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Your business is growing, your inventory is increasing, and your customer demands are skyrocketing. You’ve been using conveyer belts and forklifts — but both take up too much floor space, so you’re thinking about buying a crane for flexibility.

But increased floor space shouldn’t be the only reason you buy a crane. You should also be keeping your employees’ safety and operational efficiency in mind. You should ask yourself the following:

  • What’s the maximum radius from the centre of slew?

  • What are the anticipated total load weights?

  • What boom length(s) will the space require?

  • Can the ground/ceiling/wall support the crane?

  • How will the crane access and leave the site?

These are just a few of the most important questions to ask, but they’ll set you on the right track.

Of course, it’s also important to take the time to review the four major types of cranes, and to familiarize yourself with each of their strengths and weaknesses.

1. Overhead traveling bridge crane

Also called an overhead gantry crane, this type of crane is exactly what it sounds like — a bridge between two side rails in an “H” configuration. The crane bridge slides between the side rails. And in most cases, overhead bridge cranes are roof-mounted or freestanding and can have several bridges.

The benefits of using an overhead gantry crane are that it covers a much larger area than a jib crane, as well as a wider area than a monorail. Overhead bridge cranes are usually designed to cover an an entire manufacturing workspace, and are also extremely useful for loading and unloading trucks.

2. Gantry crane

An increasingly popular alternative to the overhead traveling bridge crane, the gantry crane is widely used in Europe as an outdoor solution. The main distinction between the two types of bridge cranes is that the freestanding gantry crane has two rigid steel legs that allow it to be used outdoors.

Gantry cranes are usually available in spans up to 150 feet with a capacity of 150 tons, and are often used in rail and shipyards. Surprisingly enough, they sometimes cost less than a bridge crane of similar size.

Certain “trackless” gantries are also wheel-operated, and can move about freely without the use of end trucks.

3. Jib crane

The most common type of crane, stationary and mobile jib cranes (the ones used construction projects) can pivot perpendicular to a stationary axis. The 180 to 360 degree rotation is most useful in construction projects and as individual workstations in welding or fabrication.

Jib cranes really run the gamut in terms of specifications and pricing. The one pictured is more common, and may have a capacity of a ton or so, but larger construction cranes can support up to 100 tons or more. In all cases, jib cranes are usually less expensive than bridge or gantry cranes, and can be used to very precisely spot lighter loads.

Jibs are very versatile, but the obvious drawback is that they don’t have a wide coverage area.

4. Monorail

A simpler variation of the overhead traveling bridge crane, the monorail hoist and trolley run on a single, stationary beam. While this may seem limiting, monorails actually have much more track flexibility. They can wind, loop, and twist their way around complex floor spaces and stations.

Monorails are typically designed when workflow necessitates the use of curved tracks, multiple switches, and interlocks that allow the monorail to interface with other systems. Commonly used for repetitive production jobs, they are often designed to be computer-operated.

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