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Elevating Efficiency: Selecting the Right Material Lift for Your Application

Safe and efficient material movement between floor levels is a necessity.

Contributed by: PFlow Industries

Hydraulic VRCs are ideal for 2-level applications such as lifting pallet loads to second floors. Image of D Series Hydraulic VRC courtesy of PFlow Industries.

Efficient material handling plays a critical role in the success of today’s industrial and commercial operations. Whether you are moving materials in a small manufacturing facility, a large distribution center, or as part of back-of-house retail operations, the need for safe and efficient material movement between floor levels is a necessity. Material lifts, otherwise known as vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs), are one of the most safe, efficient and cost-effective equipment solutions for this type of material movement.


Unlike traditional elevators, VRCs are designed for moving materials only and are governed by ASME B20.1 code standards for conveyors. VRCs can be installed through floors, next to mezzanines, in existing elevator shafts – even outdoors. The principal components of VRCs include guide columns, a carriage and a mechanical or hydraulic actuating mechanism.

The versatility of VRCs makes them ideal for use in a variety of applications, including transporting materials to/from mezzanines or pick modules, or as part of fully automated conveyor systems. While both hydraulically and mechanically powered VRCs allow for efficient vertical material movement, each type has specific features that make them a better choice for certain lifting applications. So, what are the differences?

Hydraulic VRCs

Hydraulic VRCs are typically powered by a remote-mounted electric pump motor that actuates and transfers hydraulic fluid from the reservoir to the lift’s cylinders, basically raising the energy level of the fluid by increasing its pressure. This pressure creates the energy to move the lift’s carriage and its payload upward.  To lower the lift’s carriage, a pressure compensated control valve regulates the flow of hydraulic fluid back into the reservoir, allowing the carriage to be lowered at a controlled and consistent speed under any load weight.

Mechanical VRCs can lift 10,000+ lbs. and reach an unlimited number of floors. Image of M Series Mechanical VRC courtesy of PFlow Industries.

Benefits of Hydraulic VRCs

  • Typically less expensive to purchase and install than mechanical lifts
  • Perfect for limited use applications (no more than 10 cycles/hour or 100 cycles/day)
  • Accommodates lifting to heights of 22 feet
  • 6,000-pound load capacity
  • Perfect for lifting pallet loads to second floors
  • Can be installed indoors or outdoors

Mechanical VRCs

Mechanical VRCs generate the power to lift the VRC’s carriage and payload via a brake motor, heavy-duty roller chains, and a gear reducer assembly. Mechanical VRCs also feature safety features such as safety cams to prevent unintended carriage descent in the event of a chain failure, chain tensioners and guides to prevent chains from jumping the sprockets, and overload protection that engages the engine brake if the current exceeds the amount required to move the maximum load. In general, mechanical lifts provide a smoother ride than hydraulic lifts, helping to significantly reduce the risk of damage to materials.

Benefits of Mechanical VRCs

While typically more expensive to purchase and install than hydraulic lifts, mechanical lifts:

  • Can reach an unlimited number of floor levels
  • Have unlimited cycle use, making them perfect for high-speed, high-capacity or automated applications
  • Can lift in excess of 10,000 pounds, making them ideal for moving heavy and/or bulky materials or equipment
  • Provide smooth stops at each level, making them a better option than hydraulic lifts for moving fragile materials
  • Can be used in applications that prohibit the use of hydraulic fluid

Graphic courtesy of PFlow Industries.


Available space for loading and unloading is also a consideration when selecting which VRC is right for your application, as each VRC configuration offers different load/unload patterns.

Hydraulic VRCs can be configured as cantilever units (meaning the carriage is supported by two upright beams at one side of the carriage), or as straddle units (the lift’s carriage is located between two support uprights). Cantilever configurations allow for 90-degree, C, and Z load patterns.

Mechanical VRCs can be configured as cantilever, straddle, or 4-post units. 4-post units support the VRC’s carriage between 4 upright columns.


Mechanical and hydraulic VRCs both have the potential to drastically improve the way you vertically transport materials. Review the differences between both and engage a skilled material handling equipment provider to discuss which VRC is best for you based on your short-term and long-term material handling needs. This will ensure the solution you choose solves today’s challenges while laying the groundwork for supporting future material lifting needs. WMHS

About PFlow Industries

As the vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC) industry founder in 1977 and key author of state and federal codes, PFlow has literally written the book on VRC design and safety. Backed by the strength of the industry’s largest and most experienced dealer network, the largest in-house engineering and technical support staff, and dedicated in-region sales team, PFlow is the industry’s trusted VRC partner. Proudly claiming over 20,000 units in operation, PFlow has the experience to ensure your project’s success. For more information visit

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