Many of today's seafaring megastructures would be nigh on impossible to build without the lifting assistance provided by dockside cranes. And as we continue to build ever-bigger systems we'll need ever bigger cranes, like the gigantic hammerhead from Kone.
Giant cantilever cranes, or hammerheads, were first developed in 19th century Germany—known then as hammerkran—and were among the first mechanical systems to benefit from the newfangled steam engine technology spreading through Europe at the start of the Industrial Revolution.
They're formed around a steel-lattice tower wherein the side that actually lifts objects is counterbalanced by a weight attached to the opposite end, forming a structure that resembles the head of the well-known shark species. These cranes were also the first to allow the lifting trolley to slide horizontally along the forward cantilever, something that had not been possible to that point but would become a hallmark of modern crane design.
Supplemented with steam power, hammerhead cranes became vital tools in the British, Japanese, and American shipbuilding industry as they were capable of lifting items an order of magnitude heavier than traditionally powered cranes. This allowed for faster and easier installation of heavy naval warship components like hull plating and gun barrels.
Hammerhead cranes are still in use today, the largest of which stands in Niteroi, Brazil, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Built by Kone and owned by Petrobras, a Brazilian energy company, the crane measures around 42 metres high. It's primarily used to load and unload 320-tonne spools of flexible drilling pipes, used for offshore oil exploration.
What's more, the crane is capable of plucking a spool off the deck of a ship 60 metres away and swinging it back onto land without tipping over, a testament to its sturdy design. The recently installed crane is expected to cut loading times in half compared to the currently installed systems. [GE Reports - Wiki - Kone]