Whopping cranes

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:45 pm


Superior Crane Corp.’s overhead cranes are becoming fixtures inside manufacturing plants throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

The Waukesha-based company has built cranes that have been installed in factories such as Waukesha Engine, Cooper Power Systems Inc., Waukesha Electric Systems Inc., Super Steel Products Corp., and others, in addition to We Energies’ new Oak Creek electric generation plant.

Superior Crane currently is working on projects for Germantown Iron & Steel Corp. in Richfield, Cain Industries Inc. in Germantown and Ladish Co. Inc. in Cudahy.

Superior’s cranes come into two main styles – monorail systems and bridge cranes, made in single- and double-girder styles, said Andy Sharp, president of the company.

Monorail cranes are generally used to lift lighter loads that only need to be moved in one direction, Sharp said.

“When you have an enclosed space and a direct run, a monorail system will meet the criteria,” he said. “And it’s more cost-effective. And monorail systems are generally lighter capacity.”

Monorail cranes can lift loads of up to 10 tons, Sharp said.

Bridge cranes, which are able to move products in three planes of direction, make sense when customers want to lift heavier loads and move them in multiple directions. Single-girder cranes are able to lift up to 15 tons, while double-girder models can take much heavier loads, Sharp said.

There are no standard designs for Superior’s cranes, Sharp said. When the company receives an order, its engineers and designers review the customer’s load requirements and facility to determine the style of crane that is most appropriate. Engineers then design a custom crane for each customer.

Almost all of the motors and lift hoists used in Superior’s cranes are built by two suppliers – Yale Lift Tech in Muskegon, Mich., and R&M Materials Handling of Springfield, Ohio. Superior then incorporates those lifts into its monorail and bridge cranes.

“We use standard components in custom designs to meet our customers’ requirements,” Sharp said.

Superior Crane also has a substantial machine shop, which it uses to create custom parts and occasionally develop custom hoists for larger cranes.

The company employs its own installation team that travels to customers during the installation process, Sharp said.

“About 80 percent of the cranes we sell we’ll install ourselves,” he said. “The other 20 percent of the time, it’s a combination of the customer doing it themselves with no supervision or them doing the job with some of our guys helping them. We might also send a service tech to be sure they did the job right.”

The company has evolved from a hoist distributor formed in 1951. By 1984, the company had started manufacturing cranes and components, and it became Superior Crane Corp. in 1991.

Sharp and two partners purchased the company in 1995. The company moved into its 80,000-square-foot facility in Waukesha from Milwaukee in 1998 because it had difficulty finding a building that suited its needs in its price range, Sharp said.

Superior Crane has about 60 employees, now, most of them working first shift. The company runs a skeleton second-shift crew. Employment at Superior Crane is now at its highest level in recent years.

Orders have increased about 20 percent annually in the past three years, and revenues have increased at about the same pace, Sharp said.

“The demand for our product is high,” he said. “We see a lot of projects still being requested by our end users. We’re booked very comfortably through December of this year. We have a healthy six month backlog.”

The company does not have room for expansion in Waukesha, but it has a plan to keep up with increased orders without expanding its square footage, Sharp said.

“We’ll be adding more personnel,” he said. “It’s manpower and shifts. We can add more people on second shift and even a third shift if we need to. The key is the amount of time the product spends on the floor.”

Sharp predicts Superior Crane will hire at least two to three fabricators by the end of the year.

“We’re constantly looking for fabricators and welders,” he said. “It’s fairly difficult to find good, qualified steel fabricators.”

Superior Crane’s primary sales market is in the Midwest. Sales are strongest in Wisconsin, but sales in Chicago and Minneapolis also are robust.


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