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A hoist is a device used for lifting or lowering a load by means of a drum or lift-wheel around which rope or chain wraps. It may be manually operated, electrically or pneumatically driven and may use chain, fiber or wire rope as its lifting medium.
The basic hoist has two important characteristics to define it: Lifting medium and power type. The lifting medium is either wire rope, wrapped around a drum, or load-chain, raised by a pulley with a special profile to engage the chain. The power can be provided by different means. Common means are hydraulics, electrical and air driven motors. Both the wire rope hoist and chain hoist have been in common use since the 1800s, however mass production of an Electric Hoist did not start until the early 1900s and was first adapted by Germany. A hoist can be built as one integral-package unit, designed for cost-effective purchasing and moderate use, or it can be built as a built-up custom unit, designed for durability and performance. The built-up hoist will be much more expensive, but will also be easier to repair and more durable. Package units were once regarded as being designed for light to moderate usage, but since the 60s this has changed. Built-up units are designed for heavy to severe service, but over the years that market has decreased in size since the advent of the more durable packaged hoist. A machine shop or fabricating shop will use an integral-package hoist, while a Steel Mill or NASA would use a built-up unit to meet durability, performance, and repairability requirements. NASA has also seen a change in the use of package hoists. The NASA Astronaut training pool, for example, utilizes cranes with packaged hoists.