The backstory.

To say that cranes are an essential part of most construction projects and an integral player in the execution of a great number of historical engineering projects is an understatement. 

Cranes work on a fairly simple yet clever principle of using pulleys to amplify the force used to move or lift a load (increasing the mechanical advantage).

Thanks to this amazing discovery, humankind has been using variations of this technology for thousands of years. 

The crane can be traced back to its ancient ancestor the shaduf, a lever-based lifting device used in ancient Mesopotamia since around 3000 BC for irrigation. Subsequent versions traced back to ancient Greece would see levers replaced by pulleys.

Technological improvements including the application of animal force, steam power, diesel and hydraulics have allowed cranes to achieve ever more impressive feats. The current Guinness World Record for the heaviest crane lift was achieved by the Chinese-build Taisun gantry crane in 2008. The Taisun, designed for lifting vessels and containers in Yantai shipyard, set this record by lifting a tugboat weighing 20,133 metric tonnes out of the water.

Present on job sites around the world, we can find cranes working on warehouse builds, marinas, bridge repairs, power plants or music festivals.

The variety of applications has led to the design and manufacture of some highly specialised machines, yet there are a few types of crane that dominate the market due to the sheer extent of their application. Let’s have a look at the most common applications and the best machines for these jobs.

Types of cranes and their uses

The tower crane

Probably the most common use of cranes is for construction. There is some variation depending on the type and location of the site and build, but almost certainly the image that springs to mind at the mention of the crane is the tower crane. Tower cranes are assembled and fixed to the ground or to another structure. They are used mainly in the construction of tall multi-storey buildings and are assembled at the beginning of the project and dismantled when construction work has been completed. There are articles on the internet indicating that there are currently over 200,000 tower cranes in use the world over, however this is extremely tricky to estimate with any level of accuracy as tower cranes are composed of interchangeable sections and can be taken down one day and reassembled shortly after in a different combination of parts.

The world’s largest tower crane is currently the XGT15000-600S. Designed and built as a joint venture between XCMG and China Major Bridge Engineering Co.Ltd. to meet the demands of large-scale bridge-building projects, this impressive giant was unveiled in June 2022 and can lift a maximum load of 600 tonnes to a height of up to 400m.

Tower cranes are the most used crane for long-duration building projects, however these machines are not without their drawbacks. Tower cranes have a very limited range of motion, have complex transport requirements and require long assembly and disassembly times.

For projects requiring greater flexibility, for short-duration projects or for lifting on complex terrain, a different alternative is used.

The mobile crane

Mobile cranes are seen frequently working on bridges and by railroads, however their application in a variety of industries is vast. The different uses of cranes has led to the development of machines mounted on wheels, tracks, floating platforms or railway carriages. 

Mobile cranes are ideal for more spontaneous lifting work or for carrying out lifting jobs on different parts of a site.

Wheel-mounted mobile cranes can get quickly from one site to the next making them great for one-off jobs such as positioning roof trusses or erecting structures such as tower cranes.

They are also frequently called upon for emergency lifting operations, such as moving trees or heavy debris that may have resulted from an accident or from storm damage.

Track mounted cranes or crawler cranes are often seen by riverbanks or carrying out lifting operations on uneven terrain. Some of the world’s largest crawler cranes are used in the mining sector and in power plant construction. In recent times the world’s largest crawler crane, the Liebherr LR 13000 has been used for gargantuan tasks such as loading oil platforms onto barges.

This brings us to a very regular use of cranes that is probably the most neglected by the general public: cranes used in marine logistics.

Although most people who aren’t directly involved in any of the key sectors go through life blissfully unaware of the heavy lifting that goes on for marine shipping and construction, these sectors are likely the biggest crane users after land-based construction firms.

There are a number of different crane types used on docks for loading and unloading, these include: gantry cranes, panamax container cranes and bulk handling cranes.

There are also a number of highly specialised floating cranes used for all sorts of marine applications including vessel rescue, offshore construction and oil mining.

The world’s largest floating vessel crane, the SSCV Sleipneir can lift loads of 20,000 tonnes and is used for placing and dismantling oil rig platforms.

The sheer scale of these tasks dwarfs the day-to-day use of cranes that we will usually witness on construction sites, where pallets of bricks and other building materials are moved between lorries and the site. 

Although there are countless types of crane and their uses vary widely, the wheel-mounted mobile crane is undoubtedly the king of the urban landscape, with spider cranes providing lifting solutions for smaller lifting projects in hard to access residential areas.

Speak to the crane hire experts

If you would like to speak to industry-leading experts about mobile crane hire, get in touch with Emerson today.

Emerson Cranes are one the UK’s premier crane hire specialists. Based in London we provide mobile crane hire and training services in London, Essex and throughout the UK.

Call today, and speak to a friendly member of our team, on 020 8059 2403. We look forward to hearing from you.