Forklifts vs. Overhead Cranes

If you’re handling materials in your warehouse, you already know there’s no equipment shortage to use. Two popular pieces of material handling equipment are forklifts and overhead cranes, and it should go without saying that each piece has its fair share of pros and cons. So which piece suits your environment the best? In this post, we’ll break down the difference between forklifts and overhead cranes and get into some key variables that should be considered when deciding.

Here’s a closer look at what you need to know when it comes to forklifts vs. overhead cranes:

What is a Forklift?

Let’s start this post by first identifying the two pieces of equipment we’ll be comparing today, beginning with the forklift. Think of a forklift as an industrial truck. It features a lift in the front, making it convenient to lift pallets and other materials over short distances. The lift works to raise and lower pallets and other materials, typically to take items down from shelves, raise them to shelves, and maneuver them throughout a facility. Forklifts are operated by a driver, similar to if they were driving a car. Forklifts are affordable and flexible, yet they have limited lifting capacity, and they can prove difficult to maneuver in busy warehouse environments or crowded floor spaces.

What is an Overhead Crane?

Overhead cranes consist of a horizontal beam that runs on rails that travel the length of the warehouse’s space. Complete with a trolley and hoist that can zero in on materials on the warehouse floor, they can easily make their picks and transport the materials to where they need to go in the warehouse. They’re easy to work with and can support load limits of up to 400 tons. One of the nice things about working with an overhead crane versus a forklift is that they tend to be safer and don’t take up any floor space. The lift capacity – both regarding weight and height – is another key advantage.


As we said in the above section, overhead cranes are a safer option than forklifts for a few reasons. For starters, there’s improved load control, avoiding any floor obstacles or obstructions since the crane is transporting material above the warehouse floor, and better ergonomics. Cranes are a part of the building structure, and it’s easy to maneuver materials over structures and shelving units to enhance productivity and safety.

With forklifts, there’s a greater risk of running into floor obstructions or warehouse workers. There’s also a greater risk of improper stacking and damaged materials during transportation.


One of the key advantages of overhead crane installation is that it can be customized based on the warehouse environment. In other words, they can be built and installed for specific applications and tasks that a warehouse needs to perform. As a result of being purpose-built and installed, they tend to last longer than other material handling solutions and serve as a maintenance-friendly option. Overhead cranes are known to operate for up to 65 years before replacement is necessary, as opposed to 10 to 15 years for a forklift.

Cost Considerations

Though overhead cranes cost more than forklifts, you also have to consider the return on investment. As we noted earlier in this piece, cranes have a lifetime of up to 65 years when cared for and maintained properly. Forklifts, on the other hand, may only last for a decade. Forklifts come with less of an upfront price tag, but they also don’t last nearly as long.

Facility Layout Considerations

As we noted, overhead cranes are designed and installed specifically in the warehouse. This helps them do what warehouse workers need them to and how they want to do it. It can result in more productivity.

While forklifts and overhead cranes are viable options in the warehouse, some key differences separate the two solutions. So, which one is better for your space? Contact A-Lined Handling Systems with any questions or for more information.