Southwest Industrial Rigging
- Written by: Molly Shaw
- Produced by: Caitlin Mugford
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
After nearly 30 years in business, Harry Baker, founder of Southwest Industrial Rigging (SWIR), understands success isn’t always about large-scale, glamorous projects. “The big jobs don’t make a company, it’s the small everyday jobs,” he shares. “Taking care of your regular customers and doing every job right, every single day with the right people, that’s what it’s all about.”
Baker founded the Phoenix-based, full-service industrial rigging firm in 1986 in Casa Grande, Ariz. His first crane was a TD180, 18-ton Neck breaker, and it nearly broke the bank. “I put all I had into this business and I ended up living out of the back of my pickup truck for six months after starting up SWIR,” he recalls.
Making Sacrifices for Success
Starting out as a one-man-band, Baker hit the pavement, building connections with customers and getting jobs done from start to finish with his own two hands. “I worked day and night every day of the week, using the weekend to do machine maintenance,” he recounts.
About one year into SWIR, Baker was finally able to hire his first employee and purchase his second crane, a 40-ton TM400. “In the beginning, we did all of our business on the road,” he reveals. “We had one of those ancient brick-sized cell phones in the truck to take calls. Some of our earliest jobs were on the Central Arizona Project [CAP], a canal built to bring water from the Colorado River to three counties; Pima, Pinal and Maricopa.”
Fortunately for SWIR, just as things began to take off there were several large-scale industrial plants moving into the area. “We got a lot of our early work from the plants,” recalls Baker. “In 1991, after six years operating in the Casa Grande area, SWIR made the move to Phoenix and began adding more and more equipment.”
What started as a one-man-operation emerged as a sizable player in the Phoenix market, with 182 employees, 60 cranes, 75 power units, 86 support vehicles and more than 300 specialty and hydraulic trailers. But even amid record growth, Baker says he remains grateful for each and every step.
“I remember taking a trip to California in 1988 to look at a used Badger RT crane that was for sale,” he describes. “After looking it over I decided to buy it and I had the cash to do so. That was one of the proudest moments of my life, because I had the means after overcoming so many obstacles.”
After 27 years, SWIR has grown by leaps and bounds from its first T180 crane. Today, the company operates out of five locations, including its home base in Phoenix and into Houston and even Alberta. SWIR has expanded its range of in-house service to encompass six divisions, from warehousing to crane rental, heavy haul and machinery moving to special rigging and training, as well as operated crane leasing. The full-service industrial rigging company also offers 24/7 on-call service.
Moving the Impossible
SWIR specializes in moving the impossible. The company’s heavy haul division employs some of the most knowledgeable, safety-conscious, TWIC-certified movers in the industry. “Our staff has extensive experience that allows us to haul virtually anything to anywhere, from rail spurs or oceanic ports to various locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Our equipment can be reconfigured from outer suspension to a dolly system with capabilities to handle items up to 200 feet in length.” -SWIR’s website states.
“One of our most outstanding heavy transport jobs is the removal of Idaho National Lab’s [INL] Hot Cell 1, a 1.2 million-pound nuclear reactor,” notes Baker. Designed in the late 1940s by Argonne National Laboratories in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Materials Testing Reactor (MTR) was the first large-scale test reactor in the world.
Hot Cell 1 was designed for examination and processing of very high dose-rate nuclear materials and shielding in mind. The cell’s walls were made of 4-foot-thick high density concrete, lined with ¼-inch carbon steel plate. Due to the high dose rates remaining within Hot Cell 1, the decommissioning plan called for it to be filled with grout and sliced into cubes of approximately 50 tons each and transported to the Idaho CERCLA Disposal facility.
An extensive set of lifting fixtures was designed and fabricated by Premier Technology of Blackfoot, Idaho. In order to ensure safety during the lift, the rig was drilled and epoxy bolted to the cell by 128 Hilti bolts, each driven 2 feet into opposing walls of the cell at the top and bottom, linked by steel connecting rods. The fixtures and hardware alone weighed in at 40,000 pounds. SWIR performed lifting and transport of the massive 600-ton cell, loading it onto one of the largest transporters in the world and moving it 2.5 miles to the final resting place at ICDF.
Over the last five years, SWIR has assisted in shut downs at the Palo Verde nuclear plant. “We aid rigging activities for fuel replacements, which includes disassembly and reassembly of nuclear reactors,” shares Baker. “Every one-and-a-half years each reactor goes through a cleaning process. We also handle the crane operations within the turbine building during preventative maintenance and replace heat exchangers, which play a vital role in the cooling of spent uranium.”
However, SWIR’s heavy lifting and transportation experience isn’t limited to nuclear operations. “Over the last 16 months we have completed several projects with our crane, heavy rigging and heavy transportation divisions for one of the largest solar plants in the world, the Solana Solar Plant in Gila Bend, Ariz.,” notes Baker. “We also provided transportation and cranes for more than 450 concrete bridge girders for the Loop 303 Freeway Expansion project. In the next few months, we’re gearing up for moving a 150-footlong cargo vessel from Idaho to Oklahoma.”
As the company’s projects get larger in size and scope, SWIR is expanding to meet the demand. Baker considers one of the company’s biggest recent accomplishments to be a new 40-acre facility completed in 2012. “We purchased the land in 2009,” he reveals. “It was previously home to Manzanita Raceway. Our old facility was just 10,000 square feet and this new expansion adds two, 22,000-square-foot buildings; one for fabrication and the other for maintenance of our fleet trucks, cranes and trailers.”
Baker goes on to explain that he has plans to start construction of a 165,000-square-foot warehouse in the near future. “This will add to our current 120,000-square-foot storage facility in Phoenix,” he continues. Nonetheless, even amid record growth, Baker focuses on supporting longstanding customers and doing each and every job – big or small – with precision. Southwest Industrial Rigging continues to build on a 30-yearlong trusted reputation, expanding through specialized capabilities and remembering humble beginnings.
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