Lifting beams and spreader bars share several visual similarities and commonly used terminology, but differ in usage, so it is important to understand the intended application and functional differences between the two products.
When is a lifting beam a spreader bar?
Put simply, whether you should use the term spreader bar or lifting beam depends on whether the bar or beam in question is distributing (spreading) the forces under load by utilising multiple lifting connection points - or not.
While the more complicated answer is that lifting beams and spreader bars can be hybridised, and terminology is often mixed and misused, for the sake of this article we will stick the below definitions to explain the differences between the two:
- A lifting beam is a beam or bar which lifts the load by placing a bending stress on the beam itself, and features a central lug lifting point.
- A spreader bar is a beam or bar which lifts the load by putting a compressive stress on the beam - even if there is a degree of bending stress - and features multiple lifting connection points at the top of the bar, from which it is lifted by overhead slings (which in turn creates additional tensile forces).
In other words, a lifting beam is a spreader bar if it is spreading the compressive forces into compressive and tensile forces by sharing the stress of the load with the slings - as opposed to simply bending and absorbing the stress of the load by itself.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a spreader bar vs a lifting beam?
Now that we have established the fundamental technical design differentiators, it is important to evaluate the distinction in application - how should you be using your lifting beam or spreader bar, and what are the implications for misuse?
While there are visual similarities between lifting beams and spreader bars, the physics differ significantly, and accordingly there are advantages and disadvantages to a spreader bar, when compared against a lifting beam.
Advantages of a spreader bar
- Stability - Spreader bars help to evenly distribute the load, mitigating risk by reducing the likelihood of accidents occurring due to the load sliding or tipping out of control, and minimising the chance of the bar bending in on itself. In addition, the ability to control the angles of the sling means that there is far less risk to the load of being crushed and damaged.
Disadvantages of a spreader bar
- Headroom - Spreader bars need more headroom than a lifting beam to accommodate the overhead lifting slings. Long beams and uneven loads often require a tag line to keep the load under control and reduce the possibility of spinning.
- Complication - As spreader bars require overhead slings in their setup, there is a degree of complexity involved that does not exist with a simple lifting beam. Slings need to be selected and configured correctly in order for the spreader bar to function as intended.
- Price - While the overall cost of a spreader bar does tend to be higher than a lifting beam owing to the comparative complexity of design, it is dependent on many factors, and is often seen as a long-term investment in an operation’s material handling and production capability.
Advantages of a lifting beam
- Simplicity - With no need for slings, a lifting beam is quicker and less complicated to setup than its spreader bar counterpart.
- Price - Owing to its straightforward design and construction, a lifting beam usually comes at a lower price point compared to a spreader bar and full sling configuration.
- Headroom - As mentioned above, a lifting beam requires less overhead clearance (often referred to as headroom) to operate than a spreader bar, which is a crucial determining factor in some scenarios.
Disadvantages of a lifting beam
- Simplicity and stability - A double edged sword, the simplicity of a lifting beam can, depending on the load, result in less stability, and therefore more care that needs to be taken, and higher risks.
Compared to a spreader bar, a lifting beam is a much simpler attachment type and is far simpler to use, requiring less overhead clearance and rigging. While a spreader bar’s costs are considerably higher, for many applications and operators the risk mitigation provided significantly outweighs those downsides listed above.
Let us do the heavy lifting for you
Spreader bars and lifting beams can play an important role in many material handling operations; but, as with all heavy machinery, care must be taken to ensure that the appropriate technical limitations of the equipment are respected and its use is as intended.
Our knowledgeable team of problem solvers can help you to choose the appropriate spreader bar or lifting beam, depending on your desired application, improving the versatility and effectiveness of your material handling operation by ensuring you have the “right tool for the job”.