Table of contents
- General overview of overhead cranes
- Overhead crane types
- Attachment types
- Overhead crane uses
- Crane classifications
- Overhead vs. bridge cranes
- Purchasing? Here’s how to determine the crane type you need
- Certification & training
- Safety & accident info
- Industry organizations
From lifting large containers at seaports to moving heavy products along an assembly line in a business, it’s easy to see why overhead cranes are called the workhorses of the industry. The versatility of overhead cranes makes their use possible for a multiple of lifting and moving applications in all industries, large and small.
“A Brief History of the Overhead Crane” credits ancient Greece for inventing the concept of cranes, but the first creation of an overhead crane dates back to the 1830s when a German company developed a steam-powered overhead crane. The first electric overhead crane developed by a Liverpool, England, engineer followed in 1876. The Industrial Revolution sparked more extensive use of overhead cranes and through the years, they have become commonplace in a wide variety of applications in different environments, from industrial to manufacturing to small enterprises.
Overhead cranes, also known as industrial cranes, bridge cranes, and overhead traveling cranes, are material handling machines that lift, lower and move heavy or bulky loads horizontally or backward and forward. These overhead lifting systems can be found operating in an overhead space inside a facility, at a railway, in a work yard, or at a shipping port.
An overhead crane structure, which can run on electricity or pneumatic power, is comprised of several components: parallel runways, a bridge beam, girders, end trucks, a trolley, and a hoist.
Overhead cranes are guided in their multi-directional movement by an operator using manual, wireless, or wired push button controls.
Industrial cranes come with their own set of terminology. This glossary of overhead cranes terminology defines the important terms from A to Z.
Overhead Crane types
According to the MHI, the association for material handling, logistics and supply chain, there are eight types of overhead cranes:
- Single girder crane, also called an underhung crane or under running crane
- Double girder crane, also called a top running crane
- Box girder crane
- Truss girder crane
- I-beam crane
- Straddle crane
- Tower crane
- Stacker crane
In addition to their different styles, overhead cranes offer a variety of attachments or end effectors to accommodate different load lifts. Among the different below the hook equipment attachments are:
- C hook
- Gripping lifters
- Mechanical lifters
- Vacuum lifters
- Sheet lifters
- Pallet lifters
- Lifting beams
- Strap hoists, or also known as slings
- Drum turners
Overhead crane uses
Because of their versatility, the usage of overhead cranes has increased from their original use in industrial applications to a wide range of areas. Today, these material handling machines are made to support any type of handling, processing, movement, and transport.
Various case studies show that overhead cranes are in use in a wide range of industries, including automotive; aerospace; marine; paper; power; steel; chemicals; manufacturing; commercial printing; and warehousing and distribution.
Among their functions are:
- Staging to hold work in process;
- Production processes, such as moving products through an assembly line;
- Transport to and from storage areas or warehouses;
- Loading finished products to docks, railcars, or open trailers.
To determine which bridge crane is best for your application, usage, and facility, the Crane Manufacturers Association of America, Inc. (CMAA) has established crane service classifications.
These overhead crane classifications are:
- Class A – Infrequent Use
- Class B – Light Service
- Class C – Moderate Service
- Class D – Heavy Service
- Class E – Severe Service
- Class F – Continuous Severe Service
Knowing a crane’s classification is essential when deciding which overhead crane to purchase for your facility or task.
Selecting an overhead crane versus one that moves on the floor or through aisles has many advantages.
For starters, overhead cranes are adaptable, provide faster, more efficient direct paths and use of space, offer precision maneuvering and positioning, reduce product damage, and deliver maintenance and labor cost savings
Depending on your type of business and crane usage, you can realize many other overhead cranes benefits.
Overhead Cranes vs. Bridge Cranes
Often times, you’ll hear crane suppliers interchange the terms overhead cranes and overhead bridge cranes, or simply bridge cranes. Both terms means the same thing. You’ll find them available in single or double girder bridge designs.
Likewise, a gantry crane or a portal crane are interchangeable terms for an overhead crane.
Help with purchasing: How to Determine the Type of Overhead Crane You Need
Lift and application are two key factors when deciding which overhead crane type is right for you.
Before you even consider investing in an overhead lifting system, consider these questions to help you narrow down the best overhead cranes to meet your needs.
It’s also helpful to seek out instructional videos to determine which overhead crane system will serve your application.
In addition, a buyer’s guide can help guide you through the many factors you need to consider when buying an overhead crane.
Certification & Training
Special training and certification are needed to operate an overhead crane. To become an overhead crane operator, an individual must meet certain eligibility requirements established by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).
