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What Is an Overhead Winch?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

An overhead winch is a device mounted to a ceiling or overhead track that is used to lift and/or haul heavy items. A winch system generally employs the use of a pulley, around which a cable is wrapped numerous times. When the pulley moves in one direction, the cable is fed out, and when it moves in the other direction, the cable is retracted. The size of the cable will depend on the size and capabilities of the machine, and the amount of weight the overhead winch can lift safely will vary according to these variables as well.

Factories and warehouses often feature an overhead winch to safely move stored items. It is common for the overhead winch to be mounted to a trolley system that works in conjunction with a steel track; this allows the winch to move back and forth along the track, making the system useful for moving items from one location to another. Some winches are fixed in one spot as well, though these models are usually only useful for lifting straight up and down rather than lifting and moving to a different location. If the overhead winch is fixed, it must be mounted to a solid and stable surface such as a steel beam or other type of roof beam.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Using an overhead winch is not exceptionally difficult, but it can be dangerous if the machine is not operated properly. The end of the cable is usually outfitted with a hook that can be secured to loads to be moved; this hook must be secured properly to prevent unbalanced or unstable loads. The operator will use a hand control to feed the cable, retract it, and move the trolley along the tracks. It is important to know when to slow the unit and when to stop it entirely to prevent damage to the items being lifted or to surrounding fixtures or people. Many winch systems are outfitted with emergency shut-off switches to help prevent accidents.

When an overhead winch is purchased new, it will be advertised by its weight capacity. This capacity is the maximum amount of weight the winch can safely haul, and the user of the winch should never exceed this weight when loading the system. If the system is overloaded, the winch itself can break, and the load can become unstable, leading to an unsafe situation for the operator or any other bystanders.

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