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Enlisting the talent in Manitowoc

Broadwind and Konecranes work together to build cranes for U.S. Navy

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November 13, 2023

MANITOWOC – Nestled on the edge of the northeastern border of Wisconsin where the state meets Lake Michigan, two businesses have spent the last few years working together on projects that impact more than just Manitowoc. 

Describing it as a sort of “grassroots initiative,” Brett Hartman, director of business development at Broadwind Heavy Fabrications – a heavy component fabricator in Manitowoc and Abilene, Texas – said partnering with Konecranes – a crane service company founded in 1910 in Helsinki, Finland, which has a Manitowoc location – was the kind of collaboration where each company’s abilities would marry well for future projects.

“It was quite a few years ago that we identified Konecranes in New Berlin as (a business) that we were a good fit for,” he said. “It was almost a knock on the door to find these guys and explain to them what we could do and the capabilities of the team in Manitowoc.”

In Manitowoc, Broadwind has a workforce of 180 employees, while Konecranes has about 30.

Each focused on their own areas of expertise – Broadwind in manufacturing heavy components in a variety of industries at an approximate 300,000-square-foot facility and Konecranes in engineering crane components together at a five-acre facility – bringing the two knowledge bases together, Hartman said, made sense for a multitude of reasons.

At first, Hartman said Broadwind and Konecranes started working together on a few smaller projects but quickly jumped into bigger projects – like building large cranes for the U.S. Navy.

The cranes
As Broadwind and Konecranes prepare to send off two cranes for the Navy to service naval submarine fleets in the spring of 2024 – one that will be shipped off to Washington and the other to Hawaii – Hartman said each company has different responsibilities when it comes to the production of the cranes. 

Broadwind, he said, is responsible for manufacturing the components for the cranes. 

“The big welded building blocks of the crane – we source all the materials for those,” he said. “We fabricate, weld, machine and paint all those large components… Konecranes has a five-acre assembly site next to our fabrication facility, we deliver those components to them.”

Konecranes, Hartman said, is the prime contractor with the Navy. 

“They’re responsible for all engineering of the crane,” he said. “They’re responsible for having it manufactured… for the assembly, the testing and shipping of the crane.”

Though Broadwind only manufactures the components for the cranes and leaves the engineering to Konecranes, Hartman said it’s still quite the process – with some crane components weighing in at more than 300,000 pounds.

“We’ve had parts that we’ve had to cut the end of our buildings off to get them out,” he said. 

Brett Hartman, director of business development at Broadwind Heavy Fabrications, said each crane takes about a year to build. Photo Courtesy of Broadwind

The crane that will be sent to Bremerton, Washington stands at about 147 feet tall and weighs 2.4 million pounds, with the capacity to lift 175 tons, Bill Gamble, site superintendent at Konecranes construction area in Manitowoc, said.

“It’s kind of a very interesting job, what we do – to me – is pretty unique,” Gamble said. “(The cranes) are built to very strict naval specifications. A lot of people don’t understand that they’re giants, but their capacity is not as big as you would think. Everything with the Navy is a five-to-one safety factor.”

Gamble said he and his team at Konecranes “take a lot of pride” in the work they do.

“It’s that challenge of accomplishing everything I need to accomplish that day and getting it done,” he said. 

Hartman said currently, the cranes built for the Navy take about a year on average to complete, but he said eventually Broadwind and Konecranes would like to build two per year.

Once the cranes are finished, they will make their way to their new homes in Washington and Hawaii, which Hartman said would take about three to four months.

“They’re loaded on a barge at our facility in Manitowoc,” he said. “They’ll go out through the St. Lawrence (River), go down the east coast through the Gulf (of Mexico). Both of them will go through the Panama Canal. One will take a right turn and head up to Washington State, and the other one will head straight west and go to Hawaii.”

Hartman said the trip to Washington will be a little more than 8,000 miles, while the trip to Hawaii will be about 8,800 miles.

Though the two projects near closer to their completion date, Hartman said this won’t be the last time folks will see the big blue cranes being built in Manitowoc.

In fact, he said the team is already working on the next crane.

“There are (U.S. Navy) sites across North America,” he said. “(The cranes) that are currently there are at the end of their useful life. So, we hope that this is a continual project.”

Northeast WI talent
The talent it takes to manufacture equipment so large, Hartman said, “is astronomical, and we have it all right here in Northeast Wisconsin.”

“It’s everything from electricians, to machinists, to welders, to painters, to engineers and project managers,” he said. “For everybody to come together from two different companies and manufacture technical components like this, it speaks to the talent we have in the area.”

Each company has about 50 employees working on the cranes going to Washington and Hawaii.

Despite the Midwest not being the most geographically advantageous spot to ship the cranes out, Hartman said the Konecranes decided it was still the best place to get the work done, which “speaks volumes to the talent we have here.”

Though, the expertise employees show, he said, is nothing new to Broadwind.

“The facility we work at, we built submarines there in World War II (WWII), 80 years ago,” he said. “A couple generations later, we’re building cranes that service submarines. They’re extremely complicated projects. Truthfully, the team here makes it look easy.”

Back in 2021, Broadwind received the title of the 2021 Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Johnson Financial Group for its 140 Ton Navy Crane, which is similar to those recently completed.

The two cranes Broadwind and Konecranes are currently working on, which are expected to be completed in the spring, will be shipped out to Washington and Hawaii. Photo Courtesy of Broadwind

The 2021 crane, which Hartman said was one of the projects made between the partnership of Broadwind and Konecranes, came in at 2.7 million pounds, and can lift up to 140 tons – hence the name.

It, too, was manufactured for the Navy and was delivered to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Traditions and community
During WWII and the creation of the submarines, Hartman said the team partnered with Jim Beam and Walt Disney to make special bottles of whiskey for each submarine built.

“They had a submarine on it, and they would talk about the release date and the name of the submarine,” he said. “They filled them with Jim Beam, and they gave them out to people who were instrumental in the making of the submarine.”

When Broadwind and Konecranes started to work on the cranes, Hartman said they implemented a similar tradition with the help of a local brewery in Manitowoc, called Sabbatical Brewing Co.

“For each crane that leaves, we developed what’s called a ‘heavy lift series’ of beer,” he said. “So, we will release a beer that’s traditional in the area the crane is going to ship to.”

For example, Hartman said one of the cranes shipped out went to Old River Lock, Louisiana, so the team created an Old River Lock Lager.

“For the one that’s going to Bremerton, (Washington), we had some coffee roasted in Washington state and we flew it in,” he said. “We had the brewery make a coffee brown ale. For the Hawaii one, we’re going to do something with a Hawaiian pineapple beer. So, it’s kind of cool.”

Hartman said to continue to keep it all in the community, the team works with a local marketing company that develops the brand and logo for each respective brew.

“We give (the beer) to the Konecranes employees and Broadwind employees that worked on that project,” he said. “And then we do a beer release at the brewery for everybody. Anybody in the public is welcome to come in and be a part of that.”

To learn more about Broadwind Heavy Fabrications, visit

To learn more about Konecranes, visit

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