Evaluating bridge and gantry cranes

Properly sized, designed, and installed bridge and gantry cranes dramatically increase production, significantly reduce material handling costs, and substantially lower the risk of employee injury. A properly maintained crane lasts at least 20 yr, could reach 50 yr or more, and occasionally outlives the structure or company originally housing or using the equipment.

By Ron Holzhauer, Managing Editor, Plant Engineering Magazine November 2, 2018

Properly sized, designed, and installed bridge and gantry cranes dramatically increase production, significantly reduce material handling costs, and substantially lower the risk of employee injury. A properly maintained crane lasts at least 20 yr, could reach 50 yr or more, and occasionally outlives the structure or company originally housing or using the equipment.

These overhead workhorses maneuver large, bulky loads through the plant for shipping and receiving, relocating and staging, or integrating with heavy-duty manufacturing operations. Computers and other control packages near the equipment or at a remote location allow the crane to closely match almost any size and type of load, where and when needed, and under all operational and environmental conditions.

Hoisting speeds over 200 fpm, bridge speeds to 1000 fpm, and capacities over 1000 tons are available, although slower movements and smaller loads are the norm. Cranes are 15—30-ft overhead, but could be up to 200 ft to clear floor-mounted equipment, to place material where needed in the manufacturing operation, or for safety reasons. A variety of mechanisms, such as hooks, magnets, or buckets, are available on the hoist to match particular grabbing or lifting requirements.


Bridge cranes are available in top running and underhung configurations, and single or double girder, to match plant structural and lifting requirements. Gantry cranes are constructed in single or double leg, single or double girder, and top running or underhung versions.

Top running, double-girder cranes provide the greatest lifting capacities, highest tonnages, widest spans, and heaviest duties.

Top-running, single-girder cranes that have a one-beam bridge that rides on a rail atop the runway and handle loads up to 30 tons with spans up to 60 ft.

Double-girder underhung cranes have the highest hoist mounted above the bridge to attain a bit more headroom and reach capacities up to 50 tons.

Single-girder underhung cranes have the bridge and trucks running on the lower flanges of the runway beams and are usually limited to 10 tons.

Double-leg gantry cranes move along floor rails or guidepaths with a capacity typically less than 30 tons, although units reaching several hundred tons are in service.

Single-leg gantry cranes substitute a wall-mounted runway for the second leg and are usually designed to handle loads of less than 20 tons for a specific operation.

Bridge cranes are usually used for high tonnages, long spans, and heavy duties. Although available in several forms, each crane design contains several pieces of common equipment.

Hoists are used to lift and lower the load.

Trolleys consist of a frame, end trucks or wheels with side frames, and drive. They suspend or support the hoist, rope, and load block; and travel on one or more bridge rails or beams.

Girders are the principal horizontal structural steel beams holding the hoist and trolley. They are supported by end trucks and are perpendicular to the runway. Very wide or large capacity cranes require two or more girders.

Runways consist of structural steel rails, girders, brackets, and framework. They support and allow movement of the crane through the plant.

End trucks are an assembly of structural members, wheels, bearings, and axles that support the girders or trolley cross members.

Bridges consist of girders, end trucks, walkways, cross bridge electrification controls, and drive mechanisms. They carry the trolley and travel along the runway rails.

Gantry cranes are often a practical alternative to bridge cranes, and are capable of serving many of the same lifting, traveling, and duty classifications. This floor-mounted equipment essentially “bridges” the lifting and moving service area as the crane rolls down a predetermined path on legs.

Gantries are suitable if the plant structure cannot handle the bridge loading, if the installation is temporary and may require relocation at a later date, or overhead runways are long, costly to erect, and difficult to maintain in alignment. The gantry is common in situations where the crane itself does little or no traveling, and material transfer is handled almost exclusively by the trolley.

Single and double-leg, single-girder cranes typically handle less than 20 tons, although models that accommodate up to about 60 tons are available with special construction features. The two double-girder types usually have capacities less than 30 tons, but again, exceptions exist and some versions moving several hundred tons are in service.

— Ron Holzhauer, Managing Editor, 630-320-7139, rholzhauer@cahners.com

For more information on cranes, visit the “Material handling” channel at plantengineering.com.

Daily visual checks


Operating mechanisms

Limit switches
Operational for function

Deformation and cracks

Wear, elongation, and twist

Wire rope
Wear, broken wire, and kinks

Wear, broken wire, and kinks

Rope reaving
Proper seating in drum and sheave grooves

Load classes and cycles for CMAA service duties

Load class
Load Cycles 20,000200,000
Load Cycles 200,000600,000
Load Cycles 600,0002,000,000
Load Cycles Over 2,000,000
Load Cycles Mean effective load factor





Irregular occasional use followed by long idle periods
Regular use in intermittent operation
Regular use in continuous operation
Regular use in severe continuous operation

L1 Cranes that hoist the rated load capacity exceptionally, and normally handle very light lifts

L2 Cranes that rarely hoist the rated load, and normally handle about one-third of capacity

L3 Cranes that hoist the rated load fairly frequently, and normally handle between one-third and two-thirds of capacity

L4 — Cranes that regularly hoist close to the rated load

Safety first

Safe crane operation is an issue of paramount importance. Components such as redundant brake concepts for hoists, more reliable controls, and economical overload detection systems are engineered into the cranes to help in the safety process.

