Monthly Archives: March 2016

How it all started – Patrick J. Kiely

Posted on March 31, 2016 by

St Cross Electronics was set up in the early 1980’s and still, today, trades with some of its first customers.  It even has some of the same staff members that joined in those very early years.  This post is written by its founder Mr. Patrick J. Kiely, who really did take a big gamble to leave what was a secure job to “go on his own”. Patrick retired from the business in 2003 after Adrian Jukes and Dax Ward carried out an MBO.  Below is Patrick’s story.

 

I always had a burning desire to run my own business and Vicky and I have, over the years, come up with many different ideas such as building houses, as I had done in Loughborough, to selling solar panels in Spain (this was the early days of solar panels).  But we could never see a way of getting things started until I joined ITT Cannon.  The new experience of dealing with people in the electronics industry made me realise that although these people were very good at something I knew very little about, I could do the mechanical and packaging side of it at least as good as them.

One day, visiting Mullards of Southampton, an engineer showed me a complicated assembly consisting of many soldered wires which, he said, would be very expensive to produce “in house” and did I know of a suitable sub contractor who could handle it.  I gave it two seconds thought and replied that I knew exactly the right people and would get back to him later with details.  Next day I registered “St. Cross Electronics” at companies house as “ sole trader”.

In the event nothing came of the Mullard deal but at least I had made the first step: we had a company.

Although wildly ambitious I was always very aware that I should never compromise my position with Cannon; in terms of taking business that should be theirs or spending their time on my project.  So I was pleased that the very first order taken by St. Cross was to the benefit of me and Cannon.   A company in Egham wanted a “D-Sub” Connector for board mounting but with clinch- nuts to fix to a front panel.  Not a difficult request, I thought, but “D-Sub” was manufactured in France and they were not interested in producing a special.  My solution , accepted by them, was to buy the standard connector from Cannon and free issue it to me to be modified.  This first order was followed by various cable assemblies which I made in my little workshop.

Jumpers

The jumper is a very simple device for joining two printed circuit boards together. It consists of ribbon cable (usually on 0.100 pitch) of various ways with both conductor ends bared for soldering to the boards.  The first we saw at Cannon was supplied by “Spectrastrip”, an ITT company in the USA, for the “Oxford Calculator”.  I can’t remember now what it cost but for what it was the price was enormous.  I could see the future. I had to make them; but how to achieve that perfect 3 mm strip at each end?

As we were selling Spectrastrip in its many forms I had no trouble in getting cable to play with.  We tried a special abrasive machine that the makers claimed was designed for just that purpose and was nearly successful but not quite.  I nearly bought it thinking I could make it work but, fortunately, Vicky was not persuaded.  Eventually I  found a simple hand tool from Weidmuller that did the trick but, clearly, was not for mass production.  One of my first orders, using the new tool, was a from a speaker company.  They needed to get from a 10 way switch on the front of the unit to a PC board 800mm away.  The perfect solution was to free issue the switches to be soldered to a 10way colour coded ribbon cable stripped at the free end to be soldered, by them, to their board.

By this time I had so much work that I had to recruit and train a small army of “home workers” two of whom I entrusted with the Weidmuller tools and small solder pots to produce the jumpers.

By the summer of 1982 I became unhappy at Cannon due to changes in the Sales management and, in a fit of pique, I left to join Harting.   An action I regretted almost as soon as I committed it.  However, being more unhappy with my new company gave me the incentive to take my “hobby company” to the next level.  That September wandering around the InterNepcon exhibition in Brighton I was thrilled to discover the “Komax machine”.  This was a revelation: I had never heard of it before, and it did exactly what I wanted.  The demonstrator produced jumpers using Molex cable which with its single core conductor meant that they could be produced very cheaply because they required no secondary tinning operation.  The biggest customer for jumpers that I knew of was STC in Belfast who used them to join two boards together in their “Viscount” telephone hand set.  This was a hugely popular phone.  Indeed, every new BT subscriber was given one.

An old chum at Cannon who covered the area was kind enough to introduce me to the company and the Buyer was keen to receive a competitive quotation. So I bought a reel of cable and agreed with the distributor of the “Komax” that, if he would run off a batch of the three way jumpers as samples and if they were accepted, I would buy the machine.

