Safeway Sling USA
6209 Industrial Ct., Greendale
Industry: Lifting slings and tie downs
The overhead lifting slings made by Safeway Sling USA must be able to withstand a great amount of pressure.
The slings, made of polyester, nylon, steel wire rope or metal mesh, have prescribed stitching and weaving patterns that reinforce the materials for heavy lifting on construction and manufacturing sites.
"The slings are fabricated in various ways to meet a certain break strength," said Susan Szymczak, co-owner of the company, with her husband, Jim.
Those break strengths are tested by stretching the sling to destruction on a machine that meets the ASTM E4 standard, meaning it is accurate to plus or minus 1 percent.
Safeway tests vertical lift strength up to 140,000 pounds using a machine that pulls the product at eight inches per minute. The slings have a 5:1 design factor, so if a sling is rated at 100 pounds, it needs to break at 500 pounds, Jim said.
"When it gets up over 30,000 (pounds), then you've got to cover your ears," he said.
The Szymczaks started Safeway in 1980 with two used industrial sewing machines in a rented Cudahy basement. They knew there was a need for slings, Susan said.
"I was always mechanically inclined," she said. "I'm really a hands-on person."
Most of Safeway's slings are custom-made. The company orders nylon and polyester webbing, which it cuts to size. The cut edges are melted to prevent fraying.
Then, employees at sewing machines create loops for lifting hooks and add stitching and fabric to reinforce the slings. They also sew on labels and caution tags with the weight limit.
"If you're ever going to change a sewing pattern, you have to keep testing to make sure that sewing pattern is proper," Susan said.
Next, hardware, sight lines and any other requested features are added to the fabric slings.
Wire rope is also used to make some slings, which work best for projects that include lifting sharp objects that would cut through a fabric sling.
To make wire rope slings, employees weave the wire rope back into itself to create a Flemish eye and then cut off the excess wire. Thimbles are installed in the loops to prevent the rope from bending too tightly.
Safeway also makes wire mesh slings that conform to the surface of materials and polyester round slings filled with fibers that add strength and provide a tighter grip around a load.
The cost of Safeway's slings varies from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars, Susan said. The type of material, size and planned use all factor in to manufacturing the sling.
One of Safeway's largest products is a boat sling, which can hold up to 34 tons and has been used to lift the S/V Denis Sullivan, a re-creation of a 19th Century Great Lakes schooner on Milwaukee's lakefront.
Some companies send their products back to the company when they need repairs. Slings can last a long time if they are taken care of and stored out of the heat, she said.
The sling industry is competitive, with about 250 companies nationwide competing for $60 million tp $70 million in business annually. Safeway is known as an industry leader, and is the only sling manufacturer led by a woman, Susan said.
The company also buys competitors' slings and break tests them to compare their durability to its products. Safeway's rigorous safety testing sets it apart from competitors, she said.
Safeway's products are sold nationally and some are exported through distributors.