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26/01/2018 (2) Spreader Beam Or Lifting Beam - An Explanation For All | LinkedIn

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Spreader Beam Or Lifting Beam - An

Explanation For All
Published on August 29, 2017

Anthony Culshaw Follow

Technical Director at Britlift Ltd. 897 57 125
3 articles

This is the first in a series of technical posts I will be writing – at least one a month, which
will be shared through the Britlift LinkedIn page.

I recently saw a post on LinkedIn from a UK based lifting equipment inspector who was
unsure of the difference between a lifting beam and a spreader beam. A few of the responses
he received were correct, some were wrong, but most of them were just unhelpful. Seeing
that inspired me to write this post explaining the difference between the two. Previous
explanations I have seen on this topic tend to fall into two categories. A simple one or two
line answer that gives a definition but doesn’t explain how or why, or a more complex
explanation that can be difficult to understand if you don’t have an in-depth engineering
knowledge. This article aims to bridge the gap and give a detailed explanation, that is
accessible to all.


Terminology is the number one cause of confusion in regards to the differences between
these beams. Depending upon what country you are in, or what sector of the industry you
are in, what you call a specific type of beam may change. The LEEA definition is that the
term ‘Lifting Beam’ normally refers to a beam which is suspended by a single central point
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26/01/2018 (2) Spreader Beam Or Lifting Beam - An Explanation For All | LinkedIn
and supports a load via two or more connection points – the beam is loaded
in bending. The Reactivate
term ‘Spreader Beam’ refers to a beam used to spread apart two slings and loaded in Premium

compression. LEEA also state that “many designs are a hybrid of the two” and that often this
equipment as a whole, including spreaders and the hybrids, are collectively referred to as
lifting beams. Easy to see how the confusion starts isn’t it?

Let’s make a clear definition for this article then.

Any beam where the load being lifted mainly puts a bending stress in the beam will be
referred to as a lifting beam.

Any beam where the load being lifted mainly puts a compressive stress in the beam will be
referred to as a spreader beam.

Telling The Difference:

Figure 1:

Figure 2:

The next question is how can we tell which beam is which in figures 1 and 2. The answer
lies in following the path that the force takes as it travels up through the beam and into the

crane hook.

Let’s look at figure 1: The force travels up the bottom slings (shown as 4 downwards
arrows) and into the beam at 4 locations, this force must then travel along the beam before it
finds the vertical path upwards and into the crane hook via the top sling (shown as the
upwards arrow in the centre). The fact that the force has to travel along the beam before it
can continue upwards to the crane hook is what results in a bending stress.

Now figure 2: The force travels up the bottom slings (shown as 2 downwards arrows) and
into the beam at each end. This time there is an immediate path for the force to travel
upwards via the top slings (dashed lines). The force travels up these slings and on towards
the crane hook (shown as the upwards blue arrow). This time the force didn’t have to travel
along the beam at all and that is the reason why no bending stress is applied to beam by the
load. But if that is the case, what force is the spreader beam dealing with and why is it there?

The Forces In A Spreader Beam:

Figure 3: 2/4
26/01/2018 (2) Spreader Beam Or Lifting Beam - An Explanation For All | LinkedIn

In figure 3, diagram 1 shows a child on a swing, the orange arrow shows

2 the weight of the Reactivate
child pulling downwards and the green arrow shows the direction that we know the child
will travel. The child cannot move in any direction without a force, so we know there is a
force that makes the child move in the direction of the arrow.

In the figure 3, diagram 2, another child is positioned the opposite side of the swing, as we
know this child will swing in the opposite direction to the first child. Unless something is
done the children will swing together and collide.

In figure 3 diagram 3 the children are now holding a broom. The broom will keep them apart
and provided that they both weigh the same (and have a very strong broom!), they will stay
where they are. The broom here is in compression – a crushing force.

In this example, the reason the children will swing towards the middle is because the rope
connecting them to the swing frame is at an angle. As a result of gravity, the rope wants to
hang straight, this is why the child swings inwards. The heavier the child the more force is
trying to pull the rope straight resulting in the need for a stronger (larger) broom.

As some of you may have guessed, in this example the broom is the spreader beam. The
forces acting on the children and the swing in this example are very similar to what occurs in
a spreader.

To Summarise:

In summary, whenever the force must travel along the beam bending stress occurs, and that
is what we would call a lifting beam. When the beam is only loaded at either end, and the
top connection points are directly above the bottom ones, we have a spreader beam.

The reason the distinction is so important comes down to cost.

Spreader beams are so popular because the compression stress that they deal with requires
less material to resist than the bending stress seen in lifting beams. As a result, they are

around 3 to 4 times lighter and therefore cheaper than an equivalent capacity lifting beam.

Problems occur when a spreader beam is treated as if it were a lifting beam. The beam was
designed to deal with compression, not bending. As a result, a spreader beam will likely fail
if it is not used correctly (remember it is 3 to 4 times smaller than a lifting beam).

Misuse of these beams is shockingly common and still happens regularly in the UK. In my
next article, I will show some photographic evidence of recent examples of misuse and
discuss what steps can be taken to help avoid such incidents.

I hope this article has been helpful, any questions then please leave a comment below or
message me on Linkedin.

Thanks for reading and if you would like to stay up to date as these articles come out then
please follow Britlift on LinkedIn.

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26/01/2018 (2) Spreader Beam Or Lifting Beam - An Explanation For All | LinkedIn
Anthony is currently the Technical Director at spreader and lifting
Beam Reactivate
manufacturers Britlift. He is a former member of the LEEA Technical Committee and Premium
has spoken at lifting conferences around the world on the subject of below the hook
lifting equipment.

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Benny Lim 3mo

General Manager

Yes, very useful and informative article, thanks.

Like Reply 1 Like

Cobus Van Niekerk 3mo

Rigging store Foreman / LMI / Maintenance Coordinator at DCD Marine Cape Town (Pty) Ltd
Thank for the article, just hope that the ones that did not understand the concept of
lifting beam/spreader beam read this article.
Like Reply 1 Like

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Anthony Culshaw
Technical Director at Britlift Ltd.


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