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Seelye’s Quality Begins With Custom Fabrication

Custom fabricating and machining plastic for 40 years, Seelye Plastics has gained respect from customers throughout the upper Midwest.

By Chad Sypkens

Seelye’s newest overhead router, the Komo VR 510 with tool changer is put to use on this sheet of 1/2 inch polypropylene to be used for the Model 1500 cabinets.
Seelye Plastics Inc., a 75,000-square-foot plant nestled just outside the Twin Cities in Bloomington, MN, possesses one of the most diversified plastics specialty companies in the Midwest, earning a reputation over the last 40 years for its service and quality.

Quality is the core of the process at the 150 employee job shop and distribution center aimed towards the semi-conductor, medical, electronic and other high-end industries. “After participating in the plating industry for many years, we have always prided ourselves for quality of workmanship, looking at high-tech, high-performance industries,” says Joe Petrich. “That is where our focus lies.

“We specialize in tight tolerance, high-quality fabrication and machining, and the jobs we accept are not just thrown together and done at a low price. We do each job right because it carries our name.”

Seelye is a combination distribution, fabrication and machining company with a customer base mainly in the upper Midwest. “From start to finish, we take all the pieces, parts and components for a job, complete all assemblies and deliver it to our customer, which is a value-added service that we have incorporated in our daily routine,” says Petrich. “We do what we can to help give the customer a better product so they don’t have to do any sub-assembly of the product themselves.”

Pinky a Catalyst For Operation

Seelye was originally a PVC corrosion-resistant duct-work division of a sheet metal company that has evolved into a leader in the distribution, fabrication and machining of industrial plastics in the Midwest.

A floundering 10-person shop in 1966, Seelye was bought by Richard “Pinky” McNamara, who expanded the firm’s manufacturing of thermoplastic products, extended the sales territory into five states and after two years was in the black. Seelye was the first company in McNamara’s Minneapolis-based holding company, Activar, which is a Spanish word meaning catalyst.

Acquiring one or two companies a year has been the norm for Activar, which now consists of 18 companies in Minnesota, California and Florida.

The Plastics Division of Activar consists of four Minneapolis area companies: Afton Plastics, Eiler Plastics, Circuit Chemistry Equipment and Seelye. “A lot of synergies exist between us where we work together and share resources to satisfy our customers,” says Petrich. “Depending on the workload, we will sub work out to each other, depending on capacities and capabilities.”

Seelye purchased Eiler Plastics in 1991, which enhanced as Seelye’s in-house distributor facility by adding engineered sheet, rod and tube.

The three facets of Seelye’s job shop include custom fabrication, precision machining and a 25,000-square-foot material distribution center along with four outside sales branches in Duluth, Omaha, Cedar Rapids and Fargo and continues to look for more growth opportunities.

“We are looking to open up additional branches in the upper Midwest which takes a lot of work to get going from scratch,” says Scott Favre, who has worked at Seelye for 27 years. “We are pursuing other semi-conductor opportunities in other parts of the country who utilize quality fabrication and machining.”

50 Seelye hot air welders are used at the plant
for the polypropylene cabinet assemblies.
New Equipment Paying Dividends

Keeping up with ever-changing machinery technology, Seelye has made it a point to continually update their equipment. With the influx of semiconductor customers, Seelye has doubled its machine shop in the last 18 months which has played a big part in their expansion, including purchases of several new pieces of machinery.

“The machine shop has just exploded in the last three or four years and it is really fun to see,” says Petrich.

The wealth of machinery behind Seelye’s operation, routers, milling machines, turning centers, screw machines, CNC saws, extrusion and hot air welders and a laser for example, have provided the company the means needed for most jobs regardless of the complexity of its size. Tanks, tank liners, hoods, duct work, plastic cabinets, containment basins and pump stations as well as complete chemical handling systems can all be completed from start to finish in-house with the help of Seelye’s material distribution center.

“Our new Hendrick panel saw is CNC controlled for accuracy and reliability,” says Petrich. “We can cut material up to 6 inches thick and sheet sizes up to 10 feet by 10 feet now without having to take time away from our routers to do just that.”

Seelye also recently purchased a CM-110 laser cutting system from Laser Machining with a dual-head cutting beam utilizing a 4 foot by 4 foot table to help maximize efficiency.
“We can cut up to 1-inch thick on most materials, acrylic, PETG, nylon, delrin and teflon, with tolerances of  ±0.010, and cut with a very clean edge and in some cases, a polished edge.”
Seelye’s newest CNC machine, the Komo VR 510 Mach II, was purchased four months ago. “The rapid travel on this machine is unbelievable,” says Petrich. “We are to the point now where we are turning our old equipment over so that we are buying new equipment every year. We have also purchased a new Mori Seiki lathe and four new Milltronics milling centers all within the last year and a half.”

Piping assemblies like this are common additions to Seelye’s cabinets and carousels and can incorporate 15-20 additional parts that must get machined and assembled prior to inspection.
Custom Cabinets for SemiConductor Industry

Seelye orders a special sized polypropylene sheet (36 in. x 72 in.) from PolyHi Solidur in lots of 200 every month for the large quantity of custom cabinets they produce for one of the two large semi-conductor companies Seelye produces cabinets and carousels for.

“That is job specific,” says Petrich, “An entire step is taken out of the scheme saving us time and keeps the sheet from having to get cut on the panel saw in our cut bay.”

