Modern lifting equipment comes in all shapes and sizes, and it can be a challenge to know what tool is designed for what job. In this article we’ll be taking a closer look at a workhorse of the lifting world, and answering a simple question: what is a jib crane?
In short, a jib crane is a unique piece of equipment designed for repetitive lifting tasks, particularly in small or confined work areas.
Jib cranes are simply a jib arm or boom that has been mounted in place, usually on either a beam or wall. The jib arm can either be fixed or swing in an arc that can form a complete circle (in the case of a freestanding jib crane) or a semi-circle (in the case of a wall-mounted jib crane). A more mobile version of this crane can also come in the form of a forklift attachment.
Jib cranes are medium-sized pieces of lifting equipment. Heights and spans are generally below 10m, and maximum lifting capacities tend to range between a few hundred kilograms to a few tonnes. A versatile piece of equipment, jib cranes are often used in unison with overhead bridge cranes in order to maximise on-site lifting capabilities.
What is a jib crane used for?
The primary use case for a jib crane is when lifting capability is required within a tight or somewhat enclosed space, as column- and wall-mounted jib cranes are simple to set up and have a small footprint.
These cranes are efficient at vertically lifting and horizontally manoeuvring medium loads, which can significantly increase capability, productivity and safety within a work area. A forklift-mounted jib crane, meanwhile, is a perfectly mobile piece of lifting equipment that can go wherever the forklift goes.
Jib cranes are used for any number of tasks: on construction sites, in warehouses, next to fabrication workstations, as part of building or plant room maintenance, and for all manner of repetitive loading applications. A jib crane can be customised with a wealth of attachments: tool and air balancers, customised hoists (includes electric, chain and much more), vacuum lifters and more.
The adaptability of a jib crane makes it a perfect partner to a heavy piece of lifting equipment, such as a gantry bridge crane. These large overhead lifting systems can get bulk materials to a jib crane, which can then place smaller individual loads wherever they’re needed. For this reason jib cranes are often installed directly beneath a gantry.
How does a jib crane work?
The beauty of a jib crane is in its relative simplicity, with eight key parts making up a standard unit:
- Column: The column, otherwise known as the mast or pillar, is the vertical beam that constitutes the height of the jib crane. Wall-mounted and Forklift jib cranes do not have a column.
- Boom/reach: The boom or reach is the horizontal beam that extends out from the column or wall mount. The length of the boom defines the span of the crane, which is often similar to the height of the column, but will be defined by the area the crane is working in. The trolley and hoist move along the boom.
- Trolley: The trolley is the unit that rolls along the length of the boom, carrying the hoist, hook and all associated chains, wires and wire ropes. Trolley can be moved manually, mechanically or pneumatically.
- Hoist: The hoist is the part of the jib crane that lifts and lowers the load. It is manoeuvred into place by the combined action of the boom and the trolley.
- Hook: The hook hangs off the hoist and connects the load to the jib crane. ‘Hook height’ defines how low and high the load can be lifted, and will depend on the size and limitations of the crane and any obstructions in the immediate area.
- Pneumatic airlines/electric collector rings: These parts manage the airlines and power cables that run along the length of the boom to the hoist and under-hook attachments, keeping them out of the way as the trolley rolls and the boom rotates.
- Rotation stop: As the name suggests, the role of this part is to ensure that the rotation of the crane is stopped before it collides with anything.
- Control buttons: While some jib cranes are entirely manual, most feature buttons that control the rotation of the boom, the movement of the trolley along the boom, and the lifting and lowering of the hoist. You will also usually be able to control the speed at which the trolley and hoist move.
Types of jib crane
Column-mounted jib cranes are, as the name suggests, jib cranes that are mounted on a vertical beam. Depending on where the column is placed, these jib cranes can rotate up to 360 degrees. They are the most popular form of jib crane for their simplicity, versatility, strength, range, control and ease of use.
Column-mounted jib cranes also tend to be particularly smooth, thanks to the use of bush bearings in the console and nylon castors on the trolley. The column-mounted design is particularly suited to manufacturing and assembly applications, where it can significantly increase both productivity and safety.
