Centenary for local manufacturing icon

This year Sutton Tools, an Australian manufacturing icon, celebrates a century of manufacturing achievement. That milestone represents a remarkable story of vision, tenacity and dedication to quality.

Anyone with an interest in industrial history can’t fail to be impressed by the story of Sutton tools. While this journey of entrepreneurial enterprise is typical of many skilled early Australian immigrants, William Henry Sutton achieved what many others have not: success while maintaining family management of a business that has grown and prospered throughout its first hundred years.

Today, Sutton Tools is a multi-national 100 percent Australian family owned business, renowned for its high-quality power tool accessories and cutting tools for a wide range of specialised industrial applications.

The Sutton Tools story starts with the arrival of William Sutton who left England in 1911, accompanied by his wife and three children. Already recognised as a leading tool engineer who worked on the development and production of the Wolseley car, his intention was to establish a new business in America.

Opportunity from machine tool shortage

Abandoning plans for America, at a mature age of forty-eight, William decided to settle in Victoria and opened a tool room at Thompson’s Foundry at Castlemaine, more than eighty miles north-west of Melbourne.

His new employment was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. The English government had need of his technical skills and unique talents and he was asked to return to England to help establish the many munitions plants in support of the war effort.

Towards the end of the war in 1917, William returned to Melbourne and established the Sutton Tools and Gauge Manufacturing Company in a converted stable at Westgarth in suburban Melbourne. Initial capital investments included a lathe, a small grinder with a milling attachment, while the family bath provided the quenching facility.

Two sons, Henry George and Leslie, joined the business and were quickly introduced to William’s philosophy of perfectionism and personal pride in one’s work. Without doubt, these core values significantly contributed to the production of tools that quickly became recognised as being of equal or better quality than those sourced from overseas.

Rapid expansion

By 1925 the original factory was quadrupled in size to satisfy market demand that was fuelled by an immediate and enthusiastic customer acceptance of the Sutton products. By 1930 the flood of orders made it necessary to move to larger premises.

Around this time, William’s two sons joined the business and were destined to become joint managing directors. Their early experiences were enriched by serving an apprenticeship training program and working diligently, often ten to fifteen hours a day, happily taking on tasks which included sweeping the factory floors.

Apart from being a master craftsman, William was gifted with business acumen and was guided by sound and prudent management principles. He recognised that a successful and growing business depended on being a market leader and firmly believed in the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’. He clearly understood the value of profitability to business growth and took pride in the fact that no month ever reflected a trading deficit.

Innovation key to growth

Similarly to many companies of today, William firmly believed that updating to the latest techniques and materials technology would keep the flourishing business ahead of the competition. As a result, he was always keenly tuned to the latest developments in new manufacturing techniques.

New ideas and techniques were actively explored and better, more efficient processes supported the production of better tools. Innovation and technology continues to drive the company’s growth and development as it commences its second century.

By 1940 Henry George Sutton and Leslie Sutton became managing directors, continuing the focus on core values and strategy that resulted in ever increasing sales. While the original Sutton company had begun by manufacturing threads and gauges, it progressively expanded its expertise into a broader portfolio of cutting tools, addressing the needs of diverse industrial applications.

By 1959, the company had outgrown its location and expanded into a 4,180 square metre factory in the northern suburb of Thomastown.

Sutton’s investment in quality, research, technology and product development has enabled 100 years of innovation with a number of industry-first solutions. Typical of this approach was a worldwide investigation undertaken in 1960 to adopt the best method of producing the finest drill in the world.

Henry George’s son, Bill Sutton was assigned the task and headed overseas, returning to Australia armed with a “ground-from-solid” manufacturing process which would become best practice globally for premium drill production. The result of adopting this process was a new generation drill which was marketed under the name of the “Silver Bullet” which remains to this day as one of Sutton’s flagship products.

By 1970 it was time for the third generation of Suttons, Bill and Jim, to consolidate and extend Sutton Tools’ position as market leader by following the business’ core commitment to quality, innovation and persistence.

Growth through acquisitions

Until this time, PVD coated tools sold in Australia had to be imported and in 1989 the company established the business of Surface Technology Coatings, enabling Sutton Tools to offer a high quality Australian product at a competitive price.

The fourth Sutton generation, Peter and Robert, joined the family business in the 1990s where their combined experience and passion in cutting tools continued the tradition of positioning the company as an Australian champion in manufacturing.

The company began to focus on strategic expansion into export markets which resulted in the acquisition in 1994 of Patience & Nicholson in New Zealand, followed in 2001 by the acquisition of Patience & Nicholson Australia. By 2006 the company’s export drive had gathered pace and in that year Sutton Tools sold its five millionth drill bit to Germany.

So successful was the company’s export initiative into key European markets that in 2009, Sutton Tools Europe was established with an office and warehouse base in the Netherlands.

The family owned company has always been a champion of Australian manufacturing. In 2008 Sutton Tools received the official accreditation by the Australian Made Campaign and in 2009 induction into the Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

With quality the cornerstone of the company, the last 23 years has seen production of Sutton Tools’ products audited and certified under ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems which demands the highest level of manufacturing excellence and quality control.

These strict manufacturing processes are paired with the finest high speed steel which is imported from France and Austria and far exceeds the quality of imported cutting tools.

The result is a company that is synonymous with quality and value across the entire cutting tools category through a culmination of brands, technologies and product offerings.

Research and Development

A commitment to catering for specific and often unmet industry needs is one of the foundations for Sutton Tool’s commitment to excellence and their position as a global market leader.

Its engineering department operates on a platform of class-leading design and measuring technology that simulates tests and retests tools in the actual conditions in which they will be used to optimise design, benchmark performance and produce a product that exceeds market standards.

As an extension, research and development sees formal collaboration with industry, universities, research organisations and government in the quest for improved products and processes to better serve the industries for which they cater.

Global partnerships

Employing 350 people globally, the company produces 15,000 product lines and exports their tools to Europe and Asia through its own European and New Zealand offices.

Its customer industries span precision engineering, automotive, aviation, energy, medical, mining and more which are supplied with blades, drills, threading taps and end mills.

Alignment with global industrial cutting solutions organisations which have an equivalent commitment to quality and service has been recognised as critical to the success of the company. These include Tapmatic, a seventy-five year-old firm that is a world leader in the design and development of tapping products. They produce the Tapmatic SynchroFlex, the most advanced program for fast, accurate and cost efficient tapping across every machine and application.

Sutton established a partnership with Ceratizit, the 1921-founded carbide cutting solutions specialist. Ceratizit’s innovative custom solutions own over four hundred patents across the automotive and oil industries, mechanical engineering, medical systems, electronics, tools and mould construction. This joint venture enabled Sutton Tools the ability to offer its Australasian customers a complete range of cutting tools and services that includes carbide inserts and tooling.

With the product portfolio of both companies complementing each other in designated cutting tool applications, the partnership leverages the strengths of their respective product lines to offer a broad range of high performance carbide cutting solutions to the Australian industry.

Another important partner is with the seventy five year-old Allied Machine and Engineering (AMEC), a manufacturer of metal-cutting tooling. Serving all facets of manufacturing industries such aerospace, defence, agriculture, automotive and mining and more, Allied’s precision engineering and expert applications make them the supplier of choice for complex metal-cutting challenges.

This alliance expands Sutton Tools’ cutting tool portfolio with the inclusion of replaceable-tip drilling systems.

Building on the knowledge and skills of previous generations which created a century of business success, innovative manufacturing technology, global distribution and strategic alliances, Sutton Tools is well poised to continue its command of the tool industry into its second century.

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