Adapted from an article in BOSS Magazine.
Zenar Corporation is where you go when a cookie cutter crane just won’t do.
Businesses starting in garages is a well-known storyline to many of the most successful organizations we have today. Zenar Corporation follows in the footsteps of some of these great brands.
John A. Maiwald and Brad McKendry founded the crane company in 1972 in a small garage, providing service and rebuilding other manufacturers’ cranes and parts. Maiwald came from another Milwaukee-based crane manufacturer, giving him the background to understand the industry, including crane design.
He soon started designing his own gearboxes, drums, and eventually, complete cranes. The founders took a chance, bought some property, and built a small manufacturing shop and started to slowly fill it with auction bought machines. The company hasn’t slowed down since, nor has it changed its family-friendly culture.
“We are a small, family-owned business in its third generation of owners, going from John A., to John K. to, John C. with a fourth generation John G. just being born two and a half years ago. We are completely American made, utilizing American-made raw materials that are manufactured into crane-specific parts exclusively here at Zenar,” shared Tom Kujath, VP of Sales.
The company designs, engineers, and manufactures electric overhead traveling bridge cranes, as well as gantry, monorail, and jib cranes. Zenar cranes work in diverse industry applications from steel mills, mini-mills and steel service centers, to aluminum service centers, aluminum mills, paper mills, second-tier automotive shops, tool and die shops, and general machine shops. And that’s only the beginning.
State of the Industry
Zenar Corporation, like many others in the industry, is experiencing an uptick in business. There are several factors that lead to changes in the market, but one in particular stands out to Kujath.
“Deregulation is definitely pushing the ‘American-made’ narrative,” he said. “As you bring jobs back to heavy industry, more American businesses are taking pride in ownership. Inviting businesses back to the U.S. is having a trickle down effect.”
A big portion of Zenar Corporation’s business comes from the steel industry. The company is involved both with customers who make steel out of molten metal, and those who process the metal further.
“As everyone else is succeeding and business is booming, we’re seeing improvements in our business. People are not just repairing old cranes, but replacing them completely. People are just, in general, feeling more positive about the economy.”
Custom Fit For Customers
From John A. to John C., the family legacy at Zenar Corporation is not mass-produced cranes. Each and every overhead crane is built customer and industry specific.
“We choose to concentrate on highly engineered overhead cranes because the cookie cutter crane ‘assemblers’ are a dime a dozen,” said Kujath. “A fair amount of our existing customers know that a cookie cutter crane manufacturer has a catalogue. But if they cannot supply what you need, that is when an engineered product like Zenars comes into play.”
Just like Ferraris are handmade, so are Zenar cranes. Once the crane is engineered, parts are cut from raw material in Zenar’s facility. Every single piece and part is made specifically for a new project—nothing is premade. The original owner saw a need for offering customized solutions, and delivered.
“What people do not realize is that a manufactured crane might have a range, but you’re limited in what you can get,” he explained. “Many times our customers need a specific amount of lift, speed, and function and that is where Zenar comes in. We specialize in the highly engineered overhead crane that fits our customer like a tailor made suit.
“Even if the crane is not for a special application, we design and build it from start to finish.”
Kujath shared that about ninety percent of the company’s business is in the steel industry. And in all industries, but particularly steel, time is money.
“Most of our customers have these expensive cranes that are the heart of the steel mill. If it goes down, the customer could be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.”
“Zenar cranes are built to last. And if the customer is down and in a pinch, we can provide them with a drawing that they can take to a local machine shop.”
Custom Work: Fully Automated Crane
One of the company’s latest projects is also one of its most innovative. Nucor Steel in Ghent, Kentucky has purchased a fully automated crane for handling coils at its mill.
“A railroad car brings coils into the bay. The crane will scan the cars, and has an algorithm that knows where each type of coil goes to be stored. Once an order comes in, the crane will find the coil, retrieve it, and load it automatically,” Kujath shared.
Zenar Corporation is in charge of engineering and building the crane, and the company’s partner in this endeavor, Janus Automation, is building the automated system.
The Rodeo Crane Processor (RCP) integrates information from a series of sensors such as laser scanners, weighing and vision systems, and instrumentation aboard the coil grabber. The RCP will then process the collected information and send all commands to the crane computer to drive the crane, pickup, and deposit coils.
The full system is based on a Safety PLC which not only controls the crane movement but also handles all ground safety with danger zones access control and interfacing with the train and the process lines. Both companies know that safety is the top priority of any automatic crane project.
“It will run itself, though there is a mode to take it over via radio control. The crane will also be fenced off, and employees will need a boarding pass to get inside.”
Finally, an Intelligent Warehouse Management System is implemented to handle all coil transport orders and optimize space storage. Janus Automation’s Rodeo WMS handles all requests from the PGL line, tracks all coils in the yard, and optimizes storage allocation based on rules and production schedules using genetic algorithms.
Zenar Corporation’s combination of family feel, quality offerings, and innovative technology make the company one of the leaders in its industry. Here at BOSS, we can’t wait to see how the RC1 works, and when more companies will pick up the trend in the future.