How Crawler Cranes Do the Heavy Lifting

From tower cranes to deck cranes, there’s no shortage of heavy lifting machines available to engineers today to take their projects to new heights. Each one comes with its own advantages and shortcomings, though, and choosing the wrong one can waste valuable time and resources on a project that can afford to lose neither. Because of that, picking the right tool for the job is a must.

Due to their versatility and ruggedness, the crawler crane is one of the most popular cranes available. Differing from other cranes in that their undercarriage is mounted to a set of rubber tracks on each side called crawlers, crawler cranes have what it takes to traverse the challenging terrains common to many construction sites — and as you’ll see later on, this gives them multiple other advantages that come with the turf.

What Is a Crawler Crane?

While a crane can be defined as any machine employing a long arm that can be used for heavy lifting, there are still a number of different types for you to choose from. Some are stationary, some are tower-like structures that are built alongside a building, and some can even float on barges or riggings. Some of the most popular types of cranes include:

  • Tower cranes
  • Deck cranes
  • All-terrain cranes
  • Rough terrain cranes
  • Stacker cranes
  • Bulk-handling cranes
  • Bridge cranes
  • Crawler cranes


What sets crawler cranes apart from the rest are their means of movement. Unlike other movable cranes, crawler cranes do not use tires to get around. Instead, they employ crawlers similar to those found on other construction machines like backhoes or bulldozers. While the absence of tires makes crawler cranes slightly bulkier than their counterparts, the use of crawlers makes them better suited for the rugged terrain that is often found on construction sites — and gives them better stability, too.

Another common feature of many crawler cranes is the presence of a lattice boom. While some cranes use a telescopic boom to reach the heights required, this can limit maximum range and load capacity before a crane runs the risk of tipping over. Lattice booms are lighter and typically longer than telescopic booms, and they are more commonly used where higher heights and heavier loads are needed. Because many (though not all) crawler cranes use a lattice boom, they are frequently found on construction sites involving a higher load capacity.

Crawler Crane Load Capacity

Their employment of a lattice boom makes crawler cranes lighter than cranes with similar arm lengths and enables them to lift heavier loads more safely. Pound for pound, crawler cranes have some of the highest lifting capabilities of any type of crane, with maximum load capacities reaching hundreds of tons or more. Note also that crawler cranes using a telescopic boom have a lower boom length and load capacity than those employing a lattice boom.

What Applications Are Crawler Cranes Used For?

Crawler cranes are most useful if you’re working on a site with difficult driving conditions, because the crawlers help the crawler crane navigate tough terrain more easily. As an example, if your construction site has soft ground that could cause other types of cranes to become stuck, the crawler crane would be ideal — their rubber crawlers would enable them to move about as needed.

The frequent employment of lattice booms causes crawler cranes to have lighter arms than those using telescopic booms and enables them to reach higher than many other types of cranes. This lower boom weight allows for a greater operating radius than that of other cranes, making crawler cranes helpful for projects where you need to lift heavier loads to higher heights and mobility is still required.

An added benefit of crawler cranes is that the wider contact area provided by the crawlers gives them added stability and often eliminates the need for outrigging. This makes crawler cranes particularly well suited to applications where you need an especially high degree of stability.

What Types of Projects Are Crawler Cranes Best Suited For?

The high lifting capacity and sturdiness of crawler cranes make them a popular go-to choice for many projects and is the reason they are found on so many sites. If your project requires long-term work and for loads to be moved while they are still on the line, the stability and versatility of a crawler crane may make it the perfect tool for the job.

Case Study: Crawler Cranes and Wind Turbines

One application where crawler cranes have proven indispensable is in the energy industry, specifically in the construction and decommissioning of wind turbines. The driving factor that determines a wind turbine’s total energy output is its height — the taller the turbine and longer the blades, the more electricity it will produce. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that, as of 2016, the average wind turbine was approximately 100′ to 120′ meters in height, with current heights only rising.

As wind turbines grow progressively taller, the weight of each component increases, as well. This makes the need for heavy lifting a crucial part of any wind farm construction project and is where crawler cranes come into play. With boom lengths of 100 meters or higher, the massive lattice booms of crawler cranes give them the reach to hoist wind turbine components to their lofty heights. Combine this advantage with the fact that onshore turbines must be built outside, where terrain may be unsteady, and the maneuverability and wider operating radius of crawler cranes make them the machine of choice on many turbine sites.

What Types of Projects Are Crawler Cranes Least Suited For?

Although crawler cranes carry many advantages with them, there are some cases where you’d find another type of crane more useful.

One of the key strengths of crawler cranes lies in their massive size — and this strength can also become a drawback. Crawler cranes may not be driven on a road or highway, and must often be built onsite before they can be used. This need for assembly can add extra time to projects and make them less suited to short-term work where more portable cranes would suffice.

How Have Crawler Cranes Changed Over the Years?

Cranes have been around for thousands of years, so it’s not surprising that they’ve undergone a number of transformations. Crawler cranes are no exception to this, as these once-bulky machines have been adapted to become versatile construction powerhouses that can meet many project needs. Some of the greatest crawler crane innovations include:

  • Telematics – These report-generating systems deliver automatic updates about your machine’s condition and need for maintenance, enabling you to do upkeep before systems need repair. This lengthens the life span of your crawler crane and reduces downtime while improving system operability.
  • Self-assembly – The downside of extra build time is quickly being offset by design schematics featuring self-assembly mechanisms that minimize startup time and worker effort. By employing self-assembly techniques, construction sites can get their crawler cranes up and running faster than ever.
  • Adaptability – The cumbersome size of some crawler cranes is also being minimized as engineers develop ways to configure crawler cranes to fit into more narrow areas. 

These aren’t the only advancements that crawler cranes have recently experienced. More sensitive controls and environmentally friendly engines have been developed, too.  

The Importance of Crawler Cranes on Your Job Site

Fundamentally, the rugged versatility of crawler cranes makes them an essential part of any project seeking to reach for the skies. The superior weight distribution offered by their tracks makes them more maneuverable than cranes that rely on tires and lends them a stability that few other cranes can provide. While some crawler cranes use telescopic booms to move their loads, most employ a lattice boom, which gives them a longer and stronger reach. Because they are stronger, taller, and steadier than many other crane options, some projects simply could not be completed without the help of a crawler crane.

Is your project in need of a crawler crane in order to get off the ground? At Maxim Crane Rental, we have one of the most modern and comprehensive fleets of cranes available today, as well as the expertise it takes to match our customers with a crane that will meet their needs. If you’re in need of a crawler crane for your construction site, get in touch with us, and we’ll find the right one for you. 

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