Sky’s the limit for cutting-edge precision tool manufacturer

Sky’s the limit for cutting-edge precision tool manufacturer

An engineer at work

From left, sales director David McGrath, son of chairman Bill McGrath, second left, managing director Steve Sheldon, and co-director Steven McGrath, Bill’s other son

First published in Business Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Business Reporter

There’s a generation game going at a specialist Bradford firm where recession is a foreign word.

Bradford Tool Group is celebrating its 40th anniversary with strong international order books and a third generation of people in place to pick up the baton and take it forward in the years ahead.

The £5m-turnover company produces bespoke precision cutting tools, mainly for the aviation, medical and construction industries worldwide, and currently has around 750 customers. These include big names such as British Aerospace – for which Bradford Tool Group makes tools for work on the giant wings (each the size of a football pitch) of the A380 double-decker airliner.

It has also won £200,000 of orders from Airbus China – its first venture into that burgeoning economy.

If you’ve had a hip operation it’s highly likely the surgeon used instruments made by BTG, which is the leading producer of hip reamers and other precision medical instruments.

In the construction sector BTG kit is used for drilling holes in girders for steel-framed buildings.

While these areas provide the bulk of the firm’s work, founder and chairman Bill McGrath is equally proud of the fact it regularly undertakes one-off commissions.

He says in the firm’s brochure: “Customer satisfaction has been the hallmark of our success. New customers can rest assured our service and performance, from enquiry through to despatch of goods, is without equal, even if it’s a one-off.”

Bill, who started the business with his late brother John in small premises in 1970, has an ‘open house’ policy and welcomes customers new and old to visit the firm’s 18,000sq ft Beta Works on Tong Street, where it moved in 1975. Here BTG has invested in the latest CNC machines and a wide range of grinding, milling and turning machines, as well as inspection systems.

The business is very much a family affair. Chairman Bill, now 72, retains an active role, regularly attending the plant and keeping in daily touch with the management team.

His two sons Steven and David are finance and marketing director respectively. His grandsons Craig and Andrew work on the shop floor.

Day-to-day control is in the hands of managing director Steve Sheldon, who joined BTG as a 16-year-old apprentice, and his son Michael also works in the engineering shop.

Bill said: “Running any business is a bit of a roller coaster but putting quality production and good service at the heart of what we do has ensured we’ve prospered.

“We’re a Bradford success story that has not been touched by recession. That’s not just down to the quality of the things we make, but also our close relationship with customers.”

BTG believes in communicating with customers on technical and commercial issues. It provides quotations for jobs the same day and in emergencies can produce tools within 24 hours to maintain production.

Steve Sheldon, who moved into sales and then management in 1990, says his own engineering background ensures he maintains a hands-on approach to running the business.

He said: “Because I know the job, I don’t ask people to do things I couldn’t do myself. At the same time I know from experience how long a job should take.”

A sign in Steve’s office says: “Enthusiasm is the electricity of business” and it’s a motto he practices.

“Like Bill, who I speak to every day, I live and breathe this business, The first thing I think of when I wake up is Bradford Tool Group.”

BTG, which employs 50 people, operates day and night shifts, and Steve is looking at expanding night working.

BTG trains its own apprentices and Mr Sheldon believes the funding crisis facing universities will make more bright youngsters consider apprenticeships.

Steve said: “Like myself, we find most of the people we take on and train stay with us – and many of those that do leave often come back.”

Until the late 1980s BTG was a major supplier to leading motor manufacturers, and while the likes of Ford, Land Rover, Volvo and Jaguar remain clients, automotive now accounts for only about five per of its output. Steve said the business had blossomed after changing its focus from automotive. It’s a move that has ensured continued prosperity for BTG.

Bill McGrath said: “I’m proud of the fact a small Bradford company has succeeded and is now regarded as a world leader.

“We believe in excellence and that has been our driving force since we started 40 years ago.”

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