While our technical instruments and communication devices keep getting smaller, our machines just keep getting bigger. There is now aircraft large enough to allow other aircraft to piggyback a ride, ships that pile on other ships as cargo, and bulldozers that need more than one operator in the driver’s seat.
All of these are mind-boggling, yet there are even larger and stranger machines out there, because we won’t be satisfied until we build something so large it can poke its nose into outer space.
The Large Hadron Collider
The largest machine in the world was created to study the tiniest composition known: the structure of the atomic nucleus. Nuclear accelerators are nothing new. They were first invented in the 1930’s for investigating the many aspects of particle physics. The Hadron Collider is seventeen miles in circumference and is buried 574 feet under the ground, near Geneva, Switzerland.
Inside the Collider, two high-energy beams are shot at each other, traveling at close to the speed of light. They are guided by thousands of super-conducting magnets inside two ultra-high vacuum tubes. The magnets are kept at a frigid -271.3 degrees, which is colder than the temperature of outer space. There are 1,242 dipole magnets, each measuring 49 feet in length for bending the beams, and 392 quadruple magnets measuring between 16- 23 feet long for focusing the beam.
Science doesn’t want to stop there though. Plans are underway for a new underground accelerator that would be three times larger than the Large Hadron Collider.
The Giant Bucket Wheel Excavator
While the Large Hadron Collider is the largest underground machine, the world’s second largest machine is chewing up surface above the ground. The Bagger 293 is a brute built for titans. Built in Germany in 1995, the giant bucket wheel excavator stands 315 feet tall and 740 feet long, and weighs in at 31 million pounds. This multi-ton Tessie uses five operators to push her along, and can move 8.5 million cubic feet of earth per day.
The Bagger may be very good at excavating open mine operations, but it does have some handicaps. It can’t go around obstacles, so workers must remove power lines, place sandbags over roads and railroad tracks, and seed fields with special grass to make operations smoother. Nor does the Bagger see very well. Occasionally, it scoops up unsuspecting bulldozers.
World’s Largest Tunneling Machine
When Seattle decided to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — an elevated section of highway that runs between Elliott Bay waterfront and the downtown district — with a tunnel, they hired the world’s largest tunnel borer: a 300-foot long, five stories-high driller named Bertha. Bertha is a very big girl — the 7,000 ton machine needed to be shipped to Seattle in 31 pieces. With a diameter of 57.5 feet, she could easily swallow the world’s second-largest borer, located in Florence, Italy.
Despite her massive size, she was stopped cold December 6, 2013 by what the engineers could only describe as “an object”. Speculations ran from a massive boulder laid to rest during the last Ice Age, to a lost part of the city hidden underground since the Klondike Gold Rush. On January 3, 2014, the object that was stopping Bertha was at least partially confirmed. It seems that though she can muscle her way through tons of soil, debris and glacier rocks, she’s unable to contend with an eight-inch diameter steel pipe.
A Giant Mechanical Spider
London took pride in owning their very own mechanical elephant, but Liverpool decided to one-up them. On a rainy afternoon, a gigantic spider ushered in from Salthouse Dock, to awe, thrill and scare spectators. The giant mechanic spider, named La Princesse, trundled down the streets at two miles an hour, eventually climbing the side of the Concourse House, a derelict building on Lime Street. There, her long legs touched down on five stories, from one end to the other.
If La Princesse seems somewhat indifferent to attempts to please her, such as a bath and soothing music, she’s still an impressive sight. Weighing in at 37 tons, she stands 50 feet high and has 50 hydraulic axes of movement. It takes twelve people to operate her. In order to transport her from one place to another, she requires 16 cranes, eight cherry pickers and 250 crew members. She wasn’t enthusiastically greeted by everyone. Some small children tried to hide from her, and the arachnophobes tried to prevent her appearance, but one child actually wanted to take her home. This plan was abandoned after the kid’s dad explained she wouldn’t be able to fit through the door.
The World’s Largest Vending Machine
Some shopping malls put out a lot of effort to get noticed. When Berjaya Times Square, a gigantic shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia held its tenth anniversary, it decided to commemorate it by building the largest vending machine in the world. The machine took six months to plan and build and seven weeks to assemble. Its total weight is over 7,000 pounds. A capsule-containing globe with a diameter of fifteen feet, rests on a stand of plywood and mild1 steel measuring 15 feet five inches in height.
125 capsules reside in the container. The machine accepts acrylic tokens valued at around $15 each to credit a vend. It dispenses certificates in its 2.5″ capsules for a wide variety of products and services, including big-screen televisions, iPads, spa packages, and theme park passes. It has recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest vending machine in the world, which means someone is sure to come along to try to outdo it.