The sheets go right to one of Seelye’s three Komo routers, (two 4 foot by 8 foot and one 5 foot by 10 foot) where they machine the front side of the sheet, flipped over, and then machine the back side details, counterbores and pockets.

“In conjunction with that, we run smaller details on any of our 9 Milltronics Partner Mills of all different sizes,” says Petrich. “Depending on how dramatic the part is, the small details and other side operations needed, will be machined on either the two VM30’s, three Partner IV’s, two Partner V’s, VM16 or VMD30.”

Many of the components that are incorporated into the cabinets are made out of polypropylene, but at odd sizes.

“In those cases we have to machine the couplings out of 3-inch rod on our Okuma Dae Woo Turning Center down to their specifications,” says Petrich.

Once the machining and milling is done and some additional side holes are drilled by hand on the sheets, they are sent to the welding bay where any of the five Wegener extrusion welders and 50+ Seelye hot air welders are used to form together the cabinets. Additional pieces will also be welded onto the cabinets at this time, including interior shelves, boxes or ballufs.

Each cabinet also receives several clear, PVC doors which are also machined on the Komo routers before assembly. The doors will get assembled on the cabinet along with any other additional hinges, pipes, tubing etc., after all the fabricating and welding is complete.

“The customers have begun to ask us to start placing the cabinets on metal frames which they have provided for us,” says Petrich. “This is another value-added aspect that defines what we do for our customers. As long as we are going to have the cabinets here and can make the time to do this extra step for the customer, why not?”

After the machining, milling, welding and assembly is complete, the cabinets head to Seelye’s Quality Control department for a final inspection. Seelye’s seven inspectors will utilize two coordinant measuring machines, optical comparator, surface profilometers, thread and hole gauges to complete inspections prior to shipping. Once inspected, a bar code label is printed out and applied on to the cabinet before it gets wiped down for packaging. The cabinets must be kept clean because they will be going into clean room environments and need to be protected from the environment.

“We send the cabinets out of the building clean, packaged, wiped off and bagged so that no dirt or contamination gets to them,” explains Petrich, “That way when the cabinet gets to the facility, the customer can take it out in a sterile clean room, put any additional components in it and it is ready to go.”

Along with their custom cabinet for BOC Edwards, Seelye also has a line of specialty cabinets for other semi-conductor customers, like FSI International, including a four-position cabinet product line. This is the largest version of the cabinets Seelye fabricates, however, its smaller 3-position cabinet is the most popular.

With the use of Seelye’s in-house distribution facility, which houses over 8,000 line items for different industries, it affords Seelye the pleasure of completing the cabinets with everything necessary from start to finish right under their own roof.

The semiconductor cabinets, however, can be very involved internally with pipes, hoses, fittings and more. Some of the internal parts to the cabinets can incorporate as many as 20 additional steps prior to completion.

“The Piping Assembly, for example, is about as involved as it gets,” says Petrich. “A lot of components are used for these assemblies and when you look at the cabinet, you’re not just looking at the cabinet, you are looking at how many items go with that cabinet. Each cabinet receives a sample box that is a separate item that we send BOC, which goes into the cabinet before packaging. Aside from the cabinet itself, there are probably 30 additional components that we issue here, sold separately, are milled, machined, welded and placed into the cabinet.”

An additional unit being included into one of Seelye’s cabinets, which was waiting to get packaged and shipped, looks pretty simple at first glance, nice and straight and flat, but is really quite complex (see page 27).

The assembly is an exhaust for a chemical process cabinet for a robotics company that will wash and etch microchips. The cabinet needs an exhaust assembly for the escaping toxic fumes.

“All of the fittings which are coming off of the assembly will have monitors added onto them in order to record the amount of fumes escaping through the dual exhaust,” says Petrich. “The standard stock fittings, 90’s and T’s, are actually machined shorter to get to a specific size. Although it might not look like anything special, some of the fittings are coming off at 2 or 3 degree angles. We have to machine a lot of the internal fixtures ourselves holding tight tolerances on the fabricated parts. Extra steps mean extra time. The machined parts are machined to close tolerances as well, and once it is assembled, it must pass through another inspection in our quality control department.”

Seelye will end up producing certain internal parts strictly for cosmetic purposes to appease the customer. “A flange that goes on the end of a cabinet is available only in gray, not white, but the customer wants it to be a white part, so we will machine the flange from scratch out of raw stock so they have a white part to match their cabinet. We also make plugs that are available in gray but not white, so it depends on what the customer wants.”

At least 15 different parts are added onto some of the pipe fittings before being placed in the cabinet and sent to the customer.

“Some of these parts require two or more separate operations,” says Petrich. “You will have the raw material coming in through the cut bay that gets blanked for future parts, rod stock that may be cut to specific lengths so they fit on the machines, milling that is done on the flanges and locating plates and brackets that are also done on a mill. If you look closely, some of the parts must be radiused cut on the inside so they conform to the shape of the pipe. That right there is two additional operations.”

Many times the piping assembly will also call for a lathe operation where Seelye makes threaded half couplings, bosses and special quick disconnect fittings with several o-rings, very close tolerance parts.

Companies are looking for Seelye to kit the assemblies and cabinets, which is something they are thinking about doing in the future. “Another value-added process to help the customer,” says Petrich. “Taking a raw component, modifying it, doing sub-assemblies, a complete kit in one shot. We will gladly do that. The more we can do, the less the customer has to fiddle with it. That is what we are looking to accomplish.”

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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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