A Visit to SECO

SECO Manufacturing, one of the leading surveying equipment manufacturers in the United States, is located in the northern California town of Redding. Home to 80,000 inhabitants, Redding lies in the shadow of the dormant Mt. Shasta volcano, and close to Shasta Lake, a giant reservoir that provides water for the most productive agricultural valley in the world, California's Central Valley. The Sacramento River, host to some of the best fly fishing in the world, runs right through the center of town. Abundant resources for hunting, skiing, and water sports make the Redding area a veritable sporting paradise.

Besides the exquisite surroundings, the origins of the company made Redding a natural choice. SECO, which stands for Surveying Equipment Company, has a rich family heritage. The company was started in 1945 when Ivan Ogden founded Ogden Surveying Equipment Company (OSECO) in Sacramento. Ivan's wife, Viola, still owns and operates the company. In 1965, son Paul Ogden ventured to far Northern California and opened a retail store in Redding called Surveying Equipment Company (SECO). Mike Dahl joined Ogden in 1975 and soon they were operating retail stores in Medford and Bend, Oregon along with another branch in Boise, Idaho.


Met the Needs of an Emerging Market
This was also the time when top mounted electronic distance measuring instruments were introduced to the market such as the K&E Auto Ranger, Sokkisha Red-1, and Beetle 500. SECO met the needs of an emerging market by manufacturing yoke mounts to attach the instruments to theodolite and transit standards. Soon SECO was making other accessories for the growing EDM market and the focus of the company moved toward manufacturing and distributing to retail dealers and OEMs. In the early 1980's the retail stores were either closed or sold. Soon thereafter, sons Mark and Mike joined the company that now manufactures and distributes to a worldwide dealer network from their 75,000 square foot facility and headquarters in Redding.
Today, SECO has taken the necessary steps to compete in a global marketplace. This includes not only the documentation of policies and procedures to qualify for ISO 9000 certification, but also the establishment of offshore manufacturing facilities. Due to increased competition from Asia and falling prices for common accessory items, SECO was forced to take the manufacturing of some items offshore. Instrument tripods and levels are manufactured in China where they also have a sales office. Another large part of the company's business is in equipment bags, and to provide increased capacity to meet market demand, SECO established a Mexican corporation known as a maquiladora in Tecate, Mexico for assembly and sewing.
Maquiladoras operate under special rules adopted as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As part of the agreement, the 50 SECO employees in Mexico assemble soft goods using American-made materials bought in the US.

In preparation to compete globally, SECO implemented a wide range of state-of-the-art processes, including automated design software that interacts directly with the machine tools. Sophisticated software called "Made To Manage," which is a Material Requirement Planning implementation, combines all aspects of the company such as payroll, shipping and inventory. SECO has built a variety of computerized machine tools and exotic one-of-a-kind machines for specialized tasks.

From Napkin-Sketches to Finished Products
Design engineers are involved from the very start. An idea begins with the traditional napkin-sketch. From there the idea is transferred to SolidWorks, a 3D mechanical design automation package. SECO has found that one of the biggest benefits in using 3D software for design lies in what they call "model fit." (Prior to automated design, a paper drawing was made, a prototype manufactured, and not until then did it become evident as to whether any of the parts conflicted with each other.) With the software, a simulation is checked before the prototype is made. Once a design is approved, a button push sends it to the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines. The benefit to the client is that prototypes can be prepared faster. Another benefit of the automated manufacturing process is repeatability, because long after production is finished on a particular item, the digital files can be easily called up and production restarted. Previously, this was difficult because the machine tools had to be laboriously reconfigured every time the line was changed. Bar codes are used extensively throughout the operation to aid in tracking and inventory.

SECO is fortunate to have on staff Mike Copeland, who has a 25-year background in the industry, including optical and electronic instrument repair and retail sales. Mike is head of research and development and has come up with all kinds of unique solutions to problems that started as a request from someone in the field. He has a real feel for not only what surveyors do and need, but also how something can be manufactured to solve the problem and to last a long time. I was shown an open clamp bipod that was failing prematurely. Based on feedback from the field, a slight modification to the part solved the problem. Design miniaturization efforts have resulted in equipment that weighs less and is easier to carry.

Most Processes Are Handled In-House
SECO manufactures a wide-range of OEM products. The lineup is a who's-who of the industry. Most aspects of the manufacturing process are handled in-house, with the exceptions of laser cutting and plating. In-house processes include metal machining, anodizing, powder-painting, and silk-screening. The Redding operation still runs 16 sewing machines for part of the bag making. The process in the powder painting facility is fascinating to watch. Pieces to be painted are given a negative electrical charge. The powder comes out of a spray gun with a positive charge. Afterward, the pieces are loaded into an oven where the paint is baked on for a long-lasting, durable finish. There is little scrap in the processes. Marketing Assistant Duane Langshaw, with nearly 25 years in the GPS industry and formerly with OmniSTAR, explained that an absence of scrap is evidence of high manufacturing quality.

On their website, www.surveying.com, SECO plans to implement an on-line ordering system for its 1,500 dealers. Dealers will be able to place an order, check its status, and release orders online. The company has three, seasoned field representatives that join dealers in open house promotions, trade shows, training, and even provide graphic support for dealer web pages, catalogs, brochures or promotional flyers. Vice President Mike Dahl says, "E-commerce is the future. Electronic technology will allow us to serve our dealers more rapidly and efficiently in a demanding global economy." He also added, "Our relationship with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) customers has been very beneficial. They are very critical and demanding in quality standards and precise specifications. Working with OEM accounts has brought us to a higher level in applying quality standards to our own product line. We believe we are tops in GPS accessories, and accessories that make other products work more effectively."
SECO exhibits world-class principles and processes essential in today's market. Many of our readers have used SECO products, especially OEM products which comprise over half the company's business, without even knowing it. Surely it must be gratifying to work for a company where dreams and ideas are translated into products that make other people's jobs easier and more productive.

About the Author

  • Marc Cheves, LS
    Marc Cheves was a former editor of the magazine.

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