They are the architects of the main infrastructures in the world, from tunnels, mines, and highways to bridges and great works of modern engineering, such as the Panama Canal. Colossal TBMs, excavators, drills, or cranes that beyond pulverizing figures, also save lives.
The height of the world’s largest crane is equal to the length of two soccer fields together. The name with which it has been baptized does honor to its size: Big Carl. At over 250 meters, this true prodigy of modern engineering can lift up to 5,200 tons. For the next four years, she will be primarily responsible for building the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in southern England. Like this super crane, there are other examples of record-breaking machinery: from excavators to drills or tunnel boring machines.
What do we need monumental machinery for?
Beyond its monumental height, Big Carl can rotate 360 degrees on its own axis, has a total of 12 engines, and a large counterweight – 52 containers weighing 100 tons each. The crane, created by the Belgian company Sarens, will serve to move steel and metal structures and the reactor teams to build the plant. In total, it is expected to lift about 600 heavy items. Most will be pre-fabricated structures and shipped to the job site. Other cranes of overwhelming dimensions are the Liebherr LR 13000 and the Terex Demag CC 8800-1. They measure 245 and 240 meters respectively and support loads of up to 3,000 tons.
Some of the world’s major buildings, bridges, roads, and infrastructure would not be standing without all of this monumental machinery. For example, the Panama Canal, one of the greatest engineering works of the 21st century. More than 10,000 workers of 40 different nationalities participated in this pharaonic construction led by Sacyr. For this, they used all kinds of heavy machinery: cranes, excavators, concrete mixers, crushers, rammers, trucks, and a long etcetera. With the expansion of the Canal in 2016, where 6% of world trade passes, it has been possible to unite more than 140 maritime routes and 1,700 ports in 160 countries.
A giant excavator to clear mines
Among the machines in the world that stand out for their dimensions, is the Bagger 288. It is a monstrous mining excavator built in Germany in 1978. Its manufacture lasted five years and cost $ 100 million. Even today it is one of the largest land vehicles in the world. Its dimensions are not for less: 220 meters long, 96 high, and 46 wide. It even weighs more than the Eiffel Tower – about 13,500 tons. In addition, at one end it has a giant sprocket with a diameter of 21.6 meters.
The machine is intended to be operated by five people at once. It was manufactured in order to quickly remove debris from an open-air coal mine in Germany. Although it only travels at a speed of between 0.1 and 0.6 kilometers per hour, it is capable of extracting around 240,000 tons of waste in a single day. That is the equivalent of digging a soccer field up to 30 meters deep.
Tunneling machines for large infrastructures … and to rescue people
There are heavy machines designed to create tunnels of all sizes. The Bertha TBM stands out for its size, which has been used to create a 2.8-kilometer tunnel in Seattle. It was assembled in just 14 months. More than 300 people participated in its design and construction. It weighs 7,000 tons and is 112 meters long. Its diameter, 17.5 meters, is equivalent to the height of a six-story building and is 2.5 meters greater than that of the tunnel boring machine that was used for the construction of the M-30 tunnels, the ring road surrounding Madrid, in 2005.
In addition to excavators, cranes, and tunnel boring machines, there are some more unusual devices. The Chinese company Shijiazhuang Railway Design Institute has created a giant machine for the construction of bridges and railways in the country: the SLJ 900/32. It measures 91.8 meters long and seven wide, has 64 wheels, and weighs 580 tons. It is impressive to see it in action, as you can quickly load and mount the beams by leaning on the pillars of the bridge itself. In this way, although the costs are increased, the construction time is reduced compared to when cranes are used.