The crane industry has its roots firmly entrenched in American history and it is about as old as the Industrial Revolution itself. As man began to build bigger machines and components to work in those machines, industries needed more than mere horsepower to hoist and move inventory and a whole new industry was born, sometime around the 1880s.
Nearly a century and one-quarter later, the market in this industry has matured. “By ‘matured’ I mean that the pie in the overall market is more or less shrinking,” says Bill Kenton, sales manager of Zenar Corporation of Oak Creek, Wis. In spite of that, Zenar continues to enjoy a healthy slice of that pie. “That’s because we have a highly competitive product which happens to be a very good value.”
Not Just Assembled
Zenar is a leading manufacturer of custom-engineered, high-performance crane solutions designed for the materials-handling industry. Zenar’s distinction among other crane manufacturers is its dedication to its position as an original equipment manufacturer. “We manufacture the mechanical and structural side of our products exclusively in-house,” explains Kenton. “We make our own gearing and drums, and we do all our own steel welding and all our own engineering. We manufacture an engineered product rather than an assembled one. In this way, we are better able to support our customers, who have specific design requirements.”
Zenar was founded by two young entrepreneurs in 1972. John Maiwald, current president, and Brad McKendry, current vice president, began their business as a crane service company, which quickly evolved into a manufacturing and engineering company selling within the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
The company designs, engineers and manufactures electric overhead traveling bridge cranes, gantry, monorail and jib cranes. Zenar cranes work in diverse industry applications, including steel mills, minimills, steel service centers, aluminum service centers, aluminum mills, paper mills, second-tier automotive shops, tool and die shops, and general machine shops. “Our cranes can do a range of things, from coil handling and paper-roll handling, to applications involving ladle cranes and scrap cranes,” says Kenton.
“There aren’t as many companies manufacturing all of the components like we do anymore. Others are subcontracting their work. They are buying end trucks and trolley hoist units, for example, and then they assemble the parts and pieces as opposed to manufacturing them,” continues Kenton. This could mean that quality control and design advantages are sometimes compromised.
“When you talk about quality control and ISO 9000, where they check every 10th or 50th or even 100th piece, we are actually checking every piece for tolerances as it comes off our machines,” says Kenton. “That is unique to today’s manufacturing environment.”
The active involvement of each Zenar foreman in each shop department accounts for the superior quality of Zenar products. “The foremen in the machine shop, assembly bay, manufacturing and welding bays — they all participate in the review and checking of every product as it hits various stages of production,” explains Kenton. “For example, in our machine shop, every gear, pinion, shaft and everything coming off our tooling machines — each piece is individually checked for quality.”
Testing for Precision
Zenar fully assembles and tests each product before it is shipped. “Trolley hoists are put on the bridges and girders and power is put to the crane right here in our shop,” says Kenton. After products pass rigid testing, they are broken down to be shipped. All of the pieces are match-marked to assure precise re-assembly at the customer’s facility. Zenar craftsmen have already put bolts through all of the connection points, ensuring that when the customer receives the crane, it is square and the bolts and connection points all fit precisely.
“So when our customers put together our products, it is not the first time the machine is put together. With some of our competitors’ products, parts are coming from various locations and their products are assembled for the first time at the customers’ location.” This can lead to delays in start-ups and can lead to other unforeseen challenges. “For a customer looking for a weekend installation or a shutdown installation, it’s very important that the number of surprises is minimized,” says Kenton. “The best way to do that is to test the crane completely assembled in our shop.”
Committed to providing its customers superior products engineered for precision and performance, Zenar cranes are AC- or DC-powered and range in capacities from 5 to 250 tons. Performance ratings range from Crane Manufacturers Association (CMAA) Class A through Class F applications, to highly demanding AISE steel mill needs.
Zenar engineers use the latest state-of-the-art CAD systems to achieve the precision that is Zenar’s bedrock reputation. The company’s 200 dedicated shop craftsmen work with the most advanced high-tech CNC, milling, horizontal boring and lathe equipment in Zenar’s 120,000 square feet of facilities just outside of Milwaukee.
Help from the First
“The equipment in our facility is worth millions of dollars, and you won’t find that in many other facilities,” says Kenton. “That allows us to control the quality of the product from start to finish. It also allows us to support our customers’ needs relative to our cranes as well as other manufacturers’ cranes, because we have the capability to make parts for a variety of crane manufacturers.”
Zenar sales engineers work closely with customers from the first inquiry. “We get involved in design concepts at the front end of the project, to find solutions perfectly matched to the customer’s needs,” says Kenton. “You are dealing with customers that have processes that might be affected by the crane capacity or by the crane speed. They might be asking how many coils they can run through a machine, how many cranes they need for a particular application or what speed of crane they need in order to process ‘x’ number of tons of steel an hour.”
Zenar also manufactures automated cranes for slab handling, tube handling, coil handling and scrap handling applications. “Our capabilities in these areas set us apart from other crane suppliers,” says Kenton. Zenar is currently working with a tubing company, helping them automate a process to increase their quality control and guarantee a more uniform process.
“Part of their process runs tubes through a series of tanks, including a rinsing cycle and a coating cycle for various coating applications,” explains Kenton. “They had some challenges relating to the operator controlling the length of time the tube stock would be in a tank at any one of six stations.” By automating the process, the tubes were properly cleaned before passing on to the coating tanks. Automation offered a more consistent coating for the customer’s product. “The primary focus for automation in this situation was not speed, but consistency.”
Unique, Double-edged Sword
Zenar’s dedication to customer commitment is again evident in the choices it offers its customers needing spare parts. Although everything mechanical is manufactured in-house for Zenar products, electrical devices such as controls, motors, relays, contactors and so on are purchased from readily available U.S. vendors. “That’s kind of a double-edged sword,” says Kenton. “Certainly it offers a great advantage to our customer base, because they are not dependent upon Zenar for their electrical spare parts. But you do subject yourself to a loss of some of those orders. But that is the unique approach Zenar took when it started in this business.”
Customers purchasing products from some of Zenar’s competitors have to go back to that crane company to buy any of these electrical devices. “Many of these companies would not share information in terms of what they were supplying because they wanted to keep everything proprietary,” says Kenton.
Zenar personnel are involved in a number of professional affiliations, including the CMAA, the American Gear Manufacturers Association and the Material Handling Institute of America. “Our manager of our engineering department is currently the sitting chair for the engineering committee of the CMAA,” says Kenton.
In this respect, the company is committed to the continued advancement of the industry as a whole. “We hope to continue to position ourselves in a very visible role in this industry,” concludes Kenton.