Many companies offer overhead crane training, with some providing the CCO training at a scheduled location, while others arrange for training sessions at the client’s location.
Among the overhead crane training companies that serve the entire U.S., offer both location options for the training and practical exam, and offer the training course in English and Spanish are:
3688 Airport Boulevard, B234
Mobile, AL 36608
Provides NCCCO crane operator certification for experienced overhead crane operators seeking the CCO certification. The training is typically four days, running Thursday to Sunday. Also provides NCCCO certification training for riggers and signal persons.
12071 Tejon Street, Suite 200
Westminster, CO 80234
Provides crane safety training, rigging training, crane operator certification, crane inspections, and NCCCO certification testing. Training is provided for overhead cranes, articulating boom cranes, and mobile cranes with a focus on OSHA compliance. The company’s programs prepare participants for CCO certification examinations.
11112 Boggy Creek Drive
Orlando, FL 32824
Offers training programs for crane and equipment operators, riggers, signal persons, inspectors, trainers, supervisors, and managers. In addition to overhead cranes, training programs are available for other types of cranes. Also provides NCCC preparatory training and exams for crane operators, riggers, signal persons, and lift directors. Its certification program meets OSHA, ANSI, and ASME requirements for crane operators, signalers, and riggers.
7190 Elder Lane
Sun Prairie, WI 53590
Offers specialized training programs in overhead cranes, mobile cranes, rigging and signaling, heavy equipment, trucking, site layout, and OSHA compliance and construction site safety. Graduates of the programs are prepared to test for the NCCCO written and practical exams.
9131 San Leandro Street, Suite 110
Oakland, CA 94603
Provides classroom instruction for crane operators seeking NCCCO certification for overhead crane operation and administers practical exams for certification. The classes are scheduled in conjunction with the NCCCO written exam schedule, for which it is a testing facility. Also offers crane operator training classes aimed at optimizing safety and reducing risk. Classes focus on hands-on, practical instruction for overhead cranes and other crane types.
12514 Woody Road
Pearland, TX 77581
Family owned and operated full-service crane and rigging training and consulting company. Crane and rigging training courses include the overhead crane operator course, the hands-on overhead crane operator skills development course, and the overhead crane inspection course. Offers all NCCCO certification preparatory courses, with an all-inclusive package that includes preparatory training for the written and practical exams. Specializes in creating customized courses.
218 Dividend Drive, #1
Rexburg, ID 83440
Provides heavy equipment operator training services, including overhead crane online training, classroom or on-site training for overhead crane operators and trainers, and overhead crane training kits. Training tools are OSHA compliant.
308B N 2nd Avenue
Upland, CA 91786
Offers overhead bridge and gantry safety crane training, including overhead crane training for operators and supervisors. Modules can be added for specialized training in rigging, signaling, and gantry and bridge cranes. Training classes can be customized to your specific needs.
730 Oak Grove Road
McDonough, GA 30253
Provides crane, rigging and signaling safety programs throughout the U.S., Canada, South America and the Caribbean, and is a permanent test site for the NCCCO. Its overhead crane operator training is a basic program for overhead crane operators and operators of hoists that incorporates OSHA regulations, ANSI standards, and manufacturers’ recommended practices. Also offers an overhead crane inspection training program that provides an in-depth study of ANSI B30.2 and OSHA 1910.179 requirements. CCO prep courses and practical exams are offered, preparing candidates for the NCCCO certification and recertification exams.
1215 Millennium Parkway
Brandon, FL 33511
Offers scheduled training, on-site training, and NCCCO certification training programs for overhead crane operators, as well as articulating crane operators, mobile crane operators, pedestal crane inspectors, tower crane operators, and aerial lift operators and inspectors. The company prepares candidates for CCO tests and fully endorses NCCCO training and testing.
In addition to training providers, industry organizations and regulatory agencies also offer basic overhead crane training and safety programs. They include:
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – Offers a two-hour online overhead crane and bridge crane operator safety training course under its Forklift & Heavy Equipment Training category of training courses. The overhead crane training course meets the ANSI and OSHA requirements for powered industrial trucks.
OSHAcademy – Offers a crane and derrick safety training course that includes overhead cranes. Each course module is done at your own pace and is followed by quiz questions. A final exam includes 35 questions and OSHA requirements state you must have a score of at least 70 percent to pass it. You can retake a failed exam. The training is free, but a small fee is required for a certification of training certificate. The OSHAcademy also offers a specialized cranes and equipment training course that addresses overhead cranes,
International Union of Operating Engineers – Offers members of the union the opportunity to obtain certification for their competence in crane operations. Certification requires 1,000 hours of documented crane-related experience and/or training in the last five years. Candidates must pass written and practical examinations.
