Materials in Motion

Used Overhead Cranes: When to Buy and When to Beware

The economy has been slowly improving, which means more manufacturing companies are investing in overhead lift equipment to streamline their operations and improve worker safety. Despite major economic improvements in the US, many companies are still looking to cut costs when it comes to purchasing cranes for their factories.

One question we get asked a lot is whether or not it’s safe to buy a used overhead crane system from websites like eBay or Craigslist. While there are some obvious benefits to purchasing used equipment, there are also a myriad of potential safety and reliability issues to consider.

Overhead cranes can be a costly investment, upfront. But after the initial investment, purchasing and installing a proper system will inevitably improve efficiency, increase worker safety, save production time, and decrease costs associated with workman’s comp and system failure, repairs, and maintenance.

If you’re considering purchasing a used overhead crane system, there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, you just don’t know what you’re getting when you purchase used equipment. There’s no online site or “crane-fax” to reference for used overhead cranes, which means you don’t know if the system was properly serviced and maintained, if parts are missing, or if the crane was used according to safety and crane classification standards.

Of course, buying a new crane from a reputable dealer is the safest—and even most economical—way to go in the long run. But, in a situation when purchasing a new crane is just not possible, there are some ways you can try to protect yourself, your company, and your investment.

Operating Hours, Crane Classifications, and Past Service Applications

If you are insistent on purchasing a used crane from eBay or Craigslist, there are several points to consider. You will need to know how and for what application the crane was used, the quantity of operating hours, and its classification.  Additionally, you should insist on maintenance records. The remaining value of the overhead crane and its overall safety depends on the equipment’s proper maintenance schedule, and whether or not it was used according to the manufacturer’s (and OSHA) standards.
You don’t know if it was properly serviced, inspected, and managed. If parts are missing, bent, or rusted, the safety and reliability of your crane system is greatly compromised.

The most important thing to consider when purchasing any machinery or heavy equipment online—especially overhead lifting equipment—is that you can’t guarantee the quality of the product you’re buying.
Aside from potential safety issues and catastrophic system failure, there are a few other important considerations to keep in mind if you’re thinking about purchasing a used overhead crane. Most overhead crane manufacturers offer a five to ten-year factory warranty, ensuring that all manual, non-wearable system components are protected from malfunction. System malfunctions are very expensive, and purchasing an overhead crane that isn’t warranted can quickly lead to costly repairs and replacement parts.

Another thing to consider when purchasing a used crane online is the lack of technical support you will receive once the crane is paid for and installed. If purchased from a legitimate dealer or manufacturer, you will have complete access to a local rep in your area to help determine potential issues, answer any questions you might have, and alleviate any problems should they occur.

The biggest problem with purchasing a used crane online is that you don’t what condition the crane is in. If you are set on buying a previously used overhead crane, it’s important to realize that you aren’t only accountable for your proper use of the system, but you’re also accountable for any previous misuse of the crane that could lead to potential safety issues in the future. For instance, OSHA defines crane service using three main types: normal, heavy, and severe. While other associations regulate crane classifications differently, OSHA suggests that your overhead crane will fall into one of those three categories. Once you purchase a used crane, you are responsible for any potential damage done to the crane due to its (potential) incompliant use.

According to OSHA, normal service involves random operations of the crane within the rated load limit for no more than 25 percent of a normal work shift. This differs from heavy and severe service, which involve operation of a crane within the rated load limit that exceeds normal and/or heavy operating conditions. If you’ve purchased a used crane that was designed for normal operating service but was previously used for heavy or severe service, that particular system may not be safe to use. Buying a crane from an unknown seller means that you are also taking on the responsibility of ensuring its safe use—whether or not it was used, serviced, and inspected properly in the past. That’s a huge risk when it comes to the longevity of your crane and the safety of your workers.

OSHA regulates overhead crane safety through 29 CFR 1910.79. This covers all general requirements, design, inspections, maintenance requirements, and operations. According to OSHA’s general requirements, all overhead cranes must meet the specifications of the American National Standard Institute (ANSI B30.2) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Safety Code for Overhead Cranes.

According to their general requirements, cranes can be modified and the load capacity rerated as long as the modifications and associated structure is thoroughly checked for the new rated load by a qualified engineer or equipment manufacturer. General requirements also require that the rated load be plainly marked on each side of the crane. There are alo numerous other requirements that must be met in order to meet OSHA’s general requirements, including clearance requirements above and on each side of the crane, properly placed walkways, requirements regarding parallel cranes with adequate clearance between bridges, and designated personnel permitted to operate cranes.

