Vertical VRC lifts come in a wide array of sizes and lifting capacities. Regardless of the lift size, VRC lifts use either roller chain or wire rope as the lifting mechanism.

Vertical Lifts, also known as material lifts or freight lifts are growing in popularity for moving materials and goods from one level to another.

In this article, we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of roller chain and wire rope vertical lifts, as well as the applications best suited for each.

How are a roller chain and wire rope constructed?

Roller Chain

Let’s start with roller chains. The roller chain is the type of chain drive most used in industrial and agricultural machinery, including VRC’s.

According to Wikipedia, there are two types of links alternating in the roller chain. The first type is inner links, having two inner plates held together by two sleeves or bushings upon which rotate two rollers. The second type, the outer links, consist of two outer plates held together by pins passing through the bushings of the inner link.

The roller chain design reduces friction compared to simpler designs, resulting in higher efficiency and less wear.

Wire Rope

Next is wire rope. Four components make up the rope. There are metal wires that form a singular strand, multi-wire strands laid around a core in a helical pattern, a fiber steel core, and lubrication. Let’s briefly discuss each.

Wires are the smallest component of the rope and they make up the individual strands. Wires can be made from a variety of metals and manufactured in a variety of grades.

The strands of a wire rope consist of two or more wires arranged and twisted in a specific arrangement and laid in a helical pattern around the core of the rope.

The core of the wire rope runs through the center and supports the strands and helps maintain under loading or bending stress.

Lastly is lubrication. Lubrication is applied during the manufacturing process and penetrates to the core. Lubrication reduces friction and provides corrosion protection.

Wire Rope vs. Roller Chain Comparison

Strength, Load Capacities, and Work Environments

The question most often asked is the difference in strength between rope and chain. Overall, a wire rope is stronger than a chain. Wire rope is made of multi-strands of continuous wires that give it its strength, whereas chain is joined together with links. These joins are the weakest part of a chain.

In addition to being stronger than a chain, ropes are also better in intense work environments. Wire ropes can stand up better to harsh work environments and extreme heat. However, both can be used in outdoor settings.

Vertical lifts that use wire ropes perform better when running high-duty cycles. These high-duty cycles generate heat in motors and mechanical components that dissipate heat more efficiently than a chain.  Using a chain in these high heat environments will result in equipment failure and downtime. Along the same lines, it’s important to note that chains should not be used in environments with a high degree of dust or dirt. The lubrication on the chain will attract these particles creating an abrasive compound that will cause premature wear.

So the best solution for vertical lifts with chains is lighter load environments situations, where the vertical lift is not for high-duty cycles or high loads capacities at 50% of the rated capacity.

CIP offers a chain lifting mechanism in our Cantilever Series. This vertical material lift can handle loads of up to 5,000 lbs. and a travel height of 40 feet. 

Wire Rope vs. Roller Chain Maintenance

Wire Rope vertical lifts require minimal maintenance. Unlike a chain lift, wire ropes do not need to be lubricated, a demanding and time-consuming task.

The biggest disadvantage with ropes is that they tend to stretch over time under heavy load.

Over the life of the unit, both the chain and wire rope will need to be replaced. Chains are more susceptible to wear and tear, but ropes will experience their share as well. Wire ropes can experience corrosion, cut or shearing, tension failure, and fatigue breaks.

Cost of Wire Rope vs. Roller Chain

Cost is relative when it comes to wire rope or chain. The upfront cost for wire rope is more expensive than chain. However, chain incurs higher maintenance costs. In reality, cost shouldn’t be a factor. If the application or environment is more suited for a wire rope vertical lift, then that’s what’s needed. The last thing you want is to overload your lift or deal with breakdowns or equipment failure with the wrong vertical lift for the job.

CIP offers a variety of vertical material lifts for a variety of applications and price points.

In Conclusion

Whether it’s a hoist, crane, or vertical material lift, either wire rope or roller chain will be part of the lifting mechanism. One is not better than the other, but as we said in the section on cost, it’s making sure the correct lifting mechanism is being used for the appropriate application.

If you found this article helpful, you might want to look at a previous article titled Hydraulic Lift vs. Mechanical Lift | A Side-by-Side Comparison. In it, we compare a hydraulic lift to a mechanical lift.

CIP has been helped businesses elevate their good and materials from one level to another for over 25 years. To learn how a VRC lift can increase productivity and improve safety for your organization, contact our Solutions Specialists at 321-728-3355. You can also visit our website at

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