UK: Even at 310m above ground, UNIC mini-crawler cranes get the job done

Furukawa UNIC mini-crawler cranes help erect one of Europe's tallest structures

Coinciding with the opening of the 2012 London Olympic Games was the inauguration of "The Shard", Europe's largest skyscraper built on the edge of The River Thames. Built in the image of ship masts used during the Age of Exploration, this 95-story building, designed by the famed Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, is constructed entirely of glass on all sides, allowing it to flex and shift with the heat of the sun and changing seasons. A total of 11,000 sheets of glass were meticulously installed onto the tower's steel foundation over the 36 month-long construction period.

Challenges Surface 310m Up

While the glass on the lower floors was able to be installed interiorly, a lack of interior space on the upper floors called for a way to hoist the glass into place from outside the building. The use of traditional tower cranes was deemed less than optimal by project orchestrators due both to worries that strong winds and bad weather would make accurate placement of the glass difficult, and of the prohibitively high strain rental would impose on the project budget. Workers on the site imposed strict requirements of the machinery that was to do the job: It had to allow a strict observance to completing construction by the opening of the Olympics, it needed to perform with maximum accuracy, and do so in the limited space a platform outside the tower could provide, all while being safe and resilient against strong winds and extreme cold. It's then that the UNIC mini-crawler crane was called onto the scene. The body of the crawler was first hoisted up, with the boom of the crane not far behind, where the entire unit was assembled and positioned on the 87th floor, where the last 440 sheets were then hoisted into place from the outside.

Precision Hydraulics Leads to Precision Work

The UNIC mini-crawler crane displayed the ability of its advanced hydraulic system to perform precision work while setting glass for the tower. While a traditional tower crane may be well suited for lifting heavy loads at such heights, the relatively light weight of each glass panel meant the problems of shifting and jostling by the wind required a crane that could handle lighter loads with greater finesse. The UR-W706C, the particular model used for the project, also possessed a lifting speed far greater than that of traditional tower cranes (44m/min, roughly 35% greater than traditional cranes), and a 360-degree of continuous rotation standard in all UNIC cranes meant convenient maneuverability even at such heights. Safety was a non-issue due to the mini-crawlers safety features, as the crawlers outriggers were secured to the roof itself to prevent tipping due to load sway caused by the wind. The crawlers were also cited as being a determining factor when determining what crane to go with. For a traditional truck-mounted or full-vehicle crane access to the small platform exterior to the tower would have been impossible, but the crawlers on the mini-crawler make such operations routine.

In the end, work finished as scheduled by March's end, and work on the exterior finished as expected by the opening of the London Olympic Games. Due to its ability for fine load control, its maneuverability, and its safety, the UNIC mini-crawler crane helped the workers on The Shard pull through, and in doing so earned itself the nickname "the spider crane."


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