DELANO, Minn.—Sil-Pro L.L.C. has purchased a facility adjacent to its current manufacturing plant to house an expanded tooling department that also will free space for additional operations at its original factory.
The Delano-based firm invested about $4 million to buy and renovate a 55,000-sq.-ft. building across the street from its 25,000-sq.-ft. facility, according to Sil-Pro President Kevin Carver.
The maker of silicone and thermoplastic molded and extruded goods moved its tooling department into a 15,000-sq.-ft. area of the new site, he said. That allowed Sil-Pro to use some of the 5,000 square feet of space the tool-making operations took up at the original plant as part of the firm's existing Class 10,000 clean room molding facility.
In addition, the medical goods firm converted an area in the current plant into a research and development laboratory outside of the clean room space to develop engineering samples that don't need to be produced in clean room conditions, Carver said. The automation group also was moved from the mezzanine level of the plant down to the main floor in part of the space the tool shop previously used.
“This expansion provides us with the strategic capability of expanding our full-service medical device contract manufacturing and to develop a dedicated R&D department for proving out new designs, processes and expediting prototypes,” Carver said.
Out of space
The firm's president said Sil-Pro basically was “busting out of the seams” at its existing location. It wanted to buy a new five-axis Hermle machine center to help make molds for its silicone and thermoplastic parts.
“Purchase of that new piece of equipment kind of drove us into realizing we were out of space here,” he said. “We weren't going to be able to get it into the building.”
So Sil-Pro began to look for new space. The building across the street “wasn't really for sale,” but Carver said they worked out a deal with the owner and acquired it.
As part of the agreement, the owner will lease about half of the building for three years. The construction company that did the renovation work also will rent about 8,000 to 10,000 square feet.
“We have some room left over to grow into if we need to, then three years from now we have options with one of the tenants who may move out,” he said.
Sil-Pro designs and makes virtually all of its own tooling, which Carver said gives it control over both speed and quality.
“Silicone tooling requires near-perfection parting lines to reduce flash,” he said. “So having control over that in-house leads to easier manufacturing downstream. We pretty much have to live with that tool forever, typically the life of the product. Having it done right to begin with is a big plus.”
Business continues to grow at double-digit percentage rates for Sil-Pro, founded in 1999. Carver didn't reveal sales. The firm employs about 135, a number he said will increase as sales continue to grow.
It boasts about 35 presses, having added a couple of vertical rotary injection presses in the last year, he said, giving it ample capacity to grow into.
While all production is done in the clean room area, having a new R&D area outside that environment will be a benefit for customers that just want samples to ensure the components fit a particular application. Carver said Sil-Pro will be able to provide those prototypes quicker and cheaper.
“This allows us to bypass some of the systems and paperwork that you have to have when a product goes into the clean room,” he said.
Though silicone goods still account for most of Sil-Pro's revenue, its thermoplastic business—started in 2010—is starting to grow.
“It was slow going early on, like anything new,” he said. “Most of our customers think of us as a silicone molder. It's taken folks a little while to get used to us offering thermoplastics as well as the silicone injection molding capability.”
Carver said Sil-Pro is starting to see a lot more opportunities in the area, much of it through current customers that need components allied to silicone parts.
“A lot of the silicone parts that we make are housed in a thermoplastic housing,” he said. “Quite a bit of our tooling backlog right now is thermoplastic tooling. That's a sign of things to come for production parts.”
Sil-Pro, however, isn't aiming just to mold those plastic parts, but also do the assembly and other value-added steps. It also recently started doing design work for final devices.
“We're trying to get a bigger piece of that whole value stream,” Carver said, “from design all the way through to molding and assembly, sending it out for sterilization, labeling, packaging and potentially delivering our customer a final device.”