, the authors state that, “unlike most companies that build cells and then set about to ‘fill them up,’ Roberts found the work first. Only then did they build a cell to deliver on customer price points and Roberts’ profit objectives.” How they learned to meet these two essential criteria (hit the customer’s price AND reach the shop’s profit goal) consistently is what the rest of the book is about.
Generous use of numbered lists or bulleted points make it easy to grasp elements of the plan and understand steps for implementation. Even so, the book avoids reading like repurposed slides from a PowerPoint presentation. Each chapter ends with a succinct summary and list of key take-away points.
It will help if a reader has a working knowledge of basic lean manufacturing concepts and terminology. Photos and/or diagrams of machine cell designs would have been welcome. As it is, the book has no illustrations. I would have liked even a basic index at the end and perhaps a list of references or recommended reading.
“Business Transformation: The Roberts Story” is available at Amazon.com.