G.W. Becker Inc. Does the Heavy Lifting

HERMITAGE, Pa. – For those companies that need a lift – a big lift – they turn to a manufacturer in Mercer County, Pa., whose core business is getting things off the ground.

G.W. Becker Inc., a manufacturer of overhead cranes for the regional and national industrial sector, has witnessed its business increase as much as 80% over the past five years, its principals say. Orders look solid for this year, they add, pointing to a slight increase compared with 2015.

“We’re fortunate,” says the company’s president, Chris Becker. “We’ve shown a steady trend upward and we’re able to be competitive on a national basis.”

Becker’s father, George, started the company in 1980 out of his basement in Grove City, Pa. At first, the business focused on supplying parts and providing inspection services for overhead crane operations. “Bringing cranes into regulation became a big business during that time,” Becker recalls.

The company then diversified into distributor products for hard-to-find units and components. Then, in 2000, G.W. Becker began manufacturing and designing custom overhead cranes that today range in size from smaller pivot cranes used in workstations to heavy-duty equipment capable of handling 110 tons.

“We’ve progressed from a local to a regional provider, and now more on a national scale,” Becker says. Most of the company’s business – between 60% to 70% – is done in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. The remainder, a not inconsiderable number, is from outside those four states.

Overall, customers associated with the oil and gas industry are slow to place new orders, Becker observes, as are many of the steel mills. “You have certain industry sectors that are flat. Primary steel is, secondary steel processing is in a slump,” he says. “We’re seeing that business in the heavy manufacturing sector is slow.”

In January, the company commissioned 28 overhead cranes for a new titanium operation in South Carolina. The project involved the design, manufacture and installation of 10- and 15-ton capacity cranes as well as cranes with two- and five-ton capacities. “It was a nice project,” Becker says. “We’re seeing more and more of these as our reputation grows.”

Last year, Becker says, his company produced 84 industrial cranes, most of which he estimates were smaller, 20 to 30 feet in length. In some cases, the bulk of these orders were for one customer.

In 2008, for example, the company won the bid to supply more than 100 units for a rail manufacturer, reports Brent Rozar, marketing and business development manager. “We did all of those in about 18 months,” he says.

That business, Becker says, provided the impetus in 2008 for the company to relocate to its plant on Kirila Boulevard in Hermitage. “Capacity is a struggle here,” he says. “These are large pieces of equipment – some of them are up to 115-foot span – so they take up a large footprint in our shop.”

In addition, G.W. Becker performed more than 2,000 safety inspections last year on various overhead cranes throughout the region.

Often, the company receives a request from a customer or a schematic of a particular type of crane it needs, Becker says. Then, engineers and draftsmen at G.W. Becker might customize or modify the design – a process known as application engineering – based on the layout of the project. “It’s where we shine,” he says. “A lot of people appreciate that.”

G.W. Becker employs 50 and more than 20 positions are in front-end office work such as design, sales and engineering.

Nearly all of the components on G.W. Becker’s cranes are manufactured on the shop floor, Becker says. “We have machining and steel processing that covers 90% to 95% of our needs,” he explains. In short, everything in the crane except the gearing is made at the Hermitage plant.

Gears and motors are purchased separately but assembled as part of the crane unit, Rozar says. Wheels, gearboxes, tracks, heavy steel box girders, and all of the other components are manufactured at the shop.

“Cranes are run by either radios or pendants,” he continues. Each employee is fully trained and certified in his specialty, which includes crane operation.

As the trolleys are built on one end of the plant, workers are constructing what are called “box girders” at another portion of the plant. These are the large, wide-spanned structural steel components that make up the body of the crane. “We can make them as big as we can fit them through the door,” he says.

Box girders start as two structural steel I-beams that brace a heavy plate-steel bottom, forming a large rectangular steel “box.” Within the structure, smaller plate steel supports are welded in place to reinforce the larger piece, says Dave Chess.

In this case, Chess is working on a 90-foot-long case that will be tough and sturdy enough to carry two trolley motors.

Every five feet, a full-length support, or “diaphragm,” is welded between the two I-beams across the joined plate steel. “This is an extra heavy-duty version,” Chess says. “Halfway between the full supports, we place short ones – about one-third the length – in,” he says. “The full diaphragms hold the entire box together and supports the rail for the trolley.”

One trolley motor guides the entire box girder and crane body back and forth along stationary tracks in a manufacturing plant, for example, while the other motor moves along tracks fastened across box girder and governs the actual crane operation.

Once the metal fabrication is finished, the cranes are painted – yellow is the preferred color – and prepared for shipment to the customer.

Becker says his company can manufacture any crane “that can fit out the door. We’re on a long sales cycle,” he relates, pointing to a nearly finished crane bound for a steel mill in Salem, Mass. “This was a full, turnkey project for us,” he says.

Even with its relatively new plant, G.W. Becker is already feeling the pinch for more space, Becker observes. “We have another eight acres here. At some point we could expand and separate our machining and service capabilities and have this as a dedicated manufacturing space.”

Pictured: Chris Becker stands atop one of the overhead cranes being prepared for shipment.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.