Even with this equipment available, safety starts with the operator. Whenever there is doubt as to safety, the operator should stop the crane, report the problem to a supervisor, and not operate the equipment until satisfied it is safe to do so, or is directed to proceed by a supervisor.

Operators should be familiar with the principal parts of the crane. Employees should receive hands-on training, read all instruction materials, and have a thorough knowledge of crane control functions and movements. The operator should test all crane controls at the beginning of each shift, and should perform a walk-around check to look for loose or damaged parts before commencing work.

There is a variety of other safety factors to consider.

When the load approaches the rated capacity, the operator should test the hoisting brakes by raising the load a few inches and applying the brakes.

The load should not be lowered below the point where less than two full wraps of wire rope remain on the hoist drum.

The operator should land any attached load and place the controllers in the “off” position when leaving a crane unattended.

Loads should never be carried over workers’ heads.

Cranes should never be used for side pulling.

Hand signals between the operator and hooker should be clearly agreed upon and understood before moving a load.

The operator should never lift two separately rigged loads at the same time.

The operator should approach the desired position as far as possible at the main speed and use creeping for final positioning.

Selection considerations

Actual load handling requirements and duty cycles are the key to crane selection. To facilitate the selection process, the Crane Manufacturers Association of America (CMAA) has identified six duty requirements. Matching actual requirements with the proper crane is critical, because underspecifying could create excessive maintenance, and overspecifying increases the capital investment associated with the plant operation.

Operating speeds for the hoist, trolley, and bridge, based on duty classification and type of operation, are then selected. The picked figures are important, because excessive speed increases original and energy costs due to the larger motors, and too slow a movement could create a production bottleneck.

CMAA specifications provide detailed information and requirements for all crane components. In addition to service classifications and speed, suggested requirements for the bridge (girder, end trucks, wheels, bumpers, and rails), runways, hoists, electrical equipment, and controls are presented in various CMAA specification publications.

The working environment of the crane should also be considered. Heat, corrosives, moisture, and explosive potential should be investigated before component packages are assembled.

Selection of gantry cranes above 15 tons requires consideration of most bridge crane factors. In the smaller sizes, where the overwhelming number are found, several other points enter the equation, including aluminum or steel construction, adjustable or fixed height, span, type of casters, and height from floor to I-beam. Spans from 8—40 ft and heights from 6—35 ft are available.

Crane service classifications

The Crane Manufacturers Association of America, Inc., defines six duty service classifications for overhead traveling cranes.

Class A (Standby or infrequent service) — These cranes are used in installations such as power houses, public utilities, turbine rooms, motor rooms, and transformer stations where precise handling of equipment at slow speeds with long idle periods between lifts are required. Capacity loads are handled for the initial installment of equipment and infrequent maintenance.

Class B (Light service) — These cranes are used in repair shops, assembly operations, service buildings, warehousing, and other locations where service requirements are light and the speeds are slow. Between 2—5 lifts, averaging 10 ft, are made per hour. Loads range from zero to occasional full rated.

Class C (Moderate service) — These cranes are used in machine shops, paper mill machine rooms, and other locations where service requirements are moderate. Cranes handle loads averaging 50% of rated capacity. Between 5—10 lifts, averaging 15 ft, are made per hour. No more than 50% of the lifts are at the rated capacity.

Class D (Heavy service) — These cranes are used in machine shops, foundries, fabricating plants, steel warehouses, container yards, lumber mills, standard-duty bucket and magnet operations, and other locations where heavy-duty production is required. Loads approaching 50% of the rated capacity are handled constantly during the working period. High speeds are desirable. Between 10—20 lifts averaging 15 ft are made per hour. Not over 65% of the lifts are at the rated capacity.

Class E (Severe service) — These cranes are used in scrap yards, cement mills, lumber mills, fertilizer plants, and other locations where severe duty is encountered. Magnet, bucket, and magnet/bucket combination cranes typically handle these applications. Over 20 lifts per hour at or near the rated capacity are common.

Class F (Continuous severe service) — These custom designed cranes are used continuously to perform critical work tasks affecting the total production facility where severe service is experienced. Cranes must provide the highest reliability, with special attention to ease of maintenance features. Loads approaching full-rated capacity are handled on a continual basis.

Crane inspection checklist End truck

Check wheels for wear

Girder bolts

Drive unit bolts

Check wheel bearings for lubrication if not lifetime sealed

Grease open gearing

Adjust brakes

Power pick up arm installation

Check end truck bumper

Check oil level in gearboxes


Check tagline and trolley end stop installation

Check trolley rail for wear

Inspect condition of walkway/platform


Check contactor points

Tighten electrical connections on motors and terminals

Examine pendant and taglines

Verify proper function of master switches and electrical accessories

Ensure proper fitting and condition of cables

Ensure supply voltage within

Ensure amperage on motors equal on all phases


Torque drive unit bolts

Check oil level (grease) in drive gear

Check oil level in hoist gear if not lifetime sealed

Check bottom block for deformation/cracks and free sheave movement

Adjust hoist, trolley, and bridge travel brakes

Check trolley bumper

Lubricate and inspect rope guide, pressure ring, and wire rope

Check limit switch bar movement (if applicable)

Check limit switch up and down

Check sheaves for wear

Check trolley wheels for wear

Check bridge wheels for wear (end truck)


Check power feeds and connectors

Examine runway end stops, rail alignment, and splices


Test hoist brakes with full load

Run trolley in low and high speed full length of girder

Test accessories for proper function

Run cranes in low and high speed full length of runway