People of all ages are entranced by the machines that make architectural marvels come to life in the modern world.
From jib cranes to excavators, it is easy to be impressed by how far these crucial technologies have come in the past century. There are many other types of machinery that you might not ever see in action, yet their size and power is truly awe inspiring, even on a theoretical level. Here are just a few of the most amazing machines that are in use in 2019.
Bagger 293 Excavator
Officially recognised by Guinness World Records as being the largest land-based vehicle in existence, as well as being heavier than any other piece of machinery manufactured to date, the Bagger 293 is truly massive.
Weighing in at over 14,000 tonnes, equivalent to over 31 million pounds, this excavator can actually be moved thanks to the heavy-duty tracks that line its base. Up front if features an imposing wheel that is lined with buckets, each one of which can scoop vast amounts of earth with each rotation.
The Bagger 293 is currently working at a coal mine over in Germany and has actually spent over two decades in operation, albeit with regular tweaks and maintenance carried out in order to make sure that it is still in tip top condition. Given that it cost over $100 million to design and construct, it is no surprise that its owners are eager to wring as much value from it as possible before putting it out to pasture.
Vast bucket wheeled excavators make light work of mammoth earth moving tasks.
While the Bagger 293 might be an impressive sight on land, there are unavoidable limitations associated with vehicles that need to travel over solid ground. In short the more weight you add, the harder it becomes to move them from A to B.
Such issues are not present out on the open ocean, which is why ships of increasingly vast proportions have been built over the decades to provide a means of transport for passengers as well as a platform for hauling cargo around the world.
The biggest ship in the world today is actually not a single vessel, but a team of four so-called supertankers which are built to house over 3.1 million barrels of the black stuff each. That is equivalent to over half a billion litres of this extremely valuable substance which is still essential to modern life.
Each of the quartet of ships in the TI-Class measures 380 metres in length and has a deadweight tonnage of 442,000. Powering such giant ships is a tough task, although it is ably achieved thanks to the presence of a 50,000 horsepower engine that sits at the heart of every member of this exclusive family of vessels.
What makes these tankers even more interesting is that they are so massive that they cannot pass through either the Panama or Suez canals. This shows that the increase in capacity is seen as worthwhile even if the ships cannot take the shortcuts that would normally be embraced by oceanic operators.
The unrivalled length, width and weight of a TI-Class supertanker is a sight to behold.
While the 797F is technically referred to as a truck, it is unlikely to ever be seen on public roads, aside from instances in which it is being lugged from one site to another by a fleet of flatbeds.
This vehicle is designed for off-road use in the mining industry, where vast quantities of earth and rubble need to be shifted on a daily basis. Caterpillar makes no truck larger than this and so of course it has some pretty jaw-dropping specifications to its name.
Firstly there is the weight of this machine, which depending on specification can reach over 61 tonnes, equivalent to around 135,000lbs. It also has a payload capacity of 353 tons, meaning that it can manage materials that weigh many more times than the 797F itself. This is the kind of weight-to-load carrying capacity ratio that is normally seen in the natural world.
The next talking point is the engine and transmission system of this truck, which can actually allow it to travel at speeds of up to 68kph, or around 42mph. Bringing such a sizeable truck to a safe stop requires brakes which measure more than a metre across to offer maximum surface area. Even the tyres are titanic, although thankfully they are manufactured by mainstream producers Michelin and Bridgestone to keep costs comparatively low.
A flight of steps is needed to reach the cab of the Caterpillar 797F.
The initials that make up the name of this machine stand for Five Hundred Metre Aperture Spherical Telescope. This is a bit of a mouthful, so it is easy to see why it is generally shortened to FAST.
Located in China, it is not only the largest telescope on the planet, but also the machine which manages to attract the most tourists.
The site of the telescope is not manmade, but rather an artificial indentation in the land which engineers took advantage of in order to accommodate the bowl-like shape of this half-kilometre wide structure.
The inverse dome of the telescope is comprised of precisely 4450 individual panels, each of which is actually triangular in shape.
With construction costs of $180 million, FAST has also resulted in a huge economic injection to the surrounding region, bringing astronomers from across Asia and the rest of the world flocking to take advantage of its superior radio wave-detecting capabilities.
With a telescope of this size, one of the issues that needs to be overcome is that of interference caused by terrestrial devices which could create confusion during operations. The fact that its development and construction necessitated the relocation of a small handful of people who lived locally is a testament to how seriously this type of machinery is taken. Protecting such a major investment is clearly important.
The shape of the land surrounding the telescope was ideal for its dome-like structure.
Liebherr LTM 11200-9.1
Massive machinery is all the more impressive when it is also portable, which is probably why this mobile crane from Liebherr is able to capture the imagination of any observer so effectively.
It has a load capacity of 1200 tonnes and a telescopic boom than can extend up to 100 metres beyond its initial length, providing a total hoist height of 188 metres.
In order to support very large weights at the full extent of the crane’s reach, the boom itself needs to be large, thick and sturdy. This in turn increases the weight of the entire assembly and means that to be supported safely, the LTM 11200-9.1 has a total of nine individual axles.
Another quirk necessitated by the size of this crane is that it sports a pair of engines onboard; one provides power to the wheels while the other is solely dedicated to operating the crank mechanism. Even more eye-popping is the fact that this crane can travel at speeds of 75kph, or almost 47mph. This means that it is no slouch at travelling substantial distances, whether on site or on public roads.
Mobile cranes are very versatile machines for taking on lifting tasks in tricky situations.
Although the use of this huge tunnel boring machine attracted controversy and was fraught with setbacks during its maiden use, it is nevertheless an incredible piece of equipment to consider from an engineering perspective.
It uses a large cutting head to chew through earth and rock without any slowdown when faces with even the toughest materials. The head measures almost 58 feet wide and is backed up by almost 326 feet of mechanical features behind it to keep it turning smoothly.
With a construction cost of $80 million, the delays that were suffered due to a bearing overheating ultimately added almost $300 million to the expense of using it to dig a tunnel in the city of Seattle.
Bertha was so large that in order to get it from the factory in Japan where it was made to its final destination it had to be divided up into 41 different parts. These components were then assembled in-situ and gave the machine a total weight of 6700 tons.
Tunnel boring machinery is not just challenging design, but comes with a number of operational risks that are simply not present in the case of the other equipment discussed above. When something goes wrong with a crane, it can be straightforward for an engineer to identify the issue and replace the faulty part. When the machine is sitting beneath millions of tons of earth that are pressing in around it, this becomes almost impossible.
In the case of Bertha, the complications which arose after it was put into service for the first time took a full two years to remedy to a satisfactory degree. This demonstrates that even with all of the planning and preparation in the world, there is no way to guarantee that very large machines will survive the rigours of the operations for which they were designed.
The cutting face of Bertha is a disconcertingly colourful affair.
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