Hoisting America

Virginia Crane
Written by Pauline Muller

In the world of cranes, a standardized approach can be problematic for huge, high-stakes manufacturers that demand precision engineering. Virginia Crane deals only in custom fabricated equipment that is purpose-built and of solid quality, giving it a reputation for excellence.

And quality is crucial. For North American manufacturing facilities, every minute that a machine remains inactive becomes a minute during which time and money are lost. This month, we take a closer look at Virginia Crane and its superb equipment trusted by big names like Huntington Ingalls, the United States’ leading military shipbuilder.

Virginia Crane’s clientele is as diverse as its offering. Its customers include suppliers of CSX Railroads, steel giants like ArcelorMittal, and other large national and international operators like steel and paper mills and also concrete producers. Materials and machinery manufacturers that must work around the clock throughout the year rely on Virginia Crane to supply them with top-notch cranes and related services.

The company’s main facility is based in Ashland, Virginia, just over ninety-five miles south of Washington, D.C. on the I-95, and is supported by a service department in the state of Tennessee. Virginia Crane is especially proud that it provides buyers with a complete list of parts fitted in the sold vehicle, allowing them to obtain replacements from wherever they choose. Customers can, therefore, rest assured that the company does not expect to make a fortune from them on later repairs.

Its customers are always guaranteed to have quality cranes and service. This is pretty significant considering that buying inexpensive cranes often result in an exorbitant cost of ownership. According to this company, savings made on the purchase price for a sub-standard piece of equipment tend to come back to bite the new owner. “We’re not [about] a low-cost initial investment, but we are about low-cost long-term ownership,” says Richard Warriner, Director of Business Development, who has been with the company since 2001.

Virginia Crane is sought-after for its large crane manufacturing and can fabricate machines of up to six hundred tons. Alongside this, its top-riding, double-girder cranes are also desired for their versatility in handling a variety of load sizes. These cranes typically run on top of tracks and can be built to reach greater heights than other types of cranes.

The company’s process cranes, commonly used by paper mills, are preferred for their power during repeated lifting. They are also very popular because of their safety, versatility, and optimal control capabilities.

As technological advances speed up, keeping ahead of trends and using the best technology available is vital to continuously improve its market share. Virginia Crane’s response to these demands is a fully-equipped research and development department supported by all the latest industry tools, including the three-dimensional-modeling capabilities.

The company also manufactures its own control boards that are licensed and underwritten by UL Laboratories. These control systems form the basis of automated systems that drive everything from material handling, storage, and retrieval to process systems that handle incineration and refinery furnaces. It even achieves automated high-volume product mixing of materials like concrete and the like. Such automation is run by clients’ warehouse management systems, demanding minimum staff involvement.

Virginia Crane sells its new cranes and other equipment directly to clients who also benefit greatly from the company’s service staff who travel to customers to service and repair equipment at their facilities or in the field. As a complete fabricator, it also supplies local fabricators that typically specialize in welding with machined elements such as hoists. Those operators then complete the assembly before selling the resulting equipment as their own on the open market.

The first customers were welcomed in 1975 when Chief Executive Officer Dale Foley opened up a small fabrication outfit. He put the family name on the door, and Foley Material Handling later becoming Virginia Crane’s parent company. Today, family is still as important as it was in the beginning. Dale’s younger brother Richard Foley serves as the company’s president. Virginia Crane also has a solid succession plan in place that includes employees who have worked their way up, becoming a part of the Foley family over the years.

A lot has changed since the early days. The company has grown, and its facility has naturally followed suit with its footprint growing alongside its reach. Currently, it has around 120 employees and includes two licensed professional engineers in an engineering department of fourteen people. Warriner feels that the dedication of its people is one of Virginia Crane’s main differentiators. “[Our team’s] interaction with our customers [is fantastic],” he says.

Processes are kept simple, while still taking care of every detail. Its sales team establishes what clients’ unique needs are, and, once bids are accepted and orders are processed, the Virginia Crane engineering department collaborates with each client’s engineering people to ensure that the equipment’s design and functionality will meet their exact specifications. From here, fabrication commences, and customers can take delivery.

The company is a contributing member to the Cranes Technology Committee, a subsidiary of the Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST). It is also an active member of the Crane Manufacturer’s Association of America, the Material Handling Institute (MHI), as well as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

The company’s Executive Vice President Warren McDaniel also belongs to the American Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which is linked to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Through its close involvement with all these industry associations, the company continues to build on its commitment to market leadership.

This operator’s success also brings cheer to several charitable organizations. Every employee supports one or several local or national groups, which are all put forward to the company for consideration. The firm, in turn, chooses from this selection and directs its donations accordingly. Some of the charities that benefit from its philanthropy include Toys for Tots and Warriner’s favorite cause: St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. His sincerity in the matter is heartwarming. “Children should be exempt from cancer,” he says.

As some of its clients own more than one hundred units fabricated by Virginia Crane, the company’s following speaks for itself. Naturally, stimulating such repeat custom is an important aspect of building the business’ future, and controlled growth is a key aspect of that.

The company has a goal of an annual fifteen to twenty percent expansion over the next few years, which will enable it to secure its existing clients’ satisfaction while soliciting new business. “We are also looking at adding value to our services, particularly in the area of equipment repairs,” says Warriner. In addition to this, the company will expand its manufacture of transfer tables used for relocating rail cars and locomotives to alternative tracks.

As the international demand for cranes and related equipment grows, Virginia Crane’s most important message is as relevant as ever. Buying low-cost equipment leads to high maintenance costs. The comforting aspect is, of course, that this company is committed to the low cost of ownership, and Virginia will no doubt be home to the country’s greatest crane fabricator for many decades to come.



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