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SEM celebrates 50 years of success

September 12, 2017
Leonard Rosen, co-founder of Security Engineered Machinery.

Westborough-based Security Engineered Machinery, a manufacturer of data-destroying devices, is celebrating 50 years of protecting corporate and government data by adapting to meet the demands of its clients. The company was founded by Korean War Veterans Leonard Rosen and Richard Ross. Rosen sat down to answer questions from the WBJ about the company's ability to stay relevant in a highly-sensitive industry that works closely with the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

Describe what the company does and who it serves.

SEM is a manufacturer of information destruction equipment and systems. For several decades, our customers have primarily been Federal Government Agencies, the US Military, The Federal Reserve and US Embassies. About 10 years ago we began to see private industry coming to us looking for ways to protect sensitive data and limit potential liabilities due to unintended release of data on any media, but primarily electronic storage such as hard drives, computer tape, etc. Today, much of our business comes from large data centers and financial institutions.

What was the original paper disintegrator like and how have products evolved since then?

The original paper disintegrator is not all that different from the machines we sell today. It was smaller and didn't have the sophisticated control options that we now offer, but it functioned the same way. It had a solid steel rotor with three knives mounted to it. The rotor spun at high speed (about 600 RPM) and as it did, the rotor knives passed two stationary knives to create a continuous shearing action that repeatedly cut the paper until it was small enough to pass through a waste sizing screen. Over the years the design was improved to increase throughput and create even smaller particles. After a few years, we realized that we needed to address other media such as microfilm, key tape and eventually computer tapes and platters.

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With how many government agencies does SEM work? Which ones?

We typically work with all government agencies and we have a strong connection to the intelligence community. As you can imagine our government contacts don't like us discussing the specifics of who they are and what they do. However, I can tell you that many of our most loyal and long-term customers have familiar three-letter acronyms that most people would recognize.

How has the company evolved over the years to stay relevant for 50 years?

I think the key to our success has been our ability to foresee trends and develop solutions quickly. When the NSA declared the standard particle size for Top Secret paper destruction could be no larger than 1mm x 5mm we already had two machines that met the spec and had been selling them for almost a year.

Data storage has quickly become technical. What products did SEM begin to make that met that demand?

We recognized early on that data storage would move beyond paper so early in the 1980's we introduced our first magnetic media degausser to erase computer hard drives and tapes. Today newer computers utilize solid state media which is unaffected by a degausser's magnetic field. To meet this new security need we introduced a full line of devices to crush, shred and even disintegrate solid state media down to a particle size of less than 0.5mm2. And it's not just computers that store sensitive data; we offer solutions that destroy smart phones, memory chips, flash drives, camera cards and more.

How has automation played a role in the company's growth?

We've invested heavily in automated design and manufacturing systems. In the past five years, we have significantly expanding our manufacturing capabilities at our Westborough headquarters and brought on a staff trained machinists. It has allowed us to improve product quality and significantly reduce lead times. And because of our manufacturing capabilities we can modify and customize equipment to meet just about any specific application requirement.

Manufacturing executives often tell us about a shortage of workers. What is SEM seeing in terms of workforce levels?

We've been fortunate to have high worker retention rates. When I look around at our staff it's not uncommon to see three, four or 20-year employees working together on a project. But, we never want to be complacent so we are constantly working with local engineering schools to bring in new talent as interns who often become full-time employees.

This interview was conducted and edited for clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Zachary Comeau.