Crane manufacturers are operations that supply industries and commercial operations with materials suspension equipment. Materials handling operations require a great diversity of equipment to accommodate all of the different kinds of loads that they are used to move. Cranes are often indispensable tools for such operations.
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The History of Cranes
Cranes can trace their history back as far as the late 6th century BC, when the introduction of the winch and pulley hoist to Ancient Greek construction rapidly led to the replacement of ramps with cranes. Block sizes dropped in Greek construction for a time, but rapidly raised again with the introduction of compound pulleys.
Cranes developed further under the Roman Empire, culminating in the creation of the treadmill crane. Treadmill cranes remained the primary form of crane for over 1000 years. The crane largely vanished alongside the Roman Empire before returning to construction in the Middle Ages.
The first cranes to resemble modern cranes arrived with the Industrial Revolution. In 1838, industrialist William Armstrong invented a hydraulic water powered crane, which quickly grew in popularity as it evolved and became more practical. Mass production of overhead cranes also began around the same time in Germany.
By the turn of the 20th century, the rise of steam engines, internal combustion engines, and electric motors had led to externally powered cranes very similar to those we use today. The first tower cranes appeared by 1908.
Mobile tower cranes came somewhat later, invented by Hans Liebherr and a team of engineers in post-WW2 Germany.
Benefits and Advantages of Cranes
All cranes, at the most basic level, offer mechanical advantage through a combination of pulleys and other simple machines. With even the most rudimentary of cranes, a person or team can move heavy materials and items far beyond what they could move without the use of mechanical assistance. Modern cranes using a power supply, usually electricity either directly from the grid or via a generator, enhances the potential power and efficiency of cranes exponentially.
Other mechanical lifting equipment such as forklifts, excavators with lifting equipment, and similar heavy equipment fail to keep up in raw power, fuel efficiency, safety, or maintenance standards. For this reason, cranes remain the primary lifting tool in the vast majority of heavy lifting applications where a crane can fit.
Furthermore, most lifting solutions are designed with cranes in mind, making them far more versatile than any comparable lifting technology.
- Crane Adaptability
- Overhead cranes can be used indoors and outdoors, and can accommodate changes in operation.
- Customization Ability Advantage
- A host of additional components, such as end effectors and hook attachments, can be easily added to overhead cranes. A single crane can perform different tasks with few additional tools.
- User-Friendly Benefit
- The operation of overhead cranes is easy, and an operator can be trained in a matter of days, whereas other crane operators have to go through extensive training to be an operator. Moreover, as no manual lifting is involved, it reduces fatigue among operators.
How Cranes Work
Different cranes operate in very different ways, so it's important to understand your application before obtaining a crane and hire an operator with appropriate certifications and licensure for the specific crane type you're using.
At the most general level, all cranes work by using pulleys and cables to lift and lower materials. Some, such as balance cranes, also use levers and counterweights. Still more use hydraulic cylinders as the primary source of mechanical force to lift objects.
How the lifted material is moved depends on the type of crane. For a lever crane or any of its close relatives, the extended arm of the crane swings around by pivoting at the crane—or by pivoting the crane itself. Overhead cranes, alternatively, may have fixed tracks on the boom allowing the load to be rolled back and forth.
All but the simplest of cranes should not--and cannot legally—be operated without proper training, due to the risks involved in even rudimentary use of cranes.
Types of Crane
There are countless types of crane, though the defining difference in most cases is not the lifting mechanism itself, but the structure supporting and moving the hoisting mechanism. Due to the breadth of applications for cranes, there is significant granularity in describing cranes. Here are a few of the types you'll encounter in common applications:
- Automated Crane
- Cranes combining features of robotic crane systems with manual control to allow for precision and fixed operations in applications where full automation is unfeasible due to budget or complexity.
- Bridge Crane
- Common overhead crane which uses a drive mechanism to carry the trolley parallel to a runway.
- Construction Crane
- Any heavy lifting equipment used in construction processes
- Electric Crane
- Any crane powered with electricity, directly or via a motor.
- Gantry Crane
- A type of overhead crane with a rigid support for the bridge on a runway or rails.
- Hoist Crane
- Generic term for any crane that can lift and lower loads, but usually used for overhead cranes.
- Industrial Crane
- Any crane or machinery using levers and pulleys to lift, lower, or maneuver loads.
- Jib Crane
- Cranes designed with a boom fixed at one end to allow cantilever motion.
- Lifting Crane
- See industrial crane.
- Mobile Crane
- Any type of crane mounted on a vehicle for transportation on air, land, or water.
- Overhead Crane
- Simple cranes used in industrial applications with an overhead structure for the hoist to travel on.
- Powerhouse Crane
- Specialty cranes with heavy-lift hook trolley capacity and variable speed controls.
- Stacker Crane
- Cranes used in ways similar to forklifts, usually in warehousing and storage applications as part of an AS/RS system.