The Largest Ship in the World
The Emma Maersk has had to surrender its reputation as the largest floating vessel in the world to make way for the Prelude, that took to the waters for the first time in South Korea. Technically, however, the Prelude isn’t really a ship. It’s a floating natural gas facility designed to capture, process, and store liquid natural gas from deep inside the Earth. The 1,600-foot Prelude is three hundred feet longer than the Emma Maersk. If stood on one end, it would be 150 feet taller than the Empire State Building. The two halves of the hull were constructed separately, then joined together, giving it a 243-foot width.
When fully laden, it weighs in at 600,000 tons. Its storage tanks for holding liquid petroleum have a capacity equivalent to approximately 175 Olympic swimming pools. A 305-foot turret runs through the ship to the sea floor to keep it anchored and pivot in the direction of the wind. This, combined with three 6,700 horsepower engines, are its safeguards for handling up to category five hurricanes. The one thing it won’t be able to do is squeeze through the Panama Canal.
World’s Largest Motorcycle
Most cyclist have experienced the annoyance of being cut off in traffic by large vehicles muscling them to one side and have wished for something bossy enough to give them respect. Maybe they should talk to Fabio Reggiani, who took Italy by storm in building the largest motorcycle ever.
It’s the dream machine of big boys who like big toys. Standing 16’8″ high, and weighing 5.5 tons, it’s the biggest two-wheeled bike to ever travel 300 feet. It features some very extended handle bars and a 5,000 cc 5.7 liter V8 Chevrolet engine with a three-speed transmission gearbox. Training wheels are included, although steering the bike might prove somewhat of a challenge.
Biggest Remote Control Robot in the World
Remote control toys are fun, and the bigger the better, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Germany’s Zollner Elektronic AG spent six years, with a team of fifteen people, designing the biggest remote control robot ever. The dragon was designed to replace the mechanical1 star of Germany’s favorite play, “Drachenstich”. The original model had not been replaced in 35 years, and had required four operators, so it didn’t really count as a robot.
Zollner’s dragon stands 51 feet tall, weighs 11 tons, is radio-controlled and, of course, breathes fire. It’s powered by a 140 horsepower, 2.0 liter engine, and has a 39-foot wing span. Nor is the robot a dummy. With both hydraulic and electronic components, it has nine separate controllers, each containing two TI processors, a Fujitsu microcontroller, and 238 sensors for determining its environment. Not only that, it has veins that will bleed stage blood on cue — a whole 80 liters worth. With so much realism put into its making, it seems downright mean to spear it.
World’s Largest Aircraft
Aircraft keeps getting bigger. There’s the Boeing Dream Lifter with a cargo hold of 65,000 cubic feet, the Super Jumbo Airbus that seats 525 passengers, and the military C-5, which is six stories tall and could fly six school busses from Delaware to Turkey without refueling. However, the largest aircraft of all isn’t in the US — it’s in Russia. The Mriya – Russian for “dream” – is the only craft of its kind. It was designed to be the air transport system for Russia’s reusable space shuttle. Its maximum take-off weight is 640 tons.
The Mriya uses six powerful jet engines to fly it. It is 275 feet long and stands 59 feet high. It is 26 feet longer than a Boeing 747 with and with a 290-foot wingspan, it outstretches the Boeing by 29 feet. It has put in enough flying hours to circle the globe 46 times. When parked on the runway, it looks like a giant mama bird with a brood of chicks, Boeing included.
World’s Largest Dump Truck
With its brightly painted guardrails and ladder, the front end looks more like a yacht than a work machine, but the hybrid-diesel Belaz was built for one thing; seriously moving earth. Its two sixteen-cylinder engines get this super duty bad boy going, giving it 13,738 pounds of torque, more than the combined power of seventeen heavy-duty pickup trucks. The company claims a fully loaded Belaz can lug around 450 tons of dirt at 25 mph and never once cry uncle.
At 800,000 pounds, the Belaz isn’t heavy, just big-boned. Its two turntable axles give its eight 63″ wheels a 65-foot turning radius. For a 67-foot truck in overall length, that’s turning on a dime. The Belaz also has an onboard tire inflation control system for keeping tire pressure in check, video surveillance, heating and air conditioning, and sound insulation. If you can afford the $3 million price tag and have always had an aversion to large bodies of water, you could always set up a party area in the back and drive your own land yacht.
Biggest Machines Ever Moved On Wheels
The fact that humans can build big, complicated machines is commonplace. But the fact that we can build these massive machines and then move them, sometimes across the planet? That’s not so common.
While most machines can be assembled and disassembled in situ, every so often there’s a huge part of a mechanism—or sometimes the whole machine—that must be transported in one piece on road. Behold the following heaviest haulage cargos that ever blocked the roads.
In 1988, the two Heat Transfer Reactor Experiment (HTRE) reactors of the Idaho National Laboratory were hauled to the visitor center at the site of Experimental Breeder Reactor I.
Photo: Idaho National Laboratory
Moving petrochemical columns and machinery is Panalpina’s speciality. The Swiss logistics company is one of the market leaders in heavy freight solutions.
And finally, these incredibly huge off-shore oil rig parts are being moved on wheels.
Top photo: Goldhofer