From the humblest beginnings imaginable, The Roberts Company has become one of the nation’s most highly regarded manufacturers of custom-made, fabricated industrial equipment. David Gill tells how.
John Roberts, founder of The Roberts Company of Winterville, N.C., started his firm in 1977 equipped with no more than one welding machine and a pickup truck. To gauge how far the company has come from that modest beginning, The Roberts Company has become a critical custom-manufacturing supplier of fabricated industrial equipment to the fertilizer, pharmaceutical, power and pulp-and-paper industries. It was just cited Industry of the Year by the Pitt County Development Commission. John Roberts himself has risen with his firm; he has been designated Entrepreneur of the Year by a company that knows about good entrepreneurs: Ernst & Young, the high-powered, international consulting firm.
When asked how both he and the company have come so far, Roberts speaks of the diversity of The Roberts Company’s capabilities. “One of our claims to fame is that we’re so diversified,” he says. “We’re into so many types of fabrication and we deal in a dozen different areas of equipment. We also deal in different types of metals, and we offer many different welding capabilities.”
But the company’s diversity is one element to what it offers. The Roberts Company has earned the confidence and respect of its customers through its commitment to quality and reliability. Roberts says, “Our co-workers’ attitude toward quality is one of the most important factors in our success.”
The Roberts Company is still located in Winterville. It grew out of Roberts’ pickup truck long ago, and its manufacturing now resides in a state-of-the-art, 68,000 square-foot facility that encompasses complete mechanical design, fabrication, testing and installation. Its sales average about $20 million a year, and its employees number around 300.
The products that emerge from the plant include pressure vessels, columns, towers, shell and tube heat exchangers, condensers, evaporators, reactors, crystallizers, deionizers, tanks, pipe, duct, stacks, chutes, hoods, scrubbers and conveyors. The facility also performs heat-exchanger retrofits, modular construction, NDT services and miscellaneous fabrication. If a customer needs it, The Roberts Company is also equipped to do on-site construction.
Its customers, as a master of ceremonies might say, need no introduction. PCS Phosphates, Anheuser-Busch, Bayer, DuPont, Monsanto, American Cyanamid, Occidental Chemical, Weyerhaeuser and Westvaco are among the leading firms that have taken advantage of The Roberts Company’s high quality standards. Pharmaceutical champions such as Mallinckrodt, Rohm & Haas and Rhone Poulenc have also benefited from The Roberts Company’s diverse offerings.
Attention to Detail
With its diverse equipment and capabilities, organization takes on critical importance at The Roberts Company. The firm extends a special effort into its conscientious organization, configuring its manpower, equipment and suppliers into a cohesive whole that ensures reliability and the timely completion of every phase of manufacturing and construction. For example, the company has instituted specific initiatives toward handling critical shutdowns, subjecting every detail to careful planning, estimating, scheduling, managing and daily tracking. Reliability is the prime focus in preparing for shutdowns, and “every minute counts. Our customers depend on a flawless performance – completed on time and within budget,” the company says.
The Roberts Company has also elevated total quality to the highest-possible status within its corporate culture. Employees speak of customer specifications as the absolute minimum of what they should deliver; the company’s philosophy is to give what the customer wants and expects in a fabricated product, and more.
The customer realizes that, when The Roberts Company goes into action, it is receiving the benefit of a highly experienced, well-credentialed fabricator. The company has earned ASME code stamps U, R, PP and S, among the highest fabrication certifications available. The Roberts Company has long-standing experience in fabricating with carbon steel, stainless steel, nickel and nickel alloys, titanium, chrome-molybdenum alloy, inconel and monel alloys, aluminum, mill clad and weld overlay of stainless steel.
Constructing the Future
The diversity, experience and capabilities that have taken The Roberts Company as far as it has come will continue to drive the company going forward, according to Roberts. Providing services to such a varied customer base helps cushion The Roberts Company against any possible economic downturns, going forward.
Roberts zeroes in on the on-site construction capability as an opportunity for future growth. “Our business is currently split 50-50 between the manufacturing and the on-site construction,” he says. “There will be plenty of potential in the construction aspect, as long as we continue to satisfy the needs of our local customers and keep developing new customers in a broadened geographical area.”
As long as The Roberts Company’s philosophy stays as it is – namely, to effectively respond to its customers’ needs – continued growth and success are sure to come. That, in many ways, is the greatest salute a customer can deliver to a supplier.