Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

L&H Industrial

by Eric Peterson on October 12, 2015, 02:06 pm MDT

www.lnh.net

Gillette, Wyoming

Founded: 1964

Privately owned

Employees: 600 at 10 locations worldwide (about 250 in Wyoming)

Second-generation owners and brothers Mike and Jeff Wandler make undercarriages for the biggest and burliest machines on the planet.

Leon Wandler, Mike and Jeff's father, was a machinist from North Dakota who was lured by the oil boom to Gillette. He worked in a local shop, then bought the business in 1964 when it had about a half-dozen employees on the payroll.

"He repaired oilfield equipment," says Jeff of the company's early years. "He lived off that industry."

Two decades later, the market shifted. "When the oil bust come in the early '80s, we had a local coal industry that was up and coming," Jeff says. "We made our company into a mining repair company. . . . We basically learned how to repair much bigger stuff."

In the 1990s, L&H began manufacturing mining equipment and grew to 125 employees by the end of the decade, and President Mike and VP Jeff bought their dad out with Senior VP Jim Clikeman when he retired in 2000.

The trio immediately pushed for improvements in safety and quality, and changed the L&H culture in the process. "We basically got very heavy into manufacturing and expanded worldwide," says Jeff. "We went to work engineering high-end parts -- the longest-life components." The company's products routinely outlast OEM parts by 30 percent, he touts.

L&H's legacy in oil and coal equipment repair helped the company improve on old designs for coal, copper, gold, and iron ore mines in China, South Africa, Turkey, Mexico, Chile, and "everywhere there was mining," says Jeff.

The company boomed. Revenue grew from $18 million in 2000 to $96 million in 2013. L&H now focuses on North and South America with an even split between domestic sales and exports.

As commodities have swooned for the past two years, so has L&H's revenue growth. Mining remains the company's biggest market, but the ongoing slump has led the Wandlers to seek out new customers in different industries.

One unexpected new account: NASA. "They basically found us because we built the best undercarriages in the world," says Mike. The company won the job to upgrade the transmission for the Crawler Transporter -- the biggest land vehicle on Earth, capable of hauling 20 million pounds of rocket to the launchpad. L&H's design increases carrying capacity by 30 percent and is scheduled to start moving rockets in 2016.

The company has also branched into other industrial markets. "We do a lot of work for the railroads," says Jeff, highlighting a bucket wheel excavator L&H made for BNSF to load iron ore onto ships in Superior, Wisconsin.

Since parts are no longer available for the 50-year-old machine, L&H came up with a new version with higher performance and less downtime. "That's some of our highest tech, innovative work," says Jeff of the excavator.

Challenges: "The energy industry is down," says Jeff. "Everything we work in is down -- oil is down, iron is down, copper is down. Coal is as bad as it's ever been. We're running flat around the $90 million range."

Mike says that booms and busts are nothing new for L&H. "This is just same thing, different day for us," he says. "It's not all bad -- it's healthy to catch up with ourselves."

Opportunities: Diversification into aerospace, wind, and other industries. "We're trying to sell our manufacturing capabilities to other companies," says Jeff. "We're very good at it. We've got a very high level of capability.:"

Needs: Sales. "We need jobs, orders, P.O.s," says Mike.

Adds Jeff: "We need the energy market to get healthy."

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