Derek Neas/News Tribune-Fred Ambli's corporation, LiftPro by LiftPRO Inc., makes slings and rigging for industrial and military use.

LiftPro by LiftPRO Inc.-The photograph shows a
bus being lifetd with a pair of LiftPro's tire slings.

Derek Neas/News Tribune-Kathy Hovde puts the finishing touches on a tire sling at LiftPro by LiftPRO Inc. on Thursday morning.


Posted on Mon, Mar. 10, 2003
Pike Lake company gives military a lift
MANUFACTURING:
Slings from LiftPro help U.S. forces deploy equipment.
BY PETER PASSI NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER More photos Derek Neas/News Tribune

It takes a lot of straps and rigging to move military hardware halfway around the world, and some of the custom gear that's needed is coming from the whirring sewing machines of a busy little shop in Pike Lake.

Workers at LiftPro by LiftPRO Inc., a rigging house on Seville Road, have been working quickly and furiously to make sure troops have the tools they need to safely position equipment wherever it is needed. In recent months, the company has supplied the U.S. government with about 50 sets of slings for lifting Humvees, and it recently received another rush order for slings that will be used to transport torpedoes.

"It gives me a little sense of pride to know we're doing our part," said Kathy Hovde, a sewing room supervisor for LiftPro. "It's something small, but I hope it will be helpful."

LiftPro is no stranger to designing and manufacturing rigs for transporting heavy and valuable equipment.

"Almost everything we do is custom work," said Fred Ambli, LiftPro's founder and president.

But Uncle Sam is a particularly tough customer, Ambli said. Everything that goes into the rigging -- right down to the hardware -- needs to be American-made, and strict manufacturing specifications must be met. Even the way that harnesses must be packaged for shipping is spelled out in intricate detail.

 

Ambli doesn't fault the government for its demanding standards, though. He's a stickler for detail himself, and it has served his business well.

LiftPro routinely tests the materials sent to it by suppliers to make sure they're up to snuff, and if an item doesn't meet specs, back it goes.

Likewise, the company constantly monitors the quality of the pieces it produces. On the backside of its shop, LiftPro stretches its products to the snapping point. Break tests ensure LiftPro's products won't fall short of customer expectations, Ambli said.

For instance, the Humvee slings LiftPro makes for the military are each rated to hold 10,000 pounds of weight, but Ambli said they won't break until about 50,000 pounds of pressure are applied to them.

Ambli proudly notes that, in 1991, his company became the first rigging house in the nation to build its own computerized product test bed. The unit is used to subject cloth, straps, fiber rope, wire rope and chain to as much as 300,000 pounds of stress. LiftPro also has the capacity to arrange even more rigorous tests of up to 600,000 pounds.

The company works endlessly to maximize the strength of its products by way of improved stitch patterns, special threads, new designs and combinations of the latest materials.

Some of LiftPro's slings are so beefy that they're used to suspend railroad locomotives weighing 100 to 120 tons, Ambli said.

The company employs nine people at its Pike Lake shop and another three at a Twin Cities plant.

Although seasonal swings affect demand for some of its products -- especially those used by the construction industry -- Ambli said the company remains committed to providing year-round employment for its 12-member core work force.

He estimates that about 60 percent of LiftPro's sales come from the mining/construction business; 20 percent from paper producers; 10 percent from railroads; and 10 percent from military contracts.

The 24-year-old company has had to seek out new customers through the years. Ambli said loggers and Great Lakes ships used to be two of his biggest customers, but now they represent only a small fraction of sales.

Changes on the Northland's business scene drove LiftPro's expansion into the Twin Cities area as well.

"A lot of our industrial market up here has been disappearing," Ambli said, citing recent shutdowns at paper mills, mines and manufacturing plants.

LiftPro also faces increased competition from abroad, especially from Korea and China.

"You really need to be on the top edge to compete," Ambli said.

Toward that end, he said the company continually upgrades equipment while working hard to retain one of the company's most important assets: its skilled employees.

     
PETER PASSI covers business. Call him at (218) 279-5526 or (800) 456-8282 or e-mail him at ppassi@duluthnews.com.