Spreader beams are versatile pieces of heavy construction equipment used for overhead lifting applications. They can be attached to cranes, as well as forklifts and can be used in a wide range of industrial and warehouse applications. Spreader beams come with adjustable load suspension points, that can be moved along a few different positions so that the spreader beam is either retracted, extended, or in the middle. If you’re new to spreader beams, keep reading – I’ll talk about everything you need to know when dealing with them.
Why Use Lifting/Spreader Beams?
Generally, these pieces of heavy construction equipment are built for a specific purpose. That being said, the range of capacities and designs is only limited by practicality. For that reason, it’s important to choose the right type of beam and take the following factors into consideration:
• Application demands, whether it’s to allow for special load attachment, reduce headroom, provide several lifting points, adjustable lifting centres, handle out-of-balance loads, control or remove inward or crushing forces, etc.
• Calculation of capacity, for the beam and the loading of the individual lifting points
• Centre of gravity of the lifted load, including accessories and attachments (slings, shackles, hooks, grabs, vacuum pads, magnets)
Lifting Beams vs Lifting Spreaders
Lifting beams and spreaders are building construction equipment that provides two or more lifting points from the hook of the crane or lifting machine in order to match the position of the lifting points on the load. The difference between beams and spreaders is in how the forces are transmitted.
Lifting beams are loaded in bending. Generally, a straightforward lifting beam will feature a single lifting eye above it which engages with the lifting hook and lower lifting eyes at points on the underside of the beam which connect to the load.
Spreaders, on the other hand, are a strut loaded in compression. Generally, a spreader will feature a suspension sling that connects the lifting equipment hook to the ends of the spreader, which are connected to the load. This allows the sling to lift a cable from its axle, for instance, while preventing the sling legs from damaging the drum flanges.
The design of different spreaders is much more sophisticated, but they work on the same principle. Oftentimes, the terms beams and spreader are used interchangeably, but the way they manage the load is different.
As aforementioned, beams come in different variations, one of which is designed to connect 2 overhead travelling cranes to provide more lifting points. This allows for tandem lifting, which increases the overall lifting capacity. Most beams and spreaders are designed for specific applications, such as a beam for use with vacuum pads or magnets to lift longer, flexible loads that require support at certain intervals to prevent sagging. Spreaders can be designed to lift loads like boats or vehicles, lifting them from the base but keeping the slings clear of damage-prone areas.
Lifting spreaders and beams are often used when there’s limited headroom. Ideally, you want the attachment points on the load to be above its centre of gravity to ensure the load is always hanging in a stable position. However, if the beam or spreader is connected using slings that attach to the load under its centre of gravity, extra care is necessary to ensure the load remains stable when lifted.
Lifting beams and spreaders can sometimes be designed for versatility. There are two approaches to this – they can have adjustable lifting points that can be moved along the beam to accommodate the load. Spreaders can come in modules that are assembled into the required configuration. These types of beams and spreaders are cost-effective for limited and one-off applications. They can also be designed for applications where the load needs to be tilted intentionally or applications where the position of the top suspension eye must be adjusted to match the load’s centre of gravity. Designs that accommodate these features should take into account operator errors in not tilting or adjusting properly.
There are quite a few standards relevant to lifting equipment in Australia, all produced by the ME-025 Lifting Tackle committee – Australia’s peak non-government, non-profit standards organisation. This organisation is responsible for the development and adoption of standards in Australia, and it also facilitates the participation of Australia in international standards development. The most relevant standard for beams and spreaders is AS4991-2004.
That being said, when buying spreaders and beams, make sure they’re AS4991-2004 certified, as that ensures it’s been tested and certified. Additionally, make sure you buy a spreader or beam that comes with a warranty, as that means the manufacturer stands behind their product, and can assist you should things go wrong. Of course, the spreaders and beams need to be operated by experienced and trained personnel, in order to avoid costly mistakes and the damage of equipment and work-related injuries.