How Do They Grow?

Tower cranes arrive at the construction site on 10 to 12 tractor-trailer rigs. The crew uses a mobile crane to assemble the jib and the machinery section, and places these horizontal members on a 40-foot (12-m) mast that consists of two mast sections. The mobile crane then adds the counterweights.

The mast rises from this firm foundation. The mast is a large, triangulated lattice structure, typically 10 feet (3.2 meters) square. The triangulated structure gives the mast the strength to remain upright.

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 20 feet (6 m).
  3. The crane operator uses the crane to lift another 20-foot mast section into the gap opened by the climbing frame. Once bolted in place, the crane is 20 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.