What Are Cranes and What Are the Different Types of Cranes?


Floating crane on body of water with mountains in background.
Virtually every construction site will need the lifting and movement power of a crane. A crane is a machine that allows heavy loads to be secured, attached, lifted, and moved around a construction site.

When it comes to the right type of crane for a job, however, there are a few key things to know. For instance, a tower crane will be built alongside a building so it can move and lift the heavy materials used to construct the building. It doesn’t make much sense to have a tower crane at the building site of a two-story home, however; it’s quite costly, and it would be overkill.

The reason there are different types of cranes is that there are different types of construction projects. A series of multi-level apartment buildings would rightfully utilize a tower crane, whereas a tri-story duplex would be better served by a mobile crane. This is also true for the terrain of the project, the weather, the weight of the materials to be moved, and the size of the project site. These are things that will factor into the consideration of the type of crane you will want to use.

Handling a Crane

Crane operators, riggers, and signalers will be the ones hired to use the crane at the project site. The crane operator will need to be certified and trained to perform duties using the crane, and most states require that the crane operator has a license while using a mobile crane. The signaler and the rigger, however, will only need to be “qualified” for their positions.

Being trained to operate a crane is as easy as applying to West Coast Training and taking part in our crane operator course.

Cranes come in numerous different forms, each having a specific use. On one end of the range, there are smaller jib cranes that are used inside workshops. On the other end are massive tower cranes, used to build some of the tallest skyscrapers. There are also “mini” cranes that are tailored to fitting into tight spots while constructing tall buildings, and floating cranes that will keep afloat while building oil rigs or pulling up a sunken ship.

Mobile and Fixed Cranes

There are some cranes that are mobile and some that are fixed in a single position. Mobile cranes are able to move around a site; can be set on tires, crawlers, or boats; and offer better mobility than the standard fixed crane.
A fixed crane is as it sounds—secured and fixed to a singular position. It will be brought to a site and assembled on the spot. While they’re not mobile, they’re still able to move heavier loads overall. These types of cranes will stay there, built and fixed to the project site for the duration of the build.

Mobile Crane Types

Carry Deck Cranes

These small cranes on four wheels can rotate 360 degrees and are some of the latest additions to the crane family. They are easily set up and can move around a site with ease. This makes them an essential crane to have on a jobsite.

Crawler Crane

You won’t find any wheels here. The crawler crane has tracks on its undercarriage. Although that may limit the turning capacity of the crane, the tracks provide traction on soft ground and on jobsites where other types of cranes might sink into the soft surface. Some of these cranes can change size, which, again, makes them ideal for various terrains. There is some setup with this type of crane, so it potentially needs to be moved from one site to the next.

Floating Crane

Sometimes even called a “crane ship” or “crane vessel,” this variation is a crane on a boat. A form of today’s modern design has been used on boats since the Middle Ages. They are used on transport, shipping, and oil vessels.

Rough Terrain Crane

These are built for rougher terrain and are used for “pick and carry operations” on jobsites where the landscape is rough. They can be used off-road, too. This type of crane is similar to the crawler crane yet has an undercarriage with four massive wheels instead of tracks. Plus, it has four-wheel drive.

Truck-Mounted Crane

This variety has two parts: the carrier (the truck) and the boom (the arm). Their build is a unique one, and it allows for easy transport and special setup. Truck-mounted cranes are built with counterweights so that they can be stabilized, which means it’s possible for them to move slowly while carrying a big load. This type can be used to do maintenance, building, and inspection of bridges.

Fixed Crane Types

Bridge/Overhead Cranes

These are mostly found in industrial environments and get their name from the fact that they look a bit like bridges. They’re supported on two sides by steel beams and straddle the workload while the materials get transported along the bridge part of the crane, secured by with the hoist (lifting component).

There are two sub-types, called the gantry and the jib crane. The gantry is usually on tracks at shipping yards or the docks, while the jib crane is permanently installed at a station on the worksite and is used for repetitive tasks.

Bulk-Handling Crane

This crane is used to carry heavy and large volumes of materials, like rocks or minerals. There are a special grabbing mechanism and bucket that will grasp, hold, and carry materials.

Hammerhead Crane

A hammerhead crane is among the most often used crane types at building sites. It has a fixed tower and a horizontal arm that twists around the tower. The trolley is held in place by the counterbalance on the backward extending arm. Due to their weight and size, they need to be assembled at the jobsite.

Stacker Crane

Automated with a forklift-like component, these are designed for warehouse storage. They’re used in places with cold environments and make it so people don’t have to work in such extreme conditions.

Telescopic Crane

The arm of this crane can extend and change length like a telescope. They’re mounted on trucks and can be moved to different worksites. They are used in many situations because of their design—in some jobs as well as emergencies where a lift is needed.

Tower Crane

As mentioned above, this is the crane that would serve you best at a jobsite where tall buildings are being built. It will need to be built on-site, in conjunction with the building itself, but has the capacity to move extremely heavy loads and volumes of materials.