Hydraulic or Mechanical: How to Choose Between Two Material Lift Types

Vertical Reciprocating Conveyors (VRCs), commonly referred to as material or freight lifts, are designed to move materials vertically from one level to another. Generally speaking, there are two main types of VRCs: hydraulic and mechanical.

When deciding which VRC is best for your business and application needs, you will need to weigh the pros and cons of each type.

Hydraulic VRCs



  • Lower initial cost


  • Require more maintenance
  • Limited cycle rates
  • Hydraulic fluids are toxic and can contaminate work environments

One of the benefits that attract business owners to hydraulic lifts is their lower initial cost when compared to mechanical lifts. They sometimes offer cheaper installation as well, and the hoistway occupies slightly less space.

While lower initial cost can be appealing to business owners, it’s important to understand the major disadvantages that come with hydraulic lifts.

With hydraulic VRCs, their parts have a greater chance of becoming worn or damaged over time, which means more required maintenance. There is a chance that money saved upfront will be spent maintaining the lift in the future.

Furthermore, because of the greater chance of required maintenance, hydraulic VRCs often have limited cycle rates. This means that if you want your lift to operate at the necessary performance and efficiency, you will need to limit and reduce its use.

That being said, hydraulic lifts do sometimes have their place. If you are on a very limited budget, aren’t worried about future maintenance costs, and are operating in a very small space, a hydraulic lift may be an option to consider.

Mechanical VRCs



  • Require less maintenance costs
  • High duty cycle ratings
  • Longer product life


  • Higher upfront costs compared to hydraulic lifts

Mechanical lifts are operated through cable lifting systems, and they work well when lifting both small or large loads between two or more levels.

Because of their mechanical operation, they use less moving parts and components to operate. This means far less maintenance over the life of the lift, leading to long-term savings of time and money.

Mechanical lifts are also 100% duty-cycle rated, which simply means they can be run continuously with no performance or efficiency interruptions. With no limits on its use, you will have the ability to take full advantage of your investment.

The only con to mechanical VRCs is that they cost more than a hydraulic elevator upfront. However, if your business values long-term budgets as much as short-term, then it’s worth considering future maintenance and repair costs when purchasing a lift.

Making Your Decision

Now that you’re ready to purchase a VRC, speaking with an expert can help you determine which lift is best for your business with a free application analysis. Speak to one of our material-lifting experts today, and they will help you make the right decision.

VRC Applications