Hoist vs. Crane: What’s the Difference?

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Hoists can only move objects vertically, while cranes can move them horizontally and in three dimensions. Cranes can also be converted for other tasks, while hoists are only designed for lifting and lowering loads. Hoists are often used as sub-components of cranes.

The main differences between a hoist and a crane are the ways each can move, the ability to convert them for other tasks, and the complexity of their design. A hoist and a crane are both used to move objects. While a hoist can only lift or lower them vertically, a crane can also move objects horizontally. Some highly advanced crane designs even allow for load rotation in three dimensions. Generally, the part of a crane used to lift and lower a load is a hoist.

Both a hoist and a crane can be used to move a load, but a hoist can only move it in one direction along a straight, vertical line. Such a device is said to have one degree of freedom. A good way to visualize this is to think of an elevator. It moves up and down a shaft, also known as a hoist way, suspended by cables from a hoist mechanism that powers its movement. The elevator is limited to traveling up and down in a straight line within that shaft.

Typical cranes can move their loads up and down in a straight and vertical line, but they can also move them horizontally both forward and backward and sideways. Most cranes can move a load in a straight line in three independent axes and can be said to have three degrees of freedom. There are some jobs for which both a hoist and a crane are suitable. However, some tasks require the use of a crane for greater flexibility in how and where to move the load.

A common example of this flexibility of movement is the small crane inside a claw machine used to retrieve toys as prizes. The operator positions a crane by moving it back and forth as well as left and right and presses a button to drop a claw. An open claw drops vertically into a pile of toys, closes, and is retracted straight up with or without a toy in its grip. This game wouldn’t make much sense without the crane feature. With just one hoist, the operator can only lower and raise the claw at the same spot each time, which requires no skill.

Specialized cranes called slewing cranes typically have this same capability, but also incorporate slewing motion for added performance. They may be able to rotate in up to three independent axes, as well as move in straight lines in these three directions. These rotations are known as roll, pitch and yaw. This allows a slewing crane to operate with up to six degrees of freedom, although some designs are designed with fewer degrees of freedom. Rotating cranes can be used in robotic applications, for example, or in industrial transport applications such as trucks, locomotives or ships.

Another difference between a hoist and a crane is that many cranes can be converted for other operations than moving a load. In demolition, for example, a wrecking ball may be added for the purpose of bringing down an unwanted structure. For construction purposes, a dustpan can be used to scoop up dirt or waste materials that need to be moved. Hoists are generally not designed to be converted for any other use than lifting and lowering a load.
Hoists are commonly installed as a sub-component of cranes. They are typically the mechanisms used to raise and lower the loads handled by cranes. This is another way a hoist and a crane differ. Cranes are more complex devices than hoists and are not sub-components of hoists.

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