- Track Crane
- Cranes which move along rails or tracks within a facility.
- Tower Crane
- Construction and demolition cranes with a base bolted down, a tall mast, and a slewing unit to allow for rotation.
- Workstation Crane
- Smaller indoor cranes used for load handling.
- Double Girder Crane
- Also known as double girder bridge cranes. Overhead cranes in which the hoist is placed between two cross girders. Offers more lift and higher hook heights than single girder cranes.
- Single Girder Crane
- Also known as single girder bridge cranes. Relatively inexpensive overhead girder cranes in which the hoist hangs beneath a single cross girder.
- Electric Overhead Traveling Crane or EOT Crane
- Extremely common industrial overhead crane, in which the bridge girders can traverse along supporting rails.
- Truck Crane
- A specific type of mobile crane with the crane attached to a heavy truck, usually a hydraulic crane.
- Mobile Overhead Crane
- A simple crane overhead crane solution mounted with wheels to allow for mobility without being attached to the facility. Most similar to a workstation crane.
Components of a Crane
The complexity of cranes and the significant differences between types mean there are quite a few components to consider. Some cranes may lack some of these or refer to them by different names, while others may include still more not on this list.
- Crane Winder
- A reel or drum which draws in the rope, cable, or chains.
- Hoist Rope
- Usually wire rope in modern cranes.
- Sheave Component
- Pulley with a spinning grooved wheel on a frame, shaped to allow wire or rope to move without excessive abrasion. An electric hoist or electric chain hoist is common in modern designs.
- Crane Jib
- The projecting arm of a crane.
- Mast of a Crane
- The structure attached to the base of a tower crane, which gives it its height.
- Operating Cabin
- The box, room, or seating area containing controls for a crane.
- Counter Jib
- A projecting arm supporting the counterweight on a crane.
- Crane Girder
- The metal beam along which an overhead crane travels.
- Trolley on a Crane
- The unit which carries the hoisting mechanism along bridge rails.
- Boom Component
- Structural component which holds the upper hoisting mechanism on a tower crane or similar crane.
Ways to Use a Crane
Given the countless industries which need to lift heavy materials on a regular basis, cranes are one of the most widely used types of heavy equipment. Nearly every factory, construction site, shipping facility, power plant, water treatment facility, and fabricator in the world uses cranes on a regular basis.
Any operation which needs to move heavy loads on a semi-regular basis benefits from the use of cranes, even those which frequently use alternatives such as forklifts, lift towers, and excavators.
Bridge cranes, which in some cases are known as track cranes, are stretched across building structural beams and used as permanent fixtures in manufacturing or distribution facilities, operating from a set of overhead rails. Gantry cranes are bridged between two movable supports, often on wheels, and are typically used outside in large industrial construction applications. Jib cranes, unlike other classes of overhead cranes, are only supported on one side by a vertical support or wall fixture; many workstation cranes are types of jib cranes. A beam extends from the support or wall on a pivot, while the trolley carries the hoist along the overhead beam. Stacker cranes are used in automated computer warehouse systems and move vertically or horizontally on tracks to reach items in large storage facilities. They are an alternative to forklift trucks and are popular in warehouses where conditions are inhospitable to workers. For crane applications that require more than linear movements or are in hard-to-reach places, mobile cranes are used as an alternative to overhead cranes. A large percentage of modern construction operations are accomplished with the help of some kind of crane. Bridges, monuments, cargo ships and other large vehicles and vessels are built using gantry cranes, and most industrial equipment manufacturing and large metalworking processes use built-in overhead traveling cranes to move objects around. Small jib cranes can provide excellent relief from factory or assembly workers continually lifting and moving objects around a facility while taking up little or no valuable floor space.
Crane manufacturers can advise their customers about the best configuration for a given use. Especially in the construction industry, the applications for cranes can vary widely from project to project. In many cases, such as in the construction or repair of a bridge, mobile cranes, the dimensions and capacities of which can be specially suited for the task, are designed with that specific project in mind. This can be true in many other specialized applications as well.
Understanding Design and Customization of Cranes
Choosing an appropriate crane for your application requires a thorough understanding of the work area or areas involved, the material you need to deal with, considerations of efficiency, and your budget in the short term and long term.
- Work Area
- How much room will you have? How often will you need to move your crane? On what scale? Can your work area support the crane ton required?
- Loads Ability
- How much weight do you need to lift? How frequently? What types of loads; do you need special attachments?
- Crane Efficiency
- Will you be using your crane frequently enough to need to consider fuel consumption? Some cranes with additional moving components will need additional upkeep and maintenance.
- Short Term vs Long Term Budget
- More advanced cranes generally cost more, but offer greater efficiency. Can you spend more today to gain efficiency and save money over time?
- Required Maintenance
- Since there are few moving parts, wear and tear is limited, which directly cuts maintenance cost.
