In 2010, Collins helped perform such a job for Valero, which brought in the 4,300-tonne ALE AL.SK190 to its refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. The job, which entailed switching out six coker drums weighing 471 tonnes each, was scheduled to run 60 days under normal stick-building methods. With the SK190, project engineers were able to pull off a 12-point pick of a prefabricated derrick and cutting deck unit weighing 1,338 tonnes, with a radius of more than 54 m and a boom about 131 m long.

"We shortened the turnaround to 30 days," says Collins, who estimates the cost of renting the crane was about $10 million. The coker unit produces about $1 million per day in revenue, so the cost was worth it, he says.

"You are still $20 million to the good, and you didn't expose those workers by assembling all those things in the air," says Collins. "That's where we see this more and more."

Rings vs. Crawlers
These monstrous machines are themselves feats of engineering. Rarely seen by the public, they perform critical tasks that allow us to turn on our lights at night and pump fuel into our cars.

Most supercranes can be placed into one of two categories: ring-type cranes and crawler cranes. It is important to note that each crane has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, a ring-type crane, where the superstructure and counterweight rotate upon a circular track, has the advantage of a higher lifting capacity and reach. However, a ring-type crane cannot move with the load, and it often requires special ground preparation or even foundation work before it can go to work.

Being mobile cranes, crawlers can pick and carry with the load. Although heavy-lift experts tell us that is infrequent, the ability to "walk" with a load is an advantage when space is limited. Crawlers also can ease transport from one part of a site to another, whereas a ring-type crane will need track laid for repositioning. Lampson's LTL-2600, which is the oldest crane design on the list, can pick and carry throughout its entire load chart.

"Old" does not necessarily equal "outdated," however. Even though the Lampson LTL-2600 ranks on our list at No. 7 for maximum capacity, when it is ranked by its capability at 61 m, it shoots up to No. 5.

"That's what we designed the crane to do," says Bryan Pepin-Donat, director of international business for Kennewick, Wash.-based Lampson, which first built the LTL-2600 in 1994. It has shipped two of them to China for nuclear build-outs and regularly puts them to work for refineries, petrochemical plants and even bridges. Owners use these cranes when they want to accelerate construction.

"Everybody is looking at how do we do this with fewer lifts, with less man-hours working at elevation," says Pepin-Donat. "These cranes are answering a need for modularization."

Deep South's VersaCrane, which sits on outriggers, falls into a third category of its own. The advantage of an outrigger, says Landry, is that its ground-bearing pressure is lower than many other supercranes, making it easier to set up on a jobsite.