Our samples and quote were accepted and we bought our first machine.  I partitioned off the end of my garage to produce a sixteen by eight foot workshop and installed the new machine together with a small hydrovane compressor.  I now needed to make the vital decision to leave full time employment and try earning my living through my tiny new company.  I can not pretend that I was not frightened by the prospect.  I knew I could not rely just on jumpers to create a successful company but needed more customers for cable harness.  Nowadays one can count the number of computer manufactures almost on the fingers of one hand but in the early eighties there were literally hundreds.  One of which, a company in Woking, I was hoping to supply.  When I got my first order from them I made the decision, left Harting, took a lease on a Vauxhall Cavalier and was on my own.  This was July 1983 and by the autumn of that year I had to find a proper factory if I was to expand and be taken seriously by the sort of companies I aspired to supply.

Southampton City Council, in their endeavour to promote industry bought a row of terraced houses and converted them to basic workshops to be let to start-up companies   at a reasonable rent.  We moved there in November and employed three young men under the governments “Young Workers Scheme”.

This got us started and when the council built smaller units behind we took one of them as well.  Finally, in 1986, we outgrew both units and took a twenty five year lease on a new factory in Mount Pleasant where we are to this day.


DFM – Design for Manufacturability

Posted on March 23, 2016 by

At St Cross Electronics Ltd we have been supporting our customers with Design for Manufacturability (DFM) for many years.  We work closely with our customers to ensure the most effective final design for efficient, high quality manufacture.

Although not a direct design house, we have over 30 years experience of manufacturing cable assemblies. So we can advise on better practices, components, sourcing on all entities involved with the design and manufacture of a cable assembly.

If this process is adopted at the start of a project it can reduce manufacturing costs.  DFM will allow potential problems to be fixed in the design phase which is the least expensive place to address them.

Other factors may affect the manufacturability such as the type of raw material, the form of the raw material, dimensional tolerances, and secondary processing such as finishing. If you get the foundations right the rest will follow.

Design for Manufacturability is a part of our business that we feel very passionate about, and we would value the opportunity to discuss any new projects with you, assisting in any way we can.

We also support rapid prototyping department, drawings and First Article Inspections.

Please contact one of our sales team to discuss your requirements in more detail and be directed to an engineer.


Quality Cable Assemblies – How do we do so well?

Posted on March 4, 2016 by

QUALITY IS KEY!!

A simple phrase that is bread into everyone here at St. Cross Electronics. We pride ourselves on quality, something that was imprinted into the foundations of St Cross Electronics from its inception back in 1983. We have always wanted our customers to be sure that they can use our product from delivery straight into their equipment.

We have from the start had processes, procedures and controls that ensure each stage of manufacture has a QC check incorporated. Dax Ward, Managing Director quotes “If the foundations of anything are secure and substantial then the build on top of these will be secure and less prone to fall down. These foundations were implemented by St Cross Electronics founder Patrick Kiely over 30 years ago, and still today every single process we follow has the same architecture. Soon after the business was started we added BS5750 as a QC approval, and today we now hold ISO9001, ISO14001, OHSAS18001 and we are also UL approved. Today we find ourselves seriously considering AS9100 quality approval.”

QC is targeted with KPI’s on quality, measured in pieces per million. Latest figures for quality measure 200 pieces per million, a very low figure and one most companies would strive to achieve, but Dax has a slightly different view on this. “I am not really happy with this figure. Yes it gives a yield of 99.98%, and our own target is 99.6% so we are surpassing our target, but that still gives a reject rate of 200 pieces. Imagine if a car production line had a failure rate of 0.02% when producing brakes; this would still be 200 cars that could potentially could not stop safely. I am never satisfied and we still need to improve further. However, I am a bit more realistic and car manufacture and making cable assemblies are obviously two different things. Makes you think though.”

Although Dax states he is not satisfied with the above, that QC level is still very good and way above the industry standard. St Cross Electronics quality process encourages all staff to log failures, whether that is in tooling, manufacture, or poor documentation. “You cannot improve if you do not log or accept things could go wrong. You have to take positives from everything, so learn from the failures you have discovered and stop them reoccurring. We spend a lot of our QC time trying to prevent rather than react to problems.”

All cables we manufacture will as standard have a 100% continuity test, checking for not only open circuits, but correctly wired circuits. We work very closely with Cirris on this and have a vast array of test equipment from them. From simple pin to pin testers to our flag ship electrical quality control tester the CH2. Crimps are also checked, from photos, crimp heights, and tensile tests. Full dimensional checks are also as standard with our own first article inspection reports (FAIR).  All evidence, and results of all these tests are recorded and kept on file for a number of years.

So QUALITY IS KEY to us, because without good quality foundations there is no business to support it on top.

Contact one of the team today if you want a free quote or want any other information on us.


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