“From the beginning, I set out to make products I had a hard time buying,” explains Donald Radcliff, president of Radcliff Wire, Inc., of his success in the specialty wire products industry.
He has also “looked under almost every smokestack” to find and service customers in 43 states, Europe, Japan, and Latin America from his plant on Ronzo Road in Bristol, which employs 35 workers.
As a CPA and an inventor of note who has been featured in “Connecticut Business and Industry” magazine, Radcliff was well-equipped to develop, put into production, and market special types of wire that has evaded him during his years as a purchasing agent in the spring industry.
This meant the manufacturing of square, flat, and what he calls profiled wire – strands of any symmetrical shape which seem, in the 15 years since Radcliff Wire’s founding, to have kept pace with the imagination of American industry in their variety of functions.
Profiled wire is the grooved strand that grips the lenses in a pair of eyeglasses, and frequently forms the nose bridge as well. It is the snap-rings which hold machine parts together without bolting, or pin the crystal against the face of a wristwatch.
It is also the grooved ring stock that contains the circular spring in a sensible new style of jewelry which grips your finger rather than allowing the stone to edge its way around and cut into the back of your knuckle.
Spring-coiled profile wire, in a diamond shape, forms threaded inserts of extraordinary resiliency to prevent stripping in bolted parts under stress, such as the metal edges on snow skis and almost all of the screws in an airplane engine – in fact, its indirect connection with the relatively healthy aircraft industry helps account for Radcliff’s continued stability during a recession year.
And if you have ever stripped a spark plug socket in your auto engine, or if your mechanic has, chances are it was bored out and repaired with a Radcliff – threaded insert.
Flat wire – a misnomer really, in that every length of so-called ‘flat’ is actually a precision rectangle of profiled wire – is used for split lockwashers as well as for heavy duty staples. One of its most startingly profitable functions is holding down the bristles of a toothbrush. Radcliff estimates that Americans purchase well over a thousand pounds of toothbrushes each week.
The unique process for profiling wire was, like all the other machinery at Radcliff, designed and perfected by Donald Radcliff himself.
In the beginning, he had been told that machines were available to achieve the precision and variety of forms that he wanted, but he says that “It was six months before I made a good piece of wire, and by then I had scrapped the original equipment and had my own built.”
He located in Bristol in 1959 because the town’s enormous spring industry placed it on regular routes for the shipment of the bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel wire that he needed.
Many factory cutbacks have created a shortage of raw materials, but the variety of allows employed in Radcliff’s work has permitted it to keep busy during the past year.
The crucial unit in the production of profiled wire is something called Turk’s Head, an adjustable system of four steel rollers, similar in principle to but much more versatile than the four adjustable teeth of the chuck on a power drill.
Once the rollers are set, they apply pressure from four sides to force the wire into the desired shape as it passes between them – miles at a time. There is no grinding or cutting involved, so 100 percent of the wire is used.
Some special shapes may be passed through the Turk’s Head more than once, and in those cases it may become necessary to restore their molecular stability by running the wire through Radcliff’s 75 foot long electric annealing furnace. The furnace developed by Radcliff, can handle 24 strands at a time at temperatures of up to 2000 degrees and is also used to ‘cure’ the wire to any tensile strength desired by the customer.
Many other wire companies have now converted to the Turk’s Head rather than a die setup which can require time-consuming changes and a distinct die for each shape, but Radcliff insists that his own units still have “a few little extra tricks for getting into the corners.” Based on his record for ingenuity, he probably has some that even he hasn’t thought of yet.