Rotational molder and metal fabricator Seljan Co. Inc. has added an injection molding division, buying six small-tonnage Boy presses for its giant 500,000-square-foot factory in Lake Mills, Wis.
President Scott Seljan, a journeyman toolmaker, said injection molds were his first projects at the family business when he entered that career in the 1970s. Seljan ended up going in another direction, of metal fabrication and then, in the early 1980s, fabricated molds for rotomolding machines, which evolved into rotomolding. But hands-on tool and die expertise have remained a foundation of the company.
Getting into injection molding, the company has come full circle. "I've been wanting to do injection molding for 30 years. This is the first time we've had the space," Seljan said.
That's an understatement. In July 2012, Seljan bought the factory building, a vacant refrigeration equipment complex known as "Big Blue" in the small Wisconsin town. Seljan moved from its 30,000-square-foot headquarters rotomolding plant, and an unwieldy metal fab plant, into the cavernous structure. The site has such a huge lawn and parking lot that Lake Mills holds its Fourth of July fireworks show there
The company has made some major investments in the year since moving into the massive space: three more Ferry rotomolding machines, a new in-house powder coating department for metal parts, an expansion of its urethane molding operations, a MakerBot 3-D printer, new Milltronics computer numerically controlled milling machines — and now, the six Boy injection presses.
"The investment that we've made in equipment this year exceeds a million dollars," Seljan said in a mid-August phone interview.
In mid-July, the company hired Brad Collins, a Wisconsin plastics veteran, to become vice president of the injection molding division. He has moved quickly to assemble the injection molding area in a 30,000-square-foot bay. "By the time the end of August rolls around, we'll be an injection molder," Collins said.
Collins said the injection molding operation will need to hire about 20 people to run three shifts.
And Seljan officials are already thinking about a clean room molding area, in part of the big former office space, to serve a new medical customer.
Collins' background includes operational and management positions at Flambeau Inc., Dutchland Plastics Corp., and Midwest Plastic Products.
The new milling machines will allow Seljan to make molds for the new injection molding department. The company has a long history of metalworking to make metal stamping dies and fixtures for its metal fabrication operations and producing fabricated rotational molds.
All the Boy presses have clamping forces under 200 tons. Seljan's initial strategy is to injection mold parts for its own rotomolded parts — like large wheels for agricultural irrigation equipment and waste receptacles, and custom-molded parts for lawn and garden, medical furniture, material handling and other markets. Collins also plans to do custom molding for those same customers.
"That's been one of the beauties of this. We're not starting from scratch and not out pounding the pavement looking for customers," said R. Dru Laws, vice president of the Rotomolding Division.
Laws said Seljan is now a full-service company. Technicians can use the 3-D printer to whip out a few sample parts, then Seljan can do limited production of cast urethane parts and if the product takes off, can do full-scale rotomolding and injection molding.
The solar-panel sector is one example of the new full-service capability. Seljan's metal-fabrication business already makes outer frames for solar panels, and Seljan now will be injection molding ballast pads to replace former metal pads. Seljan will assemble the frames and pads, reducing costs for the customer, Scott Seljan said.
He said the company may even get into blow molding. "I would imagine that in time, this is a direction that I would want to go," he said.
When Seljan moved into the half-million-square-foot building a year ago, the company bought its sixth rotomolding machine, a Ferry RS-220, to minimize disruption while they moved the five machines from the old plant. Since then Seljan has purchased two more Ferrys. Seljan started production on the eighth and biggest one, a three-arm Ferry 3000, in early August.
August is proving to be a big month. Seljan will begin powder coating and injection molding. Management has installed energy-efficient lighting, and even added a fountain in front of the plant. The company is hiring to fill new jobs for injection molding and expanded rotomolding production.