Wall-mounted jib cranes are similarly self-explanatory. A wall takes the place of a column, and the horizontal beam (the boom or reach) is mounted on it using purpose-built wall fittings. The nature of the mount means that most wall-mounted jib cranes can rotate a maximum of 180 degrees (though they could potentially rotate further if placed on the outside corner of a wall).
Wall-mounted cranes tend to feature strong steel consoles and particularly large castors on the trolleys which ensure loads are easy to move. They are perfect for busy or tight work areas that may not have the room that a column-mounted jib crane demands. They are also often installed beneath existing overhead cranes where they offer dedicated secondary lifting capacity.
Wall-mounted jib cranes aren’t necessarily restricted to walls – in some cases existing building columns and beams can handle the forces imparted by a fully loaded crane.
If we extend our definition of a jib crane just a little, we arrive at davit cranes, which are essentially column-mounted jib cranes in miniature. Davit cranes are ideal for light lifts, being versatile, lightweight, easy to use and ultra-customisable.
Davit lifting systems feature a relatively light and usually cylindrical column and boom to lift light loads. They come in any number of configurations, from permanent fixed arm varieties designed for repetitive work, to rotating portable units that can be assembled and disassembled quickly and easily.
Low headroom jib cranes
When the ceiling is low, and every available centimetre of lift height needs to be maximised, a low headroom jib crane is the tool for the job. Cleverly under-braced to allow the top of the boom to sit just below the ceiling, low headroom jib cranes are popular wherever vertical space is limited.
Our Erikkila Pro Compact low headroom jib cranes come in column-mounted and wall-mounted forms, and are designed for effective, safe and simple use where other jib cranes would either struggle or simply not fit.
Forklift jib crane attachments
We can extend our definition of jib crane a little further by including jib attachments for forklifts. These cranes slide onto the tines of a forklift and feature a fixed position swivel hook at the end of a jib arm.
Forklift jib crane attachments can be fixed in place, with the forklift taking care of most (or all) of the lifting, lowering and manoeuvring, or they can be extendable and otherwise adjustable. Forklift jib crane attachments are perfect for when lifting tasks must be completed across a number of locations at a given site, provided those lifts aren’t too high or heavy.
Why use a jib crane?
The variety of jib cranes that are available hint at their popularity. But why choose a jib crane over another type of crane?
The fact is that in many of the most common material handling situations faced by industrial, agricultural and commercial organisations, a jib crane is the most compact, efficient, effective, reliable and safe way to lift and lower items.
The strength, efficiency and reliability of jib cranes make them particularly useful in high-volume lifting situations. They also add much needed dexterity when used in concert with an existing overhead crane system – a bridge or gantry crane can move material into an area, then the jib crane can move the material around that area.
Jib cranes are extensively used in fitting & fabrication workstations, building maintenance, plant room maintenance, marine loading and maintenance, machine centre loading and maintenance to name a few applications. The combination of strength and compactness makes them the obvious choice in a wealth of situations.
How to operate a jib crane
Now that we know what a jib crane is and why you might use one, let’s explore how a jib crane is used to move loads.
Jib cranes are designed to move heavy and often unwieldy items that can be particularly dangerous. The specific process that you should follow will change from crane to crane, so it’s critical that you refer to your owner’s manual or consult your crane supplier before you lift. Your crane should also be tested and fully certified before use.
With that in mind, the following is the basic process of operating a jib crane:
- Clear a path: Ensure the path that you plan to move the item is completely clear of obstructions and people.
- Line up the hook: The item you’re lifting must be picked up from a point that is above its centre of gravity to avoid tipping, swinging and twisting. If you are unsure where the centre of gravity is, slowly lift the item until it gets slightly off the ground, and look for any movement beyond the vertical.
- Lift and move the load: Once the load is secured and the centre of gravity is found, lift it until it is completely off the ground, but not unnecessarily high. Slowly move the load to its new location to avoid swinging – consider using a tag line.
- Lower the load: Gently lower the load until the hook goes slack, being careful to monitor for any rolling, tipping or slipping.
Let us do the heavy lifting
Jib cranes can be incredibly valuable pieces of equipment that can facilitate a significant increase in productivity and worker safety.
At Stratalign our expert team can help you to find the jib crane configuration that perfectly matches your needs. Get in touch today for a free, no-obligation consultation and quote.