Sunday crane blogging

Crawl-up cranes then and now.

Last year GE bought the company responsible for a brand-new way of building tall wind turbine towers.

Clever isn’ t it? Instead of a monster tower crane taller than the turbine, needing dozens of truckloads to transport on site, a smaller crane crawls up the tower as it’s being built! Patents no doubt pending.

This is how they built cathedrals in the Middle Ages:

Reconstruction of the temple of Jerusalem, France, XVc

A number of old churches in England still have cranes or bits of them stranded in the roof space, that weren’t worth bringing down.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

13 thoughts on “Sunday crane blogging”

  1. One would imagine that the giants in that image could simply stand on each others shoulders and accomplish the same thing.

    Sort of incredible that engineering was so advanced in the middle ages in certain ways while the means to depict the inventions of the era in a realistic way lagged to such a degree.

    1. The artists, like a lot of people on the Internet, lacked the ability to bring perspective to their views.

    2. In defence of the artist, accurate perspective and scale would have made the image unreadable. Given the small space available – a few square inches at the top of a book page – I think he did a great job, fitting in both a lively portrayal of expert builders at work and a positive (and remarkably pro-Semitic) evocation of Ezra’s project.

    3. And does anybody know why their faces are so gray? Did it have some meaning, or is it just a result of decay over time/something to do with the type of reproduction/my computer monitor?

  2. Basically, that’s how all very tall buildings are built, and it’s been that way in the modern era for at least 30 years. Self-climbing cranes, is what they’re called.

  3. What will they think to copy into patents next?

    There is nothing new under the sun.
    Not even global warming…

    By the way James…
    Did you see this wonderful article?

    The Library of Utopia – Technology Review

    You’ll like that.
    Here is my favorite quote therein:

    The U.S. Congress passed the first federal copyright law in 1790. Following English precedent, lawmakers sought to strike a reasonable balance between the desire of writers to earn a living and the benefit to society of giving people free access to the ideas of others. The law allowed “Authors and Proprietors” of “Maps, Charts and Books” to register a copyright in their work for 14 years and, if they were still alive at the end of that term, to renew the copyright for another 14 years. By limiting copy protections to a maximum of 28 years, the legislators guaranteed that no book would remain under private control for very long. And by requiring that copyrights be formally registered, they ensured that most works would immediately enter the public domain. Of the 13,000 books published in the country during the decade following the law’s enactment, fewer than 600 were registered for copyright, according to historian John Tebbel.

    Beginning in the 1970s, Congress developed a radically different approach. Under pressure from film studios and other media and entertainment companies, it passed a series of bills that dramatically lengthened the term of copyright, not only for new books but retroactively for books published throughout most of the last century. Today, copyright in a work extends 70 years beyond the date of the author’s death. Congress also removed the requirement that an author register a copyright—and, again, it applied the change retroactively. Now a copyright is established for any work the moment it’s created. Even when writers have no interest in claiming a copyright, they get one—and their works remain out of the public domain for decades. The upshot is that most books or articles written since 1923 remain off limits for unauthorized copying and distribution. Other nations have enacted similar policies, as part of an effort to establish international standards for trade in intellectual property.

  4. Actually, if you read the Wikipedia article they are not describing a self-climbing crane like the one used for the turbines. The article says

    ” When a new floor was completed, and massive tie beams of the roof connected the walls, the crane was dismantled and reassembled on the roof beams from where it was moved from bay to bay during construction of the vaults.”

    This is just a floor-mounted crane being move from floor to floor as needed.

    1. As I read the article, the part that was only moved once was the treadwheel, essentially the power supply. The gantry, the only component visible in the miniature, would surely have ridden up on top of the walls, no?

  5. Why isn’t GE trying to bring good things to life that haven’t already been developed? Oh, yeah. That might cramp next quarter’s bottom line/analysts’ expectations and we certainly can’t have that, can we?

  6. I think commenters are being a bit unfair to GE. I don’t actually have any evidence that they are trying to patent the crawler crane, and they have been innovating elsewhere, in gearless drives and so on. The crane is however trademarked, according to the picture, which with the breathless PR was enough to justify the joke.

    The real innovation here appears to be the lightweight geodesic structure with thin cladding, as opposed to the current thick-walled steel towers. (Compare the mediaeval shift in building technology from Romanesque walls and barrel vaults to Gothic piers, big windows and ogee vaulting.) Adding another 25% to the height of a wind tower – say going from 80m to 100m – raises the weight of the structure far more than proportionately, so the gain is not trivial.

    GE are also firmly on the side of science on climate change. Not surprising, given their big stake in renewable energy, but still nice to see.

  7. There are some downsides to this method. You need a stronger tower to deal with the weight and off-center loading of the crane in addition to the weight of the generator and blades (although some of that may be subsumed in the wind loading). And you need a way to get the climbing crane on and off the tower and to the site. But still cool.

    Meanwhile, GE, like many other large companies, has a habit of innovating by purchase (as above) or by following smaller companies into a field and attempting to muscles them out with more money, more resources and better marketing (speaking as someone who had a tiny part in a megawatt-scale gearless drive project a few years ago). Which is a perfectly good business model as long as you don’t run out of trailblazers.

  8. A superfluous recommendation, maybe, but Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome, about the building of the duomo in Florence, is well worth reading. It deals both with Bruelleschi’s many innovations and the complex intrigues and history of the times.

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