Happy New Year! As we reached the end 2023, Darin Welter, President, Seal Methods Inc., sat for an interview to reflect on all the accomplishments of the last year and how he is looking forward to 2024, which is significant for SMI as they celebrate the 50th anniversary.
SMI has demonstrated their versatility and innovative solutions as they have elevated the business to an uncompromising level of performance. Their skill in developing and prototyping cutting-edge solutions, combined with unparalleled customer service, has set them apart in their field. SMI components can be found in some of the world’s most well-known automotive and electric vehicle brands.
Q: Looking forward to 2024, how will the growth and expansion you did help SMI deliver for your customers?
Darin: Our focus is always on our delivering for our customers. Our strategic plan allowed us to open new facilities in 2023 to increase capacity, work force availability and upgrade technologies, but most importantly so we could be closer to our customers to deliver faster and more efficiently.
Q: How do you see SMI continue to evolve in the electric battery sector?
Darin: The EV battery market is of course always evolving and it is moving very quickly. SMI is on the leading edge for technology, raw materials and application trends. In this fast a nimble market, our quick turnaround is what sets us apart.
Q: SMI supplies for many different markets. In the medical device market, how is SMI positioned in 2024 to meet the needs of customers?
Darin: In our 50-year history, we have been involved in almost every market from A to Z. Our large footprint continues to grow as we find new and additional opportunities. For the medical device market, we will continue to provide products that meet the needs of that exciting and ever changing and growing market. Much of this market is driven from the west coast, we are located in a great position to support it.
Another market that we are positioned well for in 2024 is the energy market with a deep knowledge and understanding of energy storage and alternative energy generation for solar. We have strong ties in the solar market for components used in assembly, racking, storage and many others.
Q: What is your position on raw material supply in 2024?
Darin: We are pleased to say that raw material availability is becoming more reliable and price increases have slowed down and we are leveraging our use of materials and utilizing multiple sources on materials whenever we can to hold off prices increases.
We’re also excited about the in-roads we’ve made with thermal management materials, extreme hi-temp materials for fire blocking and thermal runaway. We have new opportunities in those areas that will be very helpful to our offerings in 2024.
Q: What are the trends in battery storage that you’re preparing SMI for?
Darin: As battery storage is becoming a bigger market with larger batteries and more demand on affordability, we are looking for higher performance materials that can be produced at a lower cost and be available at a reduced lead time. We used to see materials that were more exotic and not as mainstream become more standard.
The other aspect of this growth is charging station. With more EVs, there is more need for charging stations which are a big part the infrastructure growth we’ll support in the EV market. We see SMI playing a critical part of that growth. Charging station require many components that require sealing the enclosures from weather and environmental issues. There are many materials that go into the electrical side for insulation and shielding.
Q: What role does SMI play in controlling the cost of materials?
Darin: We are able to take advantage of bulk buying where we might buy multiple of materials from one raw material manufacturer. So with our diversity we can combine our purchasing power and since we work with several providers we can navigate these supply bases and make sure we can utilize the best products at the best prices.
Q: Let’s talk about the growth of SMI’s team. What are you looking for in terms of new hires that will complete your team and help deliver for your customers?
Darin: This is another area that we are excited about for 2024.
We have an opportunity to continue to grow with our facilities and have additional local technical sales people who are closer to our customer bases in Mid-West. With our growing manufacturing locations, it makes us more competitive and more attractive to customers knowing they are buying from a local manufacturer. Having a technical sales team that is locally based and closer to them is going to be a big asset to us as we look to 2024 and beyond.
Q: How is SMI looking at the employee market base, are there any concerns?
Darin: One of our key assets over these 50 years is our employees and it will continue to be that as we go forward and plan our growth. We are at a point where we need to grow and keep pace with our new customer base. We are seeing more employee options, not the scarcity that we have faced in the past. And there is less turnover than we faced during COVID as our industry faced challenges. But now we have a stronger relationship between fabrication and plant, employees and the company. So, we can invest in employees and train them to do specific jobs and we see an employee retention that makes us stronger than the last few years
Q: For a new hires, what skills are you looking for to have to be successful?
Darin: As we talked about, our employees are our biggest asset, so we are looking for people who want to be a part the team we have built, who want to grow with us in the company. We have had a lot promotions in different departments who are moving into management and leadership positions. At SMI, we believe it’s important to hire great people, train them, bring them up and promote them within the company. We want our employees to know they can grow and advance, climb the ladder and be part of our success for many years.
Q: As you celebrate the 50th anniversary of SMI, what are some of the achievements you want to highlight?
Darin: We are proud of what we’ve accomplished the last 50 years and we look forward to continue the legacy we’ve built. We have a 50-year legacy of a family business and we e have the opportunity to continue that growth and work with our long-standing customers while we find new opportunities and customers. Without our customers, nothing else follows. We also want to celebrate our team. Many of our team members have been here since our 25th anniversary and are here to celebrate our 50th anniversary. And we want to make the most of going to work every day, have some fun and make Seal Methods the best it can be.