For the not so familiar of you out there, a quick run down on Towercranes;

Tower cranes are a common fixture at any major construction site. They're pretty hard to miss -- they often rise hundreds of feet into the air, and can reach out just as far. The construction crew uses the tower crane to lift steel, concrete, large tools like acetylene torches and generators, and a wide variety of other building materials.  

When you look at one of these cranes, what it can do seems nearly impossible: Why doesn't it tip over? How can such a long boom lift so much weight? How is it able to grow taller as the building grows taller? If you have ever wondered about how tower cranes work, then this article is for you. In this article, you'll find out the answers to all of these questions and more!

All tower cranes consist of the same basic parts:

  • The base is bolted to a large concrete pad that supports the crane.
  • The base connects to the mast (or tower), which gives the tower crane its height.
  • Attached to the top of the mast is the slewing unit -- the gear and motor -- that allows the crane to rotate:

On top of the slewing unit are three parts:

  • The long horizontal front jib (or working arm), which is the portion of the crane that carries the load. A trolley runs along the jib to move the load in and out from the crane's center:
  • The shorter horizontal counter jib, which contains the crane's motors and electronics as well as the large concrete counter weight
  • The operator's cab: (far too small!!)

    The machine deck contains the motor that lifts the load, along with the control electronics that drive it and the cable drum, as shown here:

    The motors that drive the slewing unit are located above the unit's large gear:

          The crane uses two limit switches to make sure that the operator does not overload the crane:

  • The maximum load switch monitors the pull on the cable and makes sure that the load does not exceed Safe Working Load..
  • The load moment switch makes sure that the operator does not exceed the tonne-meter rating of the crane as the load moves out on the jib. A cat head assembly in the slewing unit can measure the amount of collapse in the jib and sense when an overload condition occurs.

         When you look at a tall tower crane, the whole thing seems outrageous -- why don't these structures fall over, especially since they have no support wires of any kind?

The first element of the tower crane's stability is a large concrete pad that the construction company pours several weeks before the crane arrives. This pad typically measures 15 ft x 15 ft x 6 feet (4 x 4 x 2 meters) and weighs around 80t -- Large anchor bolts embedded deep into this pad support the base of the crane:

So these cranes are essentially bolted to the ground to ensure their stability.

To rise to its maximum height, the crane grows itself one mast section at a time! The crew uses a top climber or climbing frame that fits between the slewing unit and the top of the mast. Here's the process:

  1. The crew hangs a weight on the jib to balance the counterweight.


     2.  The crew detaches the slewing unit from the top of   the mast. Large hydraulic rams in the top climber push the slewing unit up 15 feet (4.5 m).


      3. The crane operator uses the crane to lift another 15-foot mast section into the gap opened by the climbing frame.


Once bolted in place, the crane is 15 feet taller! 

Once the building is finished and it is time for the crane to come down, the process is reversed -- the crane disassembles its own mast and then smaller cranes disassemble the rest.