I caught up with Jim Wrenn, vice president of Hudson Precision Products, (Broadview, Illinois) at the PMPA Annual Meeting in Amelia Island, Florida. Jim’s family business celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, so I was curious about his thoughts about taking the business into its second century.
PM: How do you see Hudson’s business moving forward into its second century?
JW: Our long-range business plan is pretty much at the behest of our customers. Over time, we have developed a stable of customers that come to us with projects 3 to 5 years before production actually begins. A key to attracting these customers is diversity. We have always been a shop with a variety of capabilities—single spindle, multi-spindle, a CNC department that’s grown throughout the past 20 years, assembly, measurement and more. It’s our basic diversity that has provided a stable hedge against work going overseas. The stability from producing these bread and butter jobs allows us to participate in the longer-term, higher-risk projects.
PM: What kinds of development opportunities are you seeing?
JW: Right now, the development opportunities we see are on the CNC side and longer running production. For example, we’re doing a lot of five-axis work these days. We’ve gone from an average cycle time in our CNC side measured in minutes to (right now) 30 percent of our production work cycle time measured in hours—6 to 7 hours for some parts.
PM: How has the business changed from the time when your parents ran it?
JW: The hard part today is investment of capital without realizing a profit from that investment for a year or a year and a half. We’re doing short-run developmental and prototype work for some of our customers that typically isn’t really profitable for us in the short term. Our efficiency in these projects is getting better with investments we’ve made in software to automate the programming using solid modeling to get us into the cut much faster. However, the payback is still relatively long. My parents and grandparents wanted to see an almost immediate return on investment, and in their time they often did. But the nature of the business today is that if something has that quick of a turn around, it’s a commodity, and it’s going to be used somewhere else for much less than we can afford. Today, it’s about value-added engineering expertise and communicating with the customer during the design process that’s continually building our business.
PM: How does Hudson deal with the shortage of skilled workers?
JW: I hear from other shops that finding people with the right skill is a problem, especially on the cam side of the business for automatics. For us, we’ve always had a network of people who bring in family members as time goes by. We have many families that have spent generations working here at Hudson. As the trend toward CNC continues, we offer our people the opportunity to learn these new machines. Like most other metalworking companies, we’ve had to adjust to increased sales volume and production using fewer people, which, as new skills are taught and learned, has worked well for us. By and large, I see our diversity continuing. We’ll always be a single-spindle shop and a multi-spindle shop on one level or another. The difference I see is the kinds of work we apply. At one time, we wouldn’t look at a multi job less than 60 hours, and now we do jobs that run 10 or 12 hours. It’s about continuing down the path of change.
PM: Why do you think Hudson made it 100 years?
JW: One of the reasons we’re 100 years old is we always operate out of our own budget. We’ve invested heavily back into the business and invested in our employees. The manufacturing process diversity we have on the shop floor creates opportunities for employees who want to do something different.
PM: What do you see for Hudson in 2007?
JW: For us, the opportunity lies in aerospace and medical. Those industries need what we can bring to the table as far as the ability to work long term on a project development basis. There is a developmental window, and once you get in on the beginning of a project and assuming you have the engineering chops to perform, margin and price become secondary. It becomes about quality and support.