Written by Donna Currie, American Recycler Magazine

Sweed Machinery got its start in the mid-1950s, founded by a pair of brothers who were in the sawmill business, according to Tyler Casebeer, the company’s chief executive officer. The brothers developed a piece of machinery for their own use in milling wood. That machine was so successful it wasn’t long before they started selling the machine to other companies.

Soon after they started manufacturing, they developed their first scrap chopper, which, because the wood and plywood industry is so robust in Oregon, was also targeted at the wood industry. That chopper was ideal for chopping the steel banding that was used to bundle wood. The new chopper made the long banding more manageable.

Now, the company has two different industries it manufactures for and sells to. They continue to sell to the wood industry, and they also sell to the recycling industry. “In 1985, we had a scrap chopper on every continent except Antarctica,” Casebeer said.

He explained that their choppers are different from others on the market since they are “linear scrap choppers” with a feed mechanism that pulls the material in so it can handle long lengths of material, from lightweight materials like steel or plastic banding, all the way up to heavy underground cable – and everything in between.

“It’s not just choppers,” Casebeer said, “but recycling systems” including granulators and separating equipment.

He said, “we’re all over the map” as far as customer industries, including tube and pipe manufacturers, the wood industry, steel manufacturing companies, wire processors, utility companies, wire manufacturers and the recycling industry.

Casebeer started working for the company in 1995 after he graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree. But it was also his experience in the plywood industry during college that gave him a leg up for getting hired.

“We’re pretty heavy in the wood industry in Oregon,” Casebeer explained, and he worked at plywood mills during college. He also had family members in the wood industry, so he was more than familiar with it.

While he worked in the plywood mills, he often used Sweed machines. That was his “in”, said Casebeer. Even though that was his way in, he said that “There’s a lot more to Sweed than the wood industry,” and right now “the majority of our business is the recycling industry.”

Casebeer worked his way up from engineer to engineering manager before he left Sweed for a two year stint at another company. He said that time away was beneficial to both him and Sweed because it gave him better perspective and “a broader sense of business,” while he still kept close ties with Sweed.

After the two years were up, he returned to Sweed in a management position, and then worked his way up to his present position as chief executive officer.

During his time with Sweed, Casebeer has witnessed the transition from being focused on the wood industry to being a larger player in the scrap industry. The company now manufactures choppers designed to handle everything from wire harnesses to power transmission cables and the machines can handle material that’s baled, loose, tangled, or fed off of reels.

One of the reasons the company started focusing more closely on the scrap industry was because of nature, in the guise of the spotted owl. That endangered owl slowed down the wood industry, and Sweed responded by increasing their presence in the recycling industry. Casebeer said that it was “a significant change for Sweed.”

There are 7 engineers working for Sweed out of 48 employees in total. “We’re an engineering-intense company,” Casebeer said, and one of the company’s strengths is “being light on our feet to design what our customers need.”

Casebeer said that they’re fortunate to have a great labor force and the ability to stay in front of changes in the industry and “staying true to what we’re good at.” Customers must agree, since a large portion of the company’s growth is through word-of-mouth referrals.

The basic machinery that Sweed builds is “a foundation that we work from” but they work with the customer’s constraints for the rest of the system, whether it’s the physical building housing the machinery or the existing equipment it has to function with. But “the foundation is tried and true equipment,” Casebeer said.

Looking forward, Casebeer said that he expects wire processing to become more prevalent in the U.S. rather than shipping the wire overseas for processing. Sweed is ready, with complete wire processing systems.

While Casebeer has hung up his engineering hat for the chief executive officer hat, “we’re small enough that I’m able to dabble in it,” he said. “I’m still right in it, rolling up my sleeves.” He works closely with customers and enjoys seeing how they use the products in their own facilities, which he says is an important part of understanding “the realities of what our customers need.”

The best part for him is what he called “that aha moment” when a customer that has an issue and Sweed comes up with the perfect solution. “Being able to affect the result for a customer in a positive way – that’s what gets me fired up,” he said.