- Crane Speed
- Since overhead cranes do not have to maneuver across aisles, the loads are transported along a linear path, making the operation faster.
- Control of a Crane
- The modern wireless operation and independent push button panels keep operators out of danger associated with loading and unloading.
- Labor Expenses
- With the installation of a single overhead crane, the need for forklifts and their operators can be eliminated. The overhead crane also makes the operation lean since a single operator can manage loads of work, easily.
Crane Safety and Compliance
Only the simplest cranes can be operated without special training, which is reflected in the standards many states enforce for certification or licensure. In addition to state level requirements, many industries, companies, and insurers establish additional requirements to minimize liability and maximize safety on work sites.
Which cranes require special training also varies between jurisdictions, as the line between simple cranes a layman can use and advanced cranes with mandatory training can vary between jurisdictions even as the basic requirements for training do. Some areas define crane complexity based on powered motions, while others may describe specific types of crane as requiring or not requiring advanced training.
Furthermore, most crane operations will be further governed by general workplace safety rules as established by OSHA and other governing bodies, even in situations where special training isn't necessarily mandated. For this reason, it's particularly important that companies stay alert to compliance requirements in crane operations.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Crane Manufacturer
When choosing crane manufacturers, you want to pick one that can meet your specific needs as a company or individual rather than the one with the best overall reviews or the lowest prices in general. Different crane manufacturers may have different specialties, even if they can technically meet your needs for a crane. With that in mind, you'll want to choose your manufacturer based on traits such as:
- Types of Cranes
- If you need a gantry crane manufacturer and a given manufacturer doesn't make gantry cranes, there's little reason to do business with them. They may be able to offer a comparable or similar crane, but there's a big difference in efficiency between a crane that's nearly right and a crane that's exactly right for your application.
- Familiarity with Your Application
- Getting more specific than 'type of crane', if possible you want to work with a manufacturer with other satisfied customers using cranes for the same purpose as you—or at least something similar. References from customers with similar use scenarios can tell you more about the specific experience you'll have with a manufacturer than any number of generic reviews.
- Understanding of Compliance and Standards
- If you're working with cranes in an industry with unusual standards or compliance concerns, it's ideal if your manufacturer knows those standards and can work with you to ensure compliance with all regulations and requirements. Anything else creates room for countless mistakes and headaches—or at the very least delays while everyone communicates about what needs to be done to meet compliance.
- Manufacturer Professionalism
- You should be able to quickly and easily communicate with your manufacturer, should never have to guess at what you're going to pay or what you're paying for, and should be kept in the loop on the manufacturing process—especially if there's a hiccup that's going to delay your crane. These are mostly generic rules of professionalism for any manufacturer, vendor, or contractor, but they're especially important on a high-value item such as a crane.
Crane Manufacturer Terms
- A rolled structural steel member, typically used as a bridge girder for short span or low capacity cranes.
- A type of short end truck that is attached to the end of one girder or to a connecting member if more than one truck is utilized per girder. Bogies are used when the design of the runway necessitates more than four wheels on the crane.
- A mechanism mounted horizontally on the trolley of an overhead crane. A load is lowered or hoisted by the boom at a point other than directly under the hoist drum or trolley.
- Box Section
- An enclosed, rectangular cross-section of girders, trucks or other members.
- The part of an overhead crane that carries the trolley and travels parallel to the runway. Bridges consist of girders, trucks, end ties, a walkway and a drive mechanism.
- Bridge Conductors
- An electrical conductor, at times incorrectly referred to as a "trolley conductor," that provides power and control circuits to the trolley. Bridge conductors are located along the bridge girders.
- The compartment from which the operator controls the crane.
- The slight upward vertical curve given to girders to partially compensate for deflection due to hook load and weight of the crane.
- An assembly, also called a "trolley," that supports a load and runs on a monorail track or crane girders.
- Cover Plate
- The top or bottom plate of a box girder.
- Dead Load
- The loads on a structure that remain in a fixed position relative to the structure.
- The walkway with handrail and toe-boards, attached to the bridge or trolley for access purposes.
- The principal horizontal beams of the crane bridge, which support the trolley and are supported by the end trucks.
- A mechanism used for lifting and lowering a load.
- The lifting attachment point suspended from the hoist machinery, typically single- or double-pronged. Double-pronged hooks are known as "sister hooks."
- Idler Sheave
- A sheave used to equalize tension in opposite parts of a rope.
- Load Block
- The assembly of hook, swivel, bearing, sheaves, pins and frame suspended by the hoisting ropes.
- MEL (Mean Effective Load)
- A load used in durability calculations accounting for both maximum and minimum loads.
- A grooved wheel or pulley used with a rope or chain to change direction and point of application of a pulling force.
- The unit carrying the hoisting mechanism that travels on the bridge rails.
- Web Plate
- The vertical plate connecting the upper and lower flanges or cover plates of a girder.