The Manufacturers’ Association – The member-driven organization offers a three-day overhead crane training and inspection course that covers the safety and inspection criteria for all brand names of overhead cranes and hoists in accordance with ANSI, ASME, OSHA and CMAA codes and regulations. In addition, the association offers a one-day review course for overhead crane recertification.
Under 29 CFR 1910.179, The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets inspection requirements for overhead cranes, as well as general requirements, and design, operations and maintenance regulations.
This OSHA overhead crane regulation requires three different types of overhead crane inspections:
- An initial inspection of a new overhead crane before it is put into service;
- Frequent inspections of certain components performed daily and monthly, depending on how much they are used, the type of service they perform, and the environment in which the crane operates;
- Periodic inspections done at monthly to annual intervals to ensure safety and continued operation.
Inspections are also required of overhead cranes that are not in regular use, for example, a crane that has been idle for a month or more, or standby cranes.
In addition, overhead cranes must follow the ANSI B30.2 overhead crane inspection specifications established by the American National Standard Institute and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ANSI/ASME).
The inspection section in ANSI B30.2 covers the topics of inspection classification, frequent inspection, periodic inspection, cranes not in regular use, and inspection records.
In addition, the Alliance, an OSHA cooperative program, has developed a fact sheet for the proper inspection and maintenance of overhead cranes and hoists.
Because of the complexity of overhead crane inspections, a large number of companies perform crane inspection, crane testing, and crane certification services. However, it’s important that a certified crane inspector performs the inspections.
A good resource is the directory of CCO-certified crane inspectors provided by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).
For those who want to perform overhead crane inspections in-house using their own preventive maintenance staff, a checklist is a helpful tool. Several websites offer online overhead crane inspection checklists for pre-operational, monthly, and periodic inspections.
In addition, overhead crane inspection training programs are available to increase the level of knowledge for employees responsible for performing overhead crane inspections at your company or facility.
These programs offer training at a designated site, online, or at your place of business. Participants can become a certified overhead crane inspector by successfully completing a written exam.
Among the overhead crane inspector training programs are:
National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) – This crane inspector certification program includes instruction and exam applications. To be eligible for the program, candidates must have at least five years of crane-related experience and meet education and medical requirements. Site locations for the course are available throughout the U.S.
North American Crane Bureau Group – A four-day course offered at various locations throughout the U.S. Crane related experience is required in order to take the course.
Industrial Training International – The three-day course is comprised of classroom workshops, hands-on inspection sessions and evaluations, and written exam. The course is offered at your facility, off-site, and online.
Crane Inspection & Certification Bureau – A three-day program to upgrade the knowledge of current overhead crane/hoist and rigging inspectors. Classroom instruction is reinforced with hands-on application sessions. The program is offered at scheduled locations throughout the U.S., or at your own facility.
Crane Tech – Offers a two-day training course at scheduled locations throughout the U.S., and a three-day, hands-on course at its Tampa, Florida, training center. Course topics cover safety and compliance of the machine and its components.
CMCO Depot – A three-day overhead crane and hoist inspection certification seminar is applicable to all cranes and hoists, regardless of manufacturer. The program is held at CMCO training centers located throughout the U.S. An online crane and hoist inspection recertification course is also available.
Safety & Accident info
When it comes to operating overhead cranes, there are three major hazards that can occur: electrical, overloading, and materials falling.
A review of overhead crane accidents over the years shows that numerous fatalities occurred as a result of materials dropping from an overhead crane. Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries can be accessed by entering “overhead crane” in the “Description” box on the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident search.
OSHA also has established overhand crane safety standards as a means of preventing accidents and injuries from lifting systems.
If an overhead crane accident occurs and after notifying emergency responders, OSHA requires employers to file a report within 8 hours if an employee is killed on the job, or within 24 hours if an employee suffers a work-related severe injury.
The Crane, Hoist and Monorail Alliance, an OSHA cooperative program, has developed the following overhead crane safety tips cards to help in implementing and practicing overhead crane safety practices.
In addition, online and location-based overhead crane safety courses are available that cover all facets of crane safety, including operator training, maintenance, and operation. Among the overhead crane safety training companies are:
Crane Training USA, Inc. – Provides safety sessions and maintenance and inspection training for overhead crane operators, riggers and loaders. Crane operator safety training software is also available.
Vivid Learning Systems – Offers an overhead and gantry crane safety course that covers safety inspections and safety practices. Available online and on mobile devices in English and Spanish.
