Adapted from an article in Industrial Machinery Digest.
Meet the family-owned overhead crane manufacturer that got its start in the founder’s garage, and today stands as one of the few remaining all-American crane builders. Each crane, from gearboxes to cabs, is engineered and built in the same Oak Creek, Wisconsin facility. While many other manufacturers have benefitted from widespread outsourcing, Zenar Corporation still thrives on keeping the entire operation all under one roof.
What Makes a Zenar Crane ‘American-Made’?
Most of the heavy machinery bought and sold today is assembled in America, not truly made in the way that most Americans envision the concept. In the overhead crane industry alone, a majority of all cranes are assembled in the states from parts fabricated or bought all over the world, despite officially touting the FTC’s “Made in America” label. Zenar’s cranes are a rare exception to that trend. All of the overhead cranes produced by Zenar Corporation are built in their Oak Creek, Wisconsin facility from beginning to end.
When the custom overhead crane manufacturer first opened for business out of a garage in 1972, the original founders never thought their operation would grow into the major crane authority it is today. They had a unique passion for pursuing unparalleled precision in both design and fabrication — and their tenacity paid off. Decades later, the founders’ children and grandchildren are still at the helm of Zenar Corporation, where truly American manufacturing is both a family tradition and a competitive advantage.
Today, no visitor to the 120,000 square foot facility would guess Zenar Corporation’s humble beginnings. With the dedication of a large team of expert craftsman, Zenar designs and builds some of the most advanced overhead material handling systems in the nation. Holding true to their roots, the Zenar team still controls the entire crane build process, just like they’ve done since the 1970s. This unique ability to monitor the quality control of each part is what allows Zenar’s final product to outstrip the competition – both in performance and longevity.
Not only does the founding family have extensive experience in designing and fabricating overhead cranes, so does the entire Zenar team. Employee turnover is low at Zenar, and most of the employees welding and fabricating crane parts have been at the company for a long time. Each employee not only knows their craft, they know cranes, and it’s difficult for competitors to reproduce what dozens of crane experts at every level can do.
That’s the bottom line for why Zenar continues to fabricate their own cranes and crane parts from start to finish. Their team’s attention to detail, quality control, and unmatched expertise simply can’t be outsourced.
How Zenar Builds Cranes the American Way
When Zenar sets out to build a crane from start to finish, they mean ‘start to finish.’ The first stage in a crane build begins with a custom design developed by Zenar’s engineers or the customers specifications. Beyond supplying travel speed and payload requirements, customers can rely entirely on Zenar Corporation’s engineering expertise, though a few of the many customers actually come to the table with specifications for Zenar to work off of. The sheer amount of industry experience at Zenar gives them the ability to develop an advanced material handling solution for just about any need.
Once a design is finalized and materials are purchased, each department gets to work building their piece of the puzzle. Operation managers work to schedule the workflow. Cranes of similar size or with similar components are grouped together so that work is more efficient, and cranes are also scheduled so that they are ready for assembly at the same time. While the fabrication department begins work on trolleys and end trucks, the girder department starts on girders or beams.
Zenar Corporation also cross-trains its staff to prevent work stoppage and disruptions. With an entire team of multi-skilled crane experts, maintaining workflow doesn’t depend on any single individual. Any welder or fitter can sub into a different department at a moment’s notice, and that keeps projects on time and on budget.
When each part of a crane is completed, the entire piece of machinery is assembled on the main floor, and rigorously tested. Final testing at Zenar is a necessary quality control measure, but it’s not the first line of defense against product defects. Management expects their cranes to operate as they should during final testing, because every department works under the same standards and the same unified vision. With their “do it right the first time” approach, any errors are caught early on in the build process and addressed long before assembly.
Employee engagement is also one of the ways Zenar keeps its entire team upholding the same performance and quality standards. At weekly meetings, managers talk about which cranes are on the floor so that each assembler, electrician, fabricator, welder, and machinist knows which crane their hard work is contributing to. Despite a high volume of crane orders and multiple cranes in production at one time, every team member knows which crane they are working on.
When every team member can see their role in creating such an impressive final product, they’re more likely to feel fulfilled in what they do and invest in their work. That personal investment translates to higher standards, better quality, and better final results for Zenar and its customers.
Zenar Builds Success for Its Employees
Aside from the American-made cranes themselves, one of the most quintessentially American aspects of Zenar is its workplace culture. Executive management believes that potential can be discovered anywhere, and that mentality opens doors for those willing to work hard enough.
Each employee is taught that they are only limited by their own ambition, and that working hard to achieve success is more than just a dream at Zenar Corporation. Management, including the Vice President, walks around the facility several times a day and looks for stand-out team members going the extra mile. As a result, entry level employees can eventually find themselves managing entire departments if they can demonstrate the skill and drive to serve in that capacity.
With an open-door policy and owners who knows everyone by name, management’s inclusive mentorship keeps employees at every level passionate about progressing in their roles as builders of industry-leading cranes. As a matter of fact, learning is a part of the job for everyone at Zenar. Not only are processes and products continuously improved, so are the individual skills of each engineer and tradesperson.
Sometimes, promising talent is sent back to school to obtain further credentials, while others are regularly instructed in the latest technology coming to Zenar’s shop floor. This environment keeps Zenar employees striving to grow both as professionals and as a team. Zenar’s focus on personal improvement and education doesn’t stop with their employees. They are actively involved in their community by participating in education programs that allow high school students to get hands on manufacturing experience.
According to the Vice President, “Keeping everyone improving and excited about what they’re doing here is key to our success. At the end of the day, everyone knows that the couplings, gears, and hoists they’ve worked on are going to be a part of one of the highest quality custom cranes in the country. Which is something to be proud of.”
And that’s what really sets Zenar apart from the competition: enduring pride in American craftsmanship.