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A 140 ton crane wins the 'Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin' contest

Broadwind Heavy Fabrications
Broadwind Heavy Fabrications' 140 ton crane leaving the seawall at the company's location along the Manitowoc River.

Voting wraps up late Thursday morning for this year's Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin annual contest, which is sponsored by a state manufacturing group.

WUWM took a closer look at two of the four finalists for this year's award, including a crane maker in Manitowoc.

Fifteen years ago, the Broadwind Corporation started making wind turbine towers at its factory along the Manitowoc River, just west of the city's downtown. A unit there called Broadwind Heavy Fabrications has entered into the Coolest Thing contest a huge crane that the company and a Manitowoc neighbor, Konecranes, built to service U.S. Navy submarines in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The 140 ton crane is called that because it can lift that much weight. The crane itself weighs nearly 1,400 tons or 2.7 million pounds.

Konecranes engineered the product, then Broadwind took over with the metal fabrication process: bending, forming, cutting, welding and painting steel plates into segments so large that Broadwind had to cut off the end of its factory to get some of the products out. They were assembled at Konecranes before being shipped by barge.

Broadwind Heavy Fabrications
The 140 ton crane on the test/assembly pad at the Konecranes Manitowoc site.

The work at Broadwind involves both small and large technology.

Inside the factory, a company employee used a handheld grinder on a piece of metal. Company President Dan Schueller said it's an essential part of the process.

''Any time you cut metal, you end up having a sharp edge. And what we do with grinders is help take that sharp edge off, to make sure that not only nobody gets hurt, but that the part is conforming," Schueller said.

Schueller said that conforming is really important when it comes time to weld two parts together.

Chuck Quirmbach
The blue machine at Broadwind is called a horizontal boring mill.

About 40 yards away is a much taller player in the fabrication process.

A blue machine about two stories high is known as a horizontal boring mill. Schueller said it's critical for what's known as machining the metal.

"What we're actually doing with this machining center is drilling and boring the holes and bores of the connection points for the crane," he said.

Chuck Quirmbach
Left to right: Broadwind's Brett Hartman and Dan Schueller, outside the company's factory in Manitowoc.

There are crane manufacturers scattered throughout the Eastern U.S. and in other industrialized nations.

But Broadwind Business Development Director Brett Hartman said one reason the 140 ton Navy crane is cool is that his firm is on land that used to house the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company.

"We operate from an old facility that used to build submarines during World War II. Now, we're building a crane that services submarines, and we're doing it from a small town in Wisconsin. This one went to the East Coast. But they're going to ship pretty much over the world. So it shows the reach of a small town and small company and the kind of impact you can have," Hartman said.

Broadwind is now helping build a crane for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The firm hopes for more Navy contracts and to build cranes for other uses.

Schueller said Broadwind, with about 200 employees in Manitowoc, can continue to compete, thanks partly to its wind energy experience.

"By making wind tower sections, we're equipped to make very large weldments [a unit formed by welding together an assembly of pieces] and structures. That's where we compete the best in, and that's what our niche is, going forward," Schueller said.

Other finalists in this year's Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest include Caterpillar, for a huge mining shovel mainly made in South Milwaukee, and Mercury Marine, for an outboard engine made in Fond du Lac. Neither company made a spokesperson available for this story.

Chuck Quirmbach
Glazer donuts, as seen at a Milwaukee-area Kwik Trip.

The fourth finalist is the Kwik Trip convenience stores, for its Glazer donut described by company Vice President Steve Loehr. "What makes this unique is we make it in our own bakery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, fresh every day. And we deliver it to every one of our stores, every day," Loehr said.

With more than 780 Kwik Trip stores across three Upper Midwest states, Loehr said the company sells about one million of the sugar-glazed donuts every week.

Something on which to chew, as voting continues at, and the winner of this year's Coolest Thing contest is announced Thursday afternoon at a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce conference in Pewaukee.

Updated: October 14, 2021 at 3:06 PM CDT
The winner of Johnson Financial Group and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce's 6th annual Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin Contest is Broadwind Heavy Fabrications' 140 Ton Navy Crane!

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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