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San-tron – a family operation with Tornos connections
San-tron – a family operation with Tornos connections
San-tron – a family operation with Tornos connections
San-tron – a family operation with Tornos connections

San-tron – a family operation with Tornos connections

Added to MTDCNC by Tornos Technologies UK Ltd on 01 May 2014

Headquartered in Massachusetts, is San-tron, Inc., a successful manufacturer of RF connectors, turned components and cable assemblies that can attribute a proportion of its success to Tornos machine tools.  The family-owned company was started in a cellar by Kenneth Sanders after he completed duty as a Machinist’s Mate on PT boats for the Navy in World War II.  Since then, the company has seen its ups and downs– much like the waves that run through the RF connectors and cable assemblies made at San-tron today.

In a town named Ipswich, Kenneth built a global company beginning with loans he secured to buy a couple of starter machines.  With his back against the wall, he made a go of it in his small shop, taking any jobs that came along - doing piece parts for the connector industry, soldering tips for an English company, and military parts for companies like Varian Associates.  Wayne Sanders, current Vice President at San-tron and son of Kenneth, credits a strong work ethic to his father’s success.  

Strong work ethic helps San-tron grow and ride the tides of business

Incredibly, they still have a lot of their customers from the 60’s.  But the business has definitely changed,  Wayne explains: 'The screw machine industry would swing back and forth between good times and bad times.  While making parts for connector companies, my father started putting pieces together, taking a chance and hoping that when things got better he would sell his customers the assemblies. And that’s how we started getting into connectors.

Today, San-tron designs and manufactures several dozen types of products – RF connectors, adapters, and complete cable assemblies as well as precision-turned components for various industry sectors. 'My father didn’t start with Swiss screw machines; but I remember him telling me in my early years when I was just a youngster that he could get this other work if he had Swiss machines.  So he bought a few Petermann and later added a couple of Strohms back then.'
 
 'I started working in the secondary department at San-tron and we lost a couple of Swiss setup guys and I was brought over to the Petermann line.  Along the way, we learned that Tornos made the best Swiss machine.  So we eventually picked up seven or eight Tornos MS 7’s to do precision parts including cross-drilling and some secondaries.  We saw how nice we could do the secondary operations on the Swiss machines.  We became very good in secondaries and also built a number of machines specifically for connectors. So when the communication boom hit, we were ready.'

The connector business grew like crazy in the late 90’s with the dotcom surge; and San-tron was so busy that at their height, they had 100 staff.  The company expanded into a new 30,000 square foot building in 1995. Around 1998, they bought their first Tornos Deco 10.  'We had belief in Tornos, the quality was always there from the early MS-7’s.  Those were Cadillacs.'

With the Deco 10 they found they were able to run lights out.  Sanders says: 'We were doing lights out in 1998 and our production went through the roof!'  The Tornos Deco 10 machine was so successful that they bought two more shortly thereafter and produced center contacts for connectors round the clock, kicking out complete parts on average every 15-20 seconds.  Today, Deco 10’s still make about 90% of all San-tron’s center contacts.

According to Wayne, 'The Deco 10s were and still are very effective on center contacts for connector. Probably 'THE' perfect machine.  I believe the best machines in the world for slotting, crimping, back drilling and creating small threads on center contacts.  With the Deco 10, it’s kicked right down to one operation.  When it s into that container, the only thing we have to do is wash it and then get it into a heat-treat oven.  The more times you handle the part, the more chance of something going wrong.   The Deco 10 also gave us a lot more tools to finish the part.  I think that’s what we all want to do in the screw machine industry, is a part complete.  The Deco 10’s did that for us.'  

Ups and downs – Just part of Life

But when the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, San-tron had to rethink their game. For the first time, San-tron began marketing and added a sales force (which they hadn’t needed prior to the dotcom crash since word-of-mouth kept them so busy). 'As things collapsed around the world with the dotcom bubble, customers basically advised us to go to China because that was where the big build out was in the RF field. Right after the dotcoms crashed, our big global customers that were in China told us: ‘Your prices are good.  We know your quality is good.  But we can’t give you the order because you’re not here.’  So we had to support our customers there.'  

Wayne points out that after the dotcom crash, they had a 'bit of a problem on the manufacturing side' because they hadn’t yet moved to CNC for parts over ½' diameter.  

Around 2004, San-tron purchased a Tornos Deco 26 machine.  'The Deco 26 has been a great machine.  It’s got great overlap like the Deco 10.  You can split operations 50/50. The cycles on connector bodies are some of the best in our facility.'

So, with things back on track – increased automation, greater machining capacities, assembly facilities at home and overseas, San-tron began to thrive again.  Last year, they placed an order for three new Tornos Swiss ST-26 machines.  They needed more capacity for center contacts and smaller connector bodies between 1/2' and 1'.  The Swiss ST-26 fitted the bill.

With San-tron’s experience in China, they were open to the idea of a Swiss type machine partially made there.  Wayne says they asked Tornos many questions.   And when they learned that the machine was engineered in Switzerland and key components like the spindles were Swiss, they were interested.

Adding the Swiss ST to the San-tron family

'This ST-26 has a very nice polygon unit and it has 36 tool capacity.  We reviewed our first 5 jobs that came off the ST-26.  We are averaging 17% faster on our cycle times over our turret machines already.  We’ve got cycles of 60 seconds to 90 seconds and that includes threading and polygon milling, back threading, slotting and recessed bores.   We do so much brass that polygoning is something we would always want on a machine now.'

San-tron is averaging about 5 million parts a year – primarily families of parts.  But they do some prototypes and short runs too.  Average lot sizes are 500-2,000 pieces with production level runs of 10,000 - 50,000 pieces; so quick setups are important.
 
'With the ST 26, we can edit at the machine.  For short runs, where we’re just trying to prove out a job – get it on and off without worrying about the cycle so much, the ST is quicker to setup.  It will ask you what diameter you’re doing and then you press 1/2' or whatever and then you bring your tool right up to it and you’re touching it off.  If you want to change a speed or feed it’s a little tougher on other machines because you have to go back to your computer, make the change and load it back on the machine.  We don’t have to do that with the ST 26.'

'I like the double slide setup on the ST 26 – that was really a great selling feature.  It’s great for knurling from both sides or being able to overlap the work just like we do on the Deco 10s and the Deco 26.  The slides are quicker than our turrets.  It’s much quicker to move a slide back and forth than it is to bring a turret in, do your cut, bring it back, index it, bring the turret back in.  The fact that Tornos is bringing more tools on the machine and using the slides on the machine, it’s a good plan to give you better cycle times.'

'We brought one ST-26 machine in and we placed an order for three based on the fact that it would keep efficiencies up.  We got through the learning curve on the first one and we just brought the second one in and it went up real quick.  

'I’ll tell you, we had taken another machine and moved it across the aisle, and within a couple of days we actually had the Tornos ST-26 up and going.  We were probably another week to get the machine we moved back up.'  

San-tron in a secure position for whatever comes their way

Recently San-tron achieved the great honor of having their SRX low-PIM cable assemblies installed in the 104-story Freedom Tower skyscraper that occupies the former location of the 6 World Trade Center in New York.  The cable assemblies will be used for the building’s wireless communications and security equipment.  On May 10, 2013, the final component of the skyscraper’s spire was installed, making it the tallest building in the Western hemisphere and the fourth tallest skyscraper in the world.  So, for San-tron, it appears that they are back on top.

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