Shannahan Crane & Hoist

What’s the Difference Between an Overhead Crane and a Hoist?

In an industry with so many specific terms, it’s easy to mix them up or misuse them. Most people might not think there is a difference between concrete and cement but anyone that works with these materials on a daily basis need to understand how they differ from one another. 

The same can be said about overhead cranes and hoists. Both of these pieces of equipment are used to lift heavy objects and move them to another location, but they are two different pieces of equipment that have a few key differences.

In this article, we will discuss overhead cranes and hoists to showcase what they are, how they are different, and how they each operate.

Overhead Cranes vs Hoists: The Main Difference

The key difference between overhead cranes and hoists is their range of movement. Overhead cranes have a greater variety of movement, allowing you to move heavy loads up and down or side to side. This is the structure onto which a hoist is mounted.

A hoist is a component of a crane but still its own piece of equipment. It is only capable of moving objects up and down along a vertical path. Think of an elevator being lifted and lowered along a shaft as an example of a hoist. 

The main difference between a hoist and an overhead crane is the direction it is able to move. While an overhead crane is the main structure, a hoist is simply a component used with the crane to help carry loads.

An Overview of Hoists

Hoists are a component of a larger lifting system like an overhead crane. They provide up-and-down movement using pulleys, a wire rope or chain, and a hook. Hoists are ideal for lifting and lowering heavy loads as well as getting them accurately positioned. 

Because it is only one part of the operation, a hoist needs to be mounted on a crane in order to do its job. Hoists will most commonly be attached to a trolley that provides horizontal movement while it moves loads along a vertical plane. Combining these components allows an overhead crane to work smoothly and efficiently. 

Types of Hoists

The type of hoist used in a project will vary depending on the lifting requirements. Considering different hoists comes down to three factors: lifting medium, power, and suspension. Here’s a quick look at each category.

Lifting Medium

The lifting medium refers to the material used to connect the load hook to the overhead body of the hoist. This medium can be welded link chain, roller load chain, rope, or metal cable. Which is used depends on the expected weight of the load.


The type of power used to get a hoist going depends on the lifting power required for the job and what setup exists in the workspace. Hoists can be powered manually, electronically, or with air power. 


Suspension refers to how the hoist is mounted to the crane. Some hoists are mounted directly to the bridge girder, allowing for only up-and-down movement of the load. Others are mounted on a trolley that will also move side-to-side once materials are lifted so they can be relocated.

An Overview of Overhead Crane

An overhead crane is a complex machine that aids in the lifting, lowering, and moving of heavy loads in a way that is safe and secure. A crane is equipped with many different components (including a hoist) that give it the ability to move in many different directions and cover a wide area. 

Overhead cranes combine different components to achieve this range of movement. Here’s a quick rundown of each part of an overhead crane.


The bridge is an integral part of an overhead crane where the trolley and hoist are mounted. This beam spans the working area so heavy loads can be moved between runways. How the bridge is mounted depends on the type of overhead crane installed. 


A trolley is mounted on the bridge and supports the hoist. This is the component of an overhead crane that allows side-to-side movement. Trolleys can either be under-running or top-running, which refers to where the wheels of the trolley run along the bridge.


The hoist is attached to the trolley and facilitates vertical movement. Once the trolley rolls into position, the hoist is used to move a load up or down. It can consist of a wire rope or chain and be powered manually, electronically, or with compressed air.

Types of Overhead Cranes

The type of overhead crane you need depends on your work environment and the scope of work being done. There are four common types of overhead cranes:

Bridge Crane

Bridge cranes include runways built into the structure of a building with a bridge running between them. This bridge can feature a single or double girder and an under-running or top-running trolley, depending on the building and needs of the project. Single girder cranes are less expensive due to their simpler design, but double girder cranes are capable of carrying heavier loads.

Gantry Crane

A gantry crane consists of a bridge supported between two legs on wheels that allow it to travel along fixed rails. This type of crane is most commonly used in projects where there’s no reason to use a full overhead runway system. Gantry cranes are typically utilized in outdoor areas such as shipyards, railyards, and special projects like building a bridge.

Monorail Crane

Monorail cranes allow loads to be moved along a predetermined path where no flexibility is required. The trolley is fixed to a single i-beam where it can be moved along a straight line, in an oval, or even along a snaking path. This type of overhead crane is perfect for navigating complex spaces.

Jib Crane

Jib cranes are economical and ideal for smaller work areas. They don’t use a runway or track system and instead are standalone or mounted on a wall or column. These cranes offer rotation along with the up-and-down movement of the hoist.

Shannahan Crane & Hoist Covers All of Your Material Handling Needs

Whether you need an overhead crane or a hoist, there’s no better place to look than Shannahan Crane & Hoist. We provide complete sales, engineering, parts, and service for major material handling equipment manufacturers, and we have a solution that’s perfect for you. Check out our full range of equipment, or contact us today to get started!

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