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Designed for Europe and Japan and once dismissed as toys, the so-called “spider crane,” or mini-crane segment is starting to crawl onto jobsites all over the world.

These little creatures can tackle small lifts in places that normal-sized cranes just can’t reach. I spotted one recently working at a $1-billion, 23-story children’s hospital in Chicago and decided to check out these little critters. This project is the same one that featured the largest Chinese-made concrete pump to go to work in North America.

Last week, I caught up with Steven Brooks, a salesman at Country Club Hills, Ill.-based Great Lakes Lifting, which sells, rents and leases a model called the Spydercrane, built in Japan by Furukawa Unic Corp. Mechanical trades used this machine, as well as a similar unit called the Herkules, to lift pipe, sheet metal and other supplies into the vertical hospital.

With my video camera rolling in his company’s yard, Brooks took me on a demo of two models. We took turns at the remote control lifting a concrete highway barricade. I tried my best to tip the crane over—safely testing the limits of the machine, of course—but the ground-pressure sensors on the tentacle-like outriggers kept me locked out.

It has some annoying features such as a cheesy voice that talks to you whenever it senses a problem. At the same time, however, Unic has beefed up the unit by shielding hydraulic rams with plates and wrapping hoses so they are less exposed.

The smallest one can fit through a single door, reach just over 28 ft and lift a little more than 3 tons. The larger unit, which we later used to pick up its little brother, fits through a double door and reaches nearly 50 ft.

Brooks rents the Spydercranes starting at $470 a day, $1,400 a week and $4,200 a month, he says. Mechanical contractors are using these types of machines to access tight places and bring materials to the work space without having to rely on tower cranes, boom trucks, skip hoists or other traditional means of conveyance.

Watch out for more mini cranes at next year's Conexpo show in Las Vegas. Manufacturers say they will be introducing new sizes of mini cranes there.

If you see a Spydercrane on your next job, don’t worry, it won’t bite. It may offer you a helping hand.

Watch it in action here.

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