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What is a Mobile Crane?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 17, 2024
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A mobile crane can be very basic, with just a telescopic boom on a platform, or can be a full sized crane. A standard crane is a machine used for lifting heavy objects. This type of machine is fitted with a wire rope drum, chains, and a control panel. The advantage of a mobile crane is the additional flexibility to access sites and equipment that are otherwise difficult to access.

There are five types of mobile crane: truck, side lift, all terrain, crawler, and railroad. All cranes must be operated by trained staff, and this type of work is often completed by a team of people. Depending on the size of the load and the location of the crane, a spotter may be required to ensure that the load is properly installed.

Most people are familiar with the truck crane, where the actual crane is mounted to the body of the truck. This type of unit is able to travel on main roads and highways. This additional flexibility makes it possible to transport large loads and access a wide range of locations.

A side lift crane is another type of mobile crane able to transport materials and hoist large containers. Very large containers are lifted using a pair of side lift cranes. The added benefit of this mobile crane is that it can be used to lift a container from the ground, providing extra flexibility.

All terrain cranes can travel on regular roads at fairly high speed as well as over rough terrain. This type of mobile crane has all wheel and crab steering for extra flexibility. The ability to cover different terrains in the same equipment is very important when working on new construction and development projects.

The main advantage of a crawler crane is the ability to quickly lift items with very little set up. The size and design of the crane placement on the undercarriage, along with the tracks, allows users to avoid the process to stabilize the crane. Instead, the sheer weight of the crane, along with the longer contact with the ground eliminates this requirement for all but the heaviest loads.

A railroad crane is specifically designed with flanged wheels so it can travel along railroad tracks. These units are used for maintenance work and loading freight into railway cars. On occasion, they are also involved in recovery operations when trucks tip over or spill their load.

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Discussion Comments

By anon294671 — On Oct 02, 2012

Mobile cranes can mean many things. Some mobile cranes are small and portable like Smart-Rig Cranes and others are larger cranes like crawler cranes. Truck cranes are not typically referred to as a mobile cranes, even though they are "mobile".

By SarahSon — On Aug 17, 2011

My uncle has worked as a crane operator for most of his career. He has some pretty interesting stories to tell of situations where he has used a crane.

There is quite a bit involved to be a successful and smooth mobile crane operator. If an operator is too reckless or not very smooth, it can be very dangerous to those on the ground.

There are a lot of levers and gadgets that need to be handled in just the right way. You also need to have good communication skills with whoever is on the ground. I know my uncle gets most frustrated when the people he works with get too careless or try to take shortcuts.

By sunshined — On Aug 16, 2011

My husband works for a construction company and often uses a crane in his work. When one of our sons was in high school and driving to school, he pulled out in front of someone, and his van was suspended on top of the barrier of a small bridge.

Thankfully he was not hurt, but that left us in quite a predicament of how to get the van off the barrier. My husband told the police officer that he could get a crane from work and remove the van that way.

Since the police officer didn't have any other suggestions, that is what we had to do. It saved us hiring a mobile crane service which would have been quite expensive.

There have been many times that having access to a mobile crane has been very helpful, but this experience was the most unique one.

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