• Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series on manufacturing in the Tri-Cities.
The orange and white boom of Lampson International’s largest-ever crane has become part of the Tri-City skyline.
The Lampson Transi-Lift 3000 is a startling 560 feet tall and can lift around 6 million pounds without breaking a sweat. Workers finished building it last spring at the Kennewick-based company’s Pasco manufacturing and repair facility, where it sits today.
The crane, which was sold to Japanese company Hitachi, has only been used in testing so far.
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It’s the latest, greatest crane based on a spark of inspiration by Lampson International’s founder, Neil Lampson. After working on many job sites, he came up with the idea of marrying together two Manitowoc crawler cranes and worked with engineer Walt Trask to make the idea a reality in the late 1970s.
Lampson International didn’t start out as a manufacturer. Neil Lampson and his wife, Billie Jane Lampson, began with a small crane and hauling business dubbed Neil F. Lampson Inc. in 1946.
Today, that business, with offices in Canada and Australia and about 300 employees worldwide, remains family owned and operated. Neil and Billie Jane’s son, Bill Lampson, has been the company’s president for the last 25 years. He is training two of his children, Peter and Kate Lampson, to follow in his footsteps.
“Peter and I still have a ton to learn,” said Kate Lampson, the company’s public relations and communications director. “This business is so complex and so detailed, and there is so much liability and risk, that you really have to eat, breath and sleep it.”
Lampson International continues to rent out cranes and transporters. But it also manufactures Transi-Lift cranes, Millennium cranes and crawler transporters, which go under a load to lift it and move on track pads instead of wheels.
Those crawler transporters are used to move the Transi-Lift cranes, but also can be used solo for heavy loads like crushers or conveyors. It takes two of them to move one Transi-Lift.
With two crawlers under the Transi-Lift crane, both crawlers can move simultaneously, or one can stay stationary and the other can move to rotate the crane, making it fairly versatile. Transi-Lift cranes have been used to build power plants, bridges and stadiums, Kate Lampson said.
The cranes and crawlers are built and repaired in Kennewick and Pasco. But the bulk of the work those machines do is outside of the local area.
“People know us as Lampson blue and the Transi-Lift is Big Blue,” Kate Lampson said.
The company’s equipment has been used on projects at Hanford and in Moses Lake. The company also has donated services to local nonprofit efforts, like Kennewick’s Gesa Carousel of Dreams, and used its cranes to help build the company’s Kennewick headquarters in 1980. The fourth floor of the office building is suspended using many wire ropes, just like those used on cranes.
Some of the equipment made at Lampson — like the Transi-Lift 3000 — is made on order for customers. But the rest is used in the company’s worldwide fleet and is leased out to work on mining, refinery and construction sites around the world.
Lampson International filled three orders for Transi-Lift cranes in the last six years, which is quite a few, Kate Lampson said. A company may choose to buy a Transi-Lift for long-term use versus renting one for a short-term project.
Once a crane is rented, operating and maintaining it is up to the customer — except if the crane is a Transi-Lift. Then, Lampson supplies its own crew of five to operate and maintain the specialized crane.
Rentals make up the bulk of the company’s business. In addition to heavy lifting, Lampson specializes in heavy hauling and using cranes for dynamic soil compaction, where a weight is dropped.
Lampson International also has its own trucking company, Columbia Pacific Transport, which it uses to haul equipment within the U.S. Depending on the crane, it can take 80 to 100 truckloads to move once it is disassembled, Kate Lampson said.
The trucking line also moves equipment and parts between the company’s Pasco and Kennewick shops during the maintenance and manufacturing process.
Parts for the new Millennium cranes and others are made in the company’s Kennewick fabrication and machine shops, and then transported by truck to the Pasco facilities for assembly.
Some of the parts weigh so much — up to 100,000 pounds — that each workstation in the Kennewick shops has a small overhead crane to lift them. The booms are so large that they are made and maintained in 20-foot and 40-foot sections.
Lampson International’s main focus right now is re-manufacturing Manitowoc 4100 cranes into the Lampson Millennium. The company had more than 100 of the beloved “old workhorse” Manitowoc cranes in its rental fleet, but decided to update and upgrade them to be more competitive in the 21st century, Kate Lampson said. They plan to re-manufacture all in their fleet.
To make a Millennium, the company replaces the operator cab completely, molding a new one out of aluminum before decking it out with a computerized control system and updated joystick controls.
The Millennium cabs are larger than the Manitowoc versions, increasing operator comfort, and the cabs have bigger glass windows, adding to visibility.
Lampson also replaces much of the housing of the crane, adding a new engine and updating the hydraulic system, she said.
And of course, the Millennium is painted blue to make it a recognizable Lampson crane.
So far, the company has finished 14 Millennium cranes and has a few more in the manufacturing process, she said.
The company started making the Millennium cranes last year and has enough to do with that project to keep workers busy for the next decade, she said.
The company really only meant to use the Lampson Millenniums in their own rental fleet, she said. But they also have re-manufactured some to sell to customers after seeing a demand.
“Not everyone has machines like we do,” she said.