​Maybe your facility has been using forklifts for as long as you can remember — but are they still the best material handling option? There does come a time when this decision becomes critical. To make the best choice, you need to have a solid understanding of how overhead cranes and forklifts compare.

Benefits of an Overhead Crane

You already know that forklifts and cranes are both excellent at moving materials, and both have their pros and cons — and most people are going to focus on the upfront costs of a crane. But there are three fundamental aspects of cranes that can benefit your establishment.

Better Productivity

Forklifts are much more maneuverable, so the impact on productivity depends on how you use your forklifts. Unfortunately, for some applications, forklifts are simply unwieldy and counterproductive. Furthermore, the maneuverability of a forklift can pose additional dangers in crowded working conditions — is the primary reason they aren’t considered as safe as overhead gantry cranes, which we’ll talk about in a minute.

Productivity issues with forklifts often reveal themselves when your workflow or the types of materials you move have changed. One of the ways that overhead cranes contribute to higher productivity levels lies in their ability to lift substantially heavier loads than forklifts. And the capacity of cranes doesn’t depend on how high the object needs to be raised, and there are no additional measures that must be taken to ensure the forklift remains safely balanced during the lift.

Overhead cranes are also easier to control (often with great precision) and manage than forklifts. Because of this, they’re less likely to be damaged or cause damage. These three factors combine to increase productivity through better work efficiency. In addition, because cranes are less likely to be damaged, overall downtime for material handling equipment is also reduced.

Finally, forklifts require two employees to safely operate (a driver and a director), while an overhead crane usually requires just the hoist operator. Therefore, investing in an overhead crane can free up your employees for other more pressing tasks, which improves overall productivity.

Lower Lifetime Costs

While overhead cranes do involve a higher initial cost than forklifts, keep in mind that forklifts do require much more maintenance and (as alluded to earlier) are far more susceptible to damage, and we mean everything from bumping into racks to outright running into dock doors. That can lead to costly downtime and expensive repairs as well.

Over its lifetime, an overhead crane costs less in part because of lower maintenance costs. In addition, the use of its rail system prevents the damage experienced and caused by forklifts. And if you maintain an overhead crane correctly, you can see a useful life of up to 65 years. On the other hand, most forklifts don’t last more than 15 years. The cost of a crane is spread out over more years than a forklift, which means lower lifetime costs and it retains its value much better. And don’t forget that a single overhead crane can replace several forklifts.

Safer Operation

Forklifts can be fun to operate, but it is so easy for them to suffer damage when they bump into things. And we’ve all seen the videos on social media where forklifts have caused severe damage to materials, products, and racks. And according to OSHA, forklifts (or powered industrial trucks, as they call them) there are four primary ways forklifts can injure people:

  • A forklift strikes someone
  • Someone falls off while standing on elevated pallets and tines
  • A forklift is accidentally driven off a loading dock
  • A forklift falls between docks and an unsecured trailer

Overhead cranes do pose their dangers. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, most crane fatalities result from either being struck by a crane or by something falling due to the crane’s motion. A well-designed crane bay, however, can certainly minimize these dangers.

Forklifts pose a much higher safety risk to those around them than overhead cranes. While overhead cranes are constrained in their motion by a rail system, forklifts can move anywhere and maneuver at will — while you can design crane bays to prevent accidents and damage. And keep this in mind: one workman’s compensation claim can be much more expensive than using an overhead crane.

Switching From Forklifts to Cranes

So, are you ready to make the switch from forklifts to an overhead crane? Here’s a list of circumstances that have often led to our customers exchanging a forklift fleet for one or more overhead cranes:

  • Changes in workflow
  • Heavier or bulkier materials
  • More frequent lifts
  • Current loads are accelerating the wear and tear on forklifts
  • The facility is being redesigned
  • Moving to a new facility


In general, making the change from forklifts to a crane offers three distinct benefits: better productivity, M&O lower costs over the crane’s lifetime, and enhanced safety for your employees. And cranes can safely handle heavier, bulkier items than forklifts.

If you’re looking into acquiring an overhead crane, let the experts at Hi-Speed Industrial Service help. Our experts can evaluate your existing facility and workflow to help you determine if a crane is a good fit for your needs.

If you choose to invest in a crane, we are Master Distributors for Harrington, Gorbel, Columbus-McKinnon and a key distributor for most major OEMSs. And once installed, our experienced team can perform inspections according to OSHA 1910.179 and ASME/ANSI B30.2, troubleshoot any problems you encounter and provide you with 24/7 repair services.

Contact Hi-Speed Industrial today to learn what your overhead crane options are!