Steve and Tom Seccombe see their company as part of a resurgence in American manufacturing.
From the outside, the building near the southeast corner of Whipple Avenue and Applegrove Street NW appears to be home to business offices.
But inside are the sounds of manufacturing. Robots move pieces in and out of machines. Grinders smooth cast iron surfaces. Cranes move one ton steel bars set to become railroad car axles. Ovens bake blocks of urethane.
Seco Machine moved into a suite in the Commerce Centre building at 7376 Whipple Ave. NW in 2010 and since then has expanded into neighboring suites. The company is using 68,000 square feet, and brothers Steve and Tom Seccombe are hoping to add more space.
As the brothers see it, their company is part of a resurgence in American manufacturing. One factor in manufacturing’s comeback is drilling for oil and natural gas in shale formations around the country, including the Utica Shale in eastern Ohio.
Seco grinds and assembles parts for railcar trucks, which are the wheel assemblies that box cars and tankers sit upon as they roll down the tracks.
Railroad companies are seeing increased business from oil and gas producers, as well as other industries. That’s leading to increased demand for railcars and parts.
Richard Seccombe, father of Steve and Tom, started Seco Machine in 1985. The company got its start machining and assembling railcar bearing units for Timken Co. Seco’s business expanded to include some of Timken’s competitors and other product lines.
The company started in Canton, but relocated to Green in 1995. In 2010, the Seccombe brothers sold the building and moved to the Jackson Township location.
Steve and Thomas began working for their father when they were teenagers. “We were cheap labor,” the brothers joked. They took over the operation during the 1990s as Richard moved into retirement.
The Great Recession and changes within the railroad industry combined to shrink Seco Machine’s operations. During a six month stretch in 2009 customers cancelled dozens of orders. The company had only six employees by 2010 when it relocated.
Seco Machine made another move in 2010 by merging with A. Stucki Co., a Pittsburgh company that makes engineered products for railroad cars and other industries. Seco had provided parts and services for A. Stucki and that relationship led to the merger.
“They had a lot to bring to us and we had a lot to bring to them,” Steve Seccombe said.
Combining operations improved the competitive advantage for both companies. A. Stucki also is in a position to provide additional support for Seco Machine, Steve Seccombe said.
Since 2010, Seco Machine has seen business improve. The company has added production in its steel and iron machining business and launched a urethane division.
The majority of Seco’s products are for the railroad industry, which has been growing worldwide. “It came back with a vengeance,” Tom Seccombe said.
Seco already carried certifications from the American Association of Railroads to produce a variety of rail car parts. When demand for jumped for railcars, Seco and other A. Stucki business units already were in a position to take on the additional work.
The machining side of Seco’s business has added three units that grind axles. The investment in equipment was just under $2 million, Tom Seccombe said. The machines run daily, with four shifts handling production. Seco hired 20 employees to keep up with the new production.
Seco began molding urethane parts — used on railcar bearings and other assemblies — in June 2013. The company now molds more than 300 parts and has started supplying pieces to outside customers.
The operation started as a way to reduce lead time and costs for urethane piece molded by a supplier. Bringing the production in house helped Seco meet customer demand. It also added another 20 employees to Seco’s workforce.
Creating jobs is exciting for the company, Steve Seccombe said. The brothers take pride in doing their part to help the local tax base. Seco has worked with area colleges and high schools, and lately has worked with employment agencies, to find qualified employees.
Based on industry statistics, the Seccombe brothers expect demand for railcars will continue growing another five years before leveling off. Railcar demand has increased worldwide, and Seco has connections to supply international customers, Tom Seccombe said.
Although the railcar business should remain strong, the company hopes to be begin diversifying its products and services into other markets. Seco Machine doesn’t want to be 100-percent rail, Tom Seccombe said.
The brothers are optimistic that more manufacturing will continue to grow, noting that more companies are “reshoring” production in the United States.
Low interest rates and the improved value of the dollar, compared with other currencies, are reasons manufacturing is returning, they said. Customers also want products faster and the cost to ship products back to the United States has become prohibitive. It has become more cost effective to pay a slightly higher price for a product, while getting it faster and avoiding shipping fees.
A. Stucki Co.
Seco Machine merged with A. Stucki Co. in 2010.The company dates to its founding by Arnold Stucki in 1911 as a maker of railcar dynamic control products.Earlier this year A. Stucki organized Seco with other subsidiaries — Alco Spring Industries and Hallman Foundry — to form an industrial division.A. Stucki business units in addition to Seco Machine:• Alco Spring Industries in Chicago Heights, Illinois, makes wound coiled springs.• American Industries provides railcar reconditioned components. Facilities are in Sharon, Pennsyvania; Jerseyville, Illinois; Indepndence, Missouri; Roanoke, Virginia; and Cleveland, Texas.• DiMec Rail Services in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, specialized welding, fabrication and engineering.• Hallman Foundry in Sanford, North Carolina, makes iron castings.• Hill Railroad Car Co. in New Castle, Pennsylvania, repairs, rebuilds and reuses railcars.• Independent Draft Gear in Farrell, Pennsylvania, reconditions and stocks a variety of draft gears.• Precision Roller Bearing in Elizabet town, Kentucky, reconditions bearings for freight cars, locomotives and other transit equipment.