Crane Safety Associates of America, Inc. – Presents a crane safety training program for those who operate, maintain, or manage cranes, hoists, or other material handling equipment. The classroom-based training includes hands-on field instruction to put theory into immediate practice. On-site crane safety training is also offered.
NACB – Offers a three-day overhead crane safety training program that covers compliance with state and federal OSHA requirements, inspection documentation and record keeping requirements, inspection procedures and requirements, accident causes and prevention, correct use of hand signals, and other topics. Also offers a three-day overhead crane operational safety management course.
Crane Safety Ltd. – One- and two-day overhead crane hands-on safety training (HOST) program covers safe operation and usage. Topics include machine inspections, hazard assessment, proper use of sling capacity charts, and inspection safety. An online overhead crane safety course is also available.
Overhead Crane Jobs
According to Recruiter, demand for overhead crane operators is expected to rise 0.44 percent annually over the next few years.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for crane and tower operators reports that the mean hourly wage for crane operators is $26.23 and the mean annual wage is $54,560. However, the statistics further show that 90 percent of crane operators earn $39.79 an hour, or an annual wage of $82,760.
The top five states with the highest concentration of crane operator jobs are: Louisiana, North Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas, and Indiana.
You can also enlist an employment agency or human resource and staffing organization that specializes in overhead crane jobs. Among them are: SmartTalent, Total Resources Network, and Spartan Staffing.
Another resource for bridge crane jobs are crane companies or industry companies looking for overhead crane operators. Some companies with job boards are: American Crane & Equipment Corporation, Belcan Corporation, Buckner Companies, Deshazo, Konecranes, and Aero Crane Service.
Industry Organizations and Websites
The overhead crane industry is represented by several trade organizations, standards associations, and trade magazines. Among them are:
Crane Manufacturers Association of America (CMAA) – This independent trade group represents the overhead crane industry and serves the U.S. market. The CMAA issues engineering specifications and standards, and is the leading advocate for the safe application and operation of overhead crane equipment and related products.
National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) – A nonprofit organization that develops performance standards for safe crane operation for all segments of general industry and construction.
Crane Institute of America – A leading provider of training services to the U.S. lifting industry. Its Florida-based facility provides hands-on training and certification.
Crane Institute Certification – An independent certifying organization for crane operators. It provides OSHA recognized and NCCA accredited certifications.
Crane Certification Association of America (CCAA) – An association that works to promote crane safety, address crane safety in governmental forums, and improve the certification of the profession.
North American Crane Bureau Group (NACB) – Supports the crane, hoist, and rigging industry by participating in the development of national safety standards, conducting safety training programs, producing safety videos for the lift industry, and offering industry training simulators.
Association of Crane & Rigging Professionals – A nonprofit association aimed at improving crane operations and rigging activities in all industries through education.
Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association – An international trade association that supports those who work in crane and rigging operations, machinery moving and erecting, industrial maintenance, specialized transportation, and millwrighting through advocacy, education and networking activities.
MHI – The largest material handling, logistics and supply chain association in the U.S. that offers education, networking and solution sourcing for industry groups, including the overhead crane industry group.
Hoist Manufacturers Institute (HMI) – An organization that represents suppliers of hoisting equipment and actively supports the development of safety and certification standards.
Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) – The trade association that represents the lifting, rigging and load securement industry and works to promote the development of safety standards and programs, as well as establish, acquire, preserve and disseminate technical information.
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) – An independent, non-governmental international organization that develops and publishes international standards for products, services, and systems, including overhead cranes, to ensure their quality, safety, and efficiency.
American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) – A nonprofit professional organization that develops codes and ASME standards for all engineering disciplines, including the overhead crane industry.
American National Standards Institute (ANSI) – The nonprofit organization that oversees the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system. Its mission is the creation and promulgation of thousands of norms and guidelines that impact all sectors of business, including the overhead crane industry.
American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) – The oldest and largest professional safety organization that manages, supervises, and consults on safety, health, and environmental issues in industries.
Crane Hot Line – North America’s leading publication for the crane, heavy haul, and rigging industries.
Lift & Hoist International (LHI) – A print and digital magazine devoted to news and insights on overhead cranes and hoists, access equipment, and heavy lift material handlers.
Hoist Magazine – A print, digital, and online international factory crane magazine that represents the overhead lifting equipment industry and other forms of material handling.
OCH Magazine – A print, digital, and online magazine of the overhead crane and hoist industries.
Cranes Today Magazine – A resource for news about the crane and lifting industries, including new cranes, product launches, and market intelligence