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A large 16 wheel yellow crane fitted with a cable roller on a construction site with steel reinforcement mesh rolls and timbers around it.

What’s The Difference Between a Forklift and a Crane?

People sometimes get confused by the difference between large articulated modern forklifts and cranes. The two types are actually quite different, and are used for different purposes, but there are some visual similarities.

Fundamental Differences

Cranes and forklifts are really different “species” of equipment. Both are used for handling of materials, and sometimes in the same workspaces, but the core differences are:

  • Forklifts use a mast and fork full configuration – Some of the new forklifts coming on the market have articulated or extending arms, but the basic two-prong fork mechanism is the common factor in many different designs.
  • Different types of forklifts resemble cranes, but aren’t cranes – Cherry pickers are also classified as forklifts, despite having articulated arms and long extension arms which look very much like cranes.
  • Forklifts “lift” – Forklifts always lift from the bottom; cranes rise from above.

Capacity and Roles

Typically, cranes are used to manage large, heavy loads of all kinds. Forklifts are basically goods carriers, usually using pallets or other platforms for easy handling. The high capacity load of cranes means that they are far more efficient than forklifts in moving large amounts of heavy materials quickly in some situations.

Cranes typically carry much heavier loads than forklifts.  The powerful hydraulic arms on cranes lift and manoeuvre loads of many tonnes at a time, repositioning these loads on site.

Forklifts are more commonly used in indoor environments to manage movements of commercial loads and materials. Heavy duty forklifts can lift very heavy loads, but the handling environments and operational needs are quite different.

All-terrain cranes are used extensively in a vast range of different capacities in many different environments.

The roles of cranes include a considerable number of different possible options. Crane arms may be augmented with many different types  of equipment for specific handling roles.

Do You Need a Forklift or a Crane?

Depending on your workplace environment, the nature of goods and materials to be moved, the choice of which vehicle to use is really based on efficiency.

Two simple examples:

  • On a construction site, a truckload of bricks needs to be repositioned – Forklifts can carry multiple loads to the new site, but a crane can lift the entire truckload and simply carry it to the required position in one movement.
  • In a warehouse, heavy goods need to be moved from industrial pallets to a loading bay for shipment – A forklift can easily, safely and systematically manage goods movement and inventory in this environment where a crane would take up a lot of interior space and be unable to physically load the vehicle. (In this type of environment, cranes would be more efficient managing heavy loads like shipping containers, rather than pallets.)

When you’re looking for a crane, it’s a good idea to consult with your local supplier. If you’re in Brisbane or the Gold Coast, talk to Surf City Cranes and discuss your options. We can ensure that you get the right type and capacity for your requirements.


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