Furthermore, OSHA’s overhead crane safety regulations specifies design requirements on the construction of the crane and its controls, foot-walks, ladders and stairways, bridge and trolley bumpers, hoists, trolley and bridge brakes, all electrical components, hoisting equipment, and warning devices. Buying used overhead cranes online doesn’t assure these design requirements are met at the time of purchase, and that inspection and maintenance requirements were followed throughout the lifetime of the crane.
If you’ve found a good deal for a used overhead crane online, we recommend reaching out to a qualified dealer or capable local crane installation company to install, carefully inspect, and certify load test your system before putting into use.

And, if you must invest in a used system, there are a few warning signs to look for before making a purchase. Knowing these red flags can make the difference between installing a safe and effective system and installing a dangerous or defective one.

Beware When Buying Used Equipment

Testing the equipment is essential whenever you’re looking to install a used system. Checking for problems like various liquid leaks in the motor or hydraulics can help to determine if the operating parts have been adequately maintained and are in good working condition. Ask as many questions as possible about the system, and have a qualified inspector or mechanical engineer inspect and test the crane before making a final decision.

  • Define our Crane Needs and Understand the Different Crane Service Classifications: In particular, consider the crane’s maximum lifting capacity versus your material handling needs. Ask the seller about the crane’s average weight per load lifted, number of loads lifted per hour, and number of loads lifted per day, per shift, and per week. Also, inquire about the crane’s travel distances and speed along those distances.
  • Differences in Overhead Crane Classificationsz: It’s important to know how service classifications differ from crane capacities. In the case of service classifications, you’re looking to determine what type of service (normal, heavy, or severe) the crane was designed for, and what type of service you actually need. The rated capacity of the crane tells you how much weight the crane was designed to lift, and exceeding its rated load capacity can be detrimental to the system itself and the workers using it.
  • Determining the Right Crane for Your Application:Another important factor to consider is what type of crane will best suit your needs.  Overhead cranes like jibs, workstations, under running or top running bridge cranes, and gantry cranes all differ in design and intended use. Purchasing a used crane online will mean that you’re tasked with making that determination without the help of a qualified dealer or manufacturer.
  • Powered Hoists: Know the differences between manual, electric, vacuum, and air-powered hoists, and be sure you’re buying what wors best for your operation.
  • Variations in Structural Components: Look at potential variations in the crane’s structural components. These factors can impact the overall weight of the crane, its maintenance, and costs. 
  • Mechanical Components:Carefully inspect any mechanical components to ensure they’re suitable for your application. Check all operating mechanisms for maladjustment, external damage, and appropriate placement.
  • Motor Controls: Another notable component to consider is the use of motor controls. Electrical control systems allow operators to manipulate bridge and trolley motions for increased precision and safe, controlled lifting. If you’re buying a used motorized crane online, ask the seller about its speed controls. While variable frequency drive controls provide excellent crane positioning and speed regulation, your application may be too harsh for solid-state electronics equipment. That’s why it’s important to work with a qualified dealer or manufacturer to determine the proper VFD controls for your application.
  • Operator Controls: Operator controls greatly increase worker safety and improve efficiency. Using these controls allows operators to influence the system electronically. But, operator controls will also impact the overall design of the bridge. It’s important to know in what position your workers will need to operate the crane, the type of controls used, and whether it’s semi or fully automated. Ask the seller to explain all of the controls, and make sure to test every speed and movement.
  • Special Process Cranes: If you’re attempting to purchase a used crane online you also run the risk of purchasing a crane that was not designed for your specialized application, which means it may not meet your material handling and lifting needs.
  • Electrical Components:  It’s important to be aware of the electrical components included when purchasing a crane. Be sure that the motor type, rating, frame, and brakes are the proper combination for your service classification and applications.

A Checklist of Potential Issues

If you are considering installing and using a used crane, this is a quick outline of problems to look for as you inspect the system:

  • A no-start engine, or an engine that smokes
  • Leaking fluids under the machine
  • Coolant in the oil or oil in the coolant
  • Anything seized
  • Welds on any steel or mechanical component
  • Strange noises or weird brake behavior
  • Excessively loose bushings/pins or any signs of bad maintenance

Just like with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Purchasing a used car on Craigslist lends itself to all kinds of potential issues. You can only imagine what a used crane has endured before it’s resold. Purchasing new from the manufacturer with the help of a qualified dealer in your area is always the safest and most practical way to ensure you are getting a working system that isn’t dangerous and is warranted for the next ten years. But, for people searching for a bargain on Craigslist and eBay, at least be sure you know what you’re looking for and that you are up-to-date with OSHA standards and ANSI policies and procedures.