Rigging Rope: Advantages & Disadvantages to Using Synthetics


Unlike string, thread, and line (which are single units of fiber material), rope is a combination of braided fibers which helps to increase strength. Rope can be made from natural fibers, steel, and in this case can be synthetic. Synthetic rope is more popular than ever these days because of its many advantages.

Types of rope construction

The basic ways to make a rope is to either twist or braid it. See images below:


Uses of synthetic rope and limitations

Unlike steel-wire rope, synthetic rope is limited to light load lifting for tethering and strapping, as used in a tag line. OSHA defines a tag line as: “a rope (usually fiber) attached to a lifted load for purposes of controlling load spinning and pendular motions or used to stabilize a bucket or magnet during material handling operations . . . the end of which is held by an employee who controls the load's motion.”

Advantages to using synthetic rope

-Superior lifting/pulling strength as opposed to natural fiber rope
-Superior strength to weight ratio (this includes ease of handling)
-Synthetic rope pliant and grips the load better, all without marring surfaces
-It is electrically, non-conductive (that means that it eliminates potential for electrocution when used as tag line)
-Synthetic rope is inherently safer than wire rope with a breakage due to lighter weight
-Safer,  more cost-efficient alternative to wire rope for many applications

Disadvantages to synthetic rope

-Light load applications are limited
-Exhibits substantial elongation when under a load
-Strength is lost when subjected to temperatures above 150° Fahrenheit
-Synthetic rope tends to melt when subjected to temperatures greater than 300° Fahrenheit, friction points are one good example

Synthetics can only get better

While natural fiber and steel rope have reached their maximum load-bearing potential, new technologies and materials for synthetic rope continue to improve. For example: Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene fibers, or UHMPWE, continue to grow stronger, now in many cases exhibiting the same strength as steel wire rope at only 1/9th the diameter.

Recommended products:

RIGGING LEVEL 2 TRAINEE GUIDE     NCCER: Basic Rigger Trainee Guide     Rigging Fundamentals NCCER Trainee Guide     Bob's Overhead Crane & Rigging Handbook