Forklift Overhead Crane

Forklifts vs Overhead Cranes: Comparison

Author Headshot - Thomas Feldman
Thomas Feldman
Feb 09, 2022

Forklifts and overhead cranes are an essential part of material handling in the manufacturing industry.

Knowing the difference between them can mean a difference of thousands of dollars over the life of your business.

It is also important to understand the difference in capabilities between forklifts and overhead cranes for safety and factory efficiency.

By the end of this article, you will know which option is the best for your business needs.

Forklifts: Their Advantages and Disadvantages

Forklifts are machines driven by an operator that use forks to lift material.

Usually that material is on a pallet, which the forks of the forklift can easily slide into and lift.

Forklifts are extremely common in factories, warehouses, and many other industries because they have some great advantages.

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

Forklift Advantages


Forklifts are extremely mobile and can be driven almost anywhere.

So wherever you need it in your factory, chances are you can get your forklift there.

This mobility is great for factories and even smaller businesses that need to move products.

Another aspect of their mobility is how quickly they can move material.

Once loaded, forklifts can quickly move material from one end of a factory to the other.


Their size is also great for moving through narrow factory aisles.

If you want to utilize most of your storage space chances are you will want to keep your aisle width to a minimum.

Forklifts are great for working in tight spaces, but this also comes with the caveat that all operators should be careful when operating in very tight spaces.


If what you need to move is on a pallet, the time to move it will be a few minutes.

And you can put almost anything on a pallet that is under a certain weight limit.

This makes moving oddly shaped objects much easier to move.

Forklift Disadvantages

Life Expectancy/Cost

Forklifts have a lower initial cost than overhead cranes.

Some might see this as an advantage, but because of the short lifespan of a forklift the cost will compound over time.

Forklifts last only around 10-15 years.

Compare that to 65 years that an overhead crane can last, and you’ll see the true cost of forklifts become much greater.


As mentioned earlier, if you’re trying to maximize your storage capacity you might make narrow aisles between your storage racks.

But another way to maximize your storage capacity is to build taller storage racks.

If you’ve only got forklifts in your factory, then very tall storage racks can cause some problems.

A forklift will be rated to lift a certain amount of weight, but this weight will diminish the higher you lift.

This limit usually falls between 15 to 18 feet.

So you can still get fairly high, but an overhead crane can lift much higher than that.


The safety of a forklift is largely dependent on the person operating it.

A seemingly small mistake by an operator can lead to a lot of damage. 

Thankfully big accidents are rare, but other kinds of accidents aren’t uncommon.

A lot of these are preventable with proper focus and training, but it is still a hazard that is much more common with forklifts than with overhead cranes.

Overhead Cranes: Their Advantages and Disadvantages

Overhead cranes are very different from forklifts, but they do share some common purposes.

An overhead crane is a fixed or mobile beam with a strong hoist system attached to lift heavy material.

The most common overhead cranes in manufacturing are ones that run on a track system so they can move material to many different places in the factory or warehouse.

For more information about the different types of overhead cranes you can check out this article, but for our purposes here I will be talking specifically about bridge cranes.

Double Girder Bridge Crane
Double Girder Bridge Crane

Overhead Crane Advantages

Longer Life

An overhead crane has a lifespan of almost 7 times that of a forklift.

Overhead cranes last so long in part because they get damaged much less than forklifts.

They don’t suffer as much damage as forklifts because overhead cranes typically have a completely unobstructed path that they move through.

So unlike forklifts, overhead cranes don’t have a chance of running into obstacles.

Lifting Capacity

Overhead cranes really shine with their lifting capacity.

Overhead cranes can lift huge amounts of material with some capacities higher than 400 tons.

For extremely heavy material — overhead cranes are the best choice for most manufacturers. 


Unlike forklifts, overhead cranes are incredibly safe and do not require two people to operate them safely.

Because overhead cranes follow a specific path, they are very easy to operate.

They can even be remotely controlled which gives workers excellent visibility.

Most often overhead cranes are designed for a specific task inside of a factory.

This design means that the environment around them is usually optimized for them to operate, making overhead cranes even safer.

Overhead Bridge Crane with Wire Rope Hoist
Overhead Bridge Crane

Overhead Crane Disadvantages

Initial Cost

The main disadvantage of overhead cranes compared to forklifts is the initial cost.

A crane can cost several times more than a new forklift which means that for the price of one overhead crane, you could buy a few forklifts.

But as mentioned earlier, that cost becomes much less when you think about the cost over time.

Because overhead cranes last so much longer than forklifts, the overall cost of an overhead crane is actually less than that of a forklift.


Overhead cranes are usually installed as a part of the building structure because of the amount of support they need.

This means that if you want to move your factory to a new location you will have to leave your overhead crane behind.

The consolation here is that having an overhead crane in your building will increase the sale price of your building.

So you can use that extra money for a new crane in the next building.

Limited Mobility

Unlike forklifts, which can move just about anywhere, overhead cranes can only move where they’re built to move.

This limited mobility is partially what makes overhead cranes so safe compared to forklifts.

Which One is Right for You?

Deciding between an overhead crane and forklift is an important decision that will affect long term costs, and your factory’s efficiency.

If you need to move material that can fit on a pallet and isn’t too heavy by factory standards, then a forklift may be right for you.

If you can afford the higher initial cost, and need to lift heavy material quickly and efficiently then an overhead crane may be your best option.

Based on the advantages and disadvantages of forklifts and overhead cranes one option has probably stood out to you as the best one for your business.

To maximize the efficiency of your workspace with an overhead crane, get a free quote. One of our workspace production experts will get back to you quickly!