10 of the World's Largest Machines

Plane parked on a runway
Photo: Larske/Wikimedia Commons

If you wander onto a construction site, you can catch a glimpse of a towering crane or a multi-story dump truck, but for the most part, the world’s largest machines operate away from the public eye. Massive mining equipment or tunnel-boring drills work far underground or in remote regions, while huge cargo planes are rarely seen at commercial terminals.

The world’s largest machines are not all about work. Fifty-foot robotic creatures and three-story vending machines show that mechanical inventions can sometimes focus on fun instead of providing industrial muscle.

Here are some of the world’s largest machines, and the important, fun or sometimes controversial jobs that they are built to accomplish.

1
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Large Hadron Collider

Photo: ビッグアップジャパン/flickr

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s biggest particle accelerator, and the largest (or at least "longest") machine in the world by some definitions. The collider consists of rings of superconducting magnets that run through a tunnel at a facility near Geneva, Switzerland. The total length of the LHC is nearly 17 miles. The electromagnets accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light before, basically, crashing them into one another. To reduce resistance, the magnets are kept at minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit — colder than the temperature in outer space.

Why do this? Such collisions allow scientists to advance the study of particle physics by helping them gather data that offers insights into the composition and behavior of subatomic particles. This glimpse into the subatomic universe is available only in the brief moments after the violent, microscopic collision.

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Berjaya Times Square Vending Machine

Photo: Alexlky/Shutterstock

The massive Berjaya Times Square hotel and retail complex in Kuala Lumpur created the world’s largest capsule vending machine. When the weeks-long construction was complete, the gumball-machine-shaped structure stood 32 feet tall and the capsule stretched to 15 feet in diameter. It was built to mark the building’s 10-year anniversary, and the Guinness Book of World Records verified the "largest vending machine" claim in 2013.

Visitors who came to the anniversary celebrations dreaming of thousands of pounds of gumballs were disappointed. The vending machine distributed prizes (or vouchers for prizes) instead of candy. People purchased tokens or redeemed receipts from the mall’s retailers for tokens. They could then try their luck at winning iPhones, televisions and computers.

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Antonov AN-225

Photo: Vasiliy Koba/Wikimedia Commons

The double-decker Airbus A380 and the legendary Boeing 747 dwarf other passenger jets, but the largest airplane in the world carries cargo, not people. There is only one six-engine Antonov AN-225 in operation; it's the only one ever built. The AN-225 was designed in the 1980s to carry Soviet spaceships on its back. It's now a Ukrainian-flagged plane named Mriya (which translates as "dream") that specializes in flying oversized cargo. The largest payload was a 247-ton piece of oil pipeline.

Exactly how big is Mriya? Its landing gear has 32 wheels, and it boasts a wingspan of 290 feet. Its maximum total weight at takeoff is 640 tons. It's available to hire at a cost of about $30,000 per hour. Because of this price tag and the fact that smaller cargo planes will suffice for most transport jobs, Mriya spends a majority of its time in a hangar at Gostomel airport in the Ukraine.

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FAST: 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope

Photo: N509FZ/Wikimedia Commons

FAST stands for Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope. This massive telescope is located in a natural depression in rural Guizhou Province in Southwestern China. Known as Tainyan (Heaven’s Eye), it is the largest filled-aperture radio telescope in the world. As its acronym suggests, the dish has a diameter of 500 meters; that’s 1,640 feet.

FAST took five years to design and build. It began operating in 2016 and enjoyed early success, discovering two previously unknown stars soon after it went online. One of these stars, a so-called white dwarf star, was 16,000 light years away from earth.

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La Princesse

Photo: Spider/Wikimedia Commons

La Princesse is another large machine that is used for entertainment rather than industry. Terrifying to arachnophobes, this contraption is a 50-foot mechanical spider. In addition to being tall, it's extremely heavy. According to the Guardian, it weighs 37 metric tons (about 40.5 tons). The spider was designed by a French production company called La Machine and debuted in Liverpool, England a decade ago during its "Capital of Culture" celebrations.

The hydraulic robot-bug can move on its own, but only at a speed of two miles per hour. It has 50 different axes of movement and can take up to 12 people to control at any one time. Oversized figures like La Princesse have become somewhat common in Liverpool. Giant marionettes (30-50 feet tall) took to the streets in 2012 and 2014; the latter performance was held to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. La Machine’s mechanical monsters, meanwhile, have made appearances in Beijing, Japan and Ottawa in recent years.

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MOL Triumph

Photo: kees torn/Wikimedia Commons

South Korean shipmaker Samsung Heavy Industries launched the MOL Triumph in 2017, and it was scheduled to be followed by five sisterships, all of the same staggering size. The Triumph, which runs under the flag of the Marshall Islands and is operated by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, is 1,312 feet long, which makes it longer than the Empire State Building is high.

Operating between Europe and Asia, the Triumph is not the biggest cargo ship in terms of how much it can haul. (That distinction belongs to the Orient Overseas Container Line Hong Kong.) But it's a behemoth by any measure, checking in at about 210,000 tons.

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Taisun Crane

Photo: Haakman/Wikimedia Commons

Taisun is currently the world’s strongest crane. It operates in a shipyard owned by Yantai Raffles in Yantai, a city in Northeastern China. The crane has a load limit of 22,046 tons (20,000 metric tons). It's named after a mountain in Shandong, the province where Yantai is located, and it holds the record for the heaviest lift ever by a crane. This record was set when Taisun hoisted a 22,192-ton barge. (Yes, this vessel was slightly above the machine’s safe maximum weight limit.)

Taisun also lifts oil drilling platforms. It helps to speed up the building process for vessels and platforms because it makes it possible to work on different sections at the same time. This makes for shorter (and therefore cheaper) building projects. Since it allows workers to work on the upper section of oil rigs without having to climb up the rig, it helps create a safer construction environment as well.

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Overburden Conveyor Bridge F60

Photo: J.-H. Janßen/Wikimedia Commons

The Overburden Conveyor Bridge F60 is used in Germany for surface mining. This series of conveyor bridges has been compared to the size of the Eiffel Tower. Indeed, if the famous French spire were laid on its side, it would be shorter than an F60 by several hundred feet. The same comparison could be made with the Empire State Building.

These conveyor bridges are used to aid the extraction of brown coal from surface mines in Lusatia, a region in Eastern Germany near Poland. Originally, there were five bridges in operation, and four are reportedly still working. The "overburden" in the F60’s official name refers to the earth on top of the natural resource (brown coal in this case) that needs to be removed before the resource is extracted.

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Belaz 75710

Photo: LeitWolf/Shutterstock

This dump truck, built in Belarus by a manufacturer called Belaz, has a higher capacity than any other haul truck in the world. It is certainly a giant at 27 feet tall (roughly three stories) and 68 feet wide. It weighs in at nearly 386 tons and can haul a total of 496 tons. Its size means that it cannot be driven by a single engine, so it has two diesel-powered engines assisted by multiple electric drivers and eight wheels (four on each axle).

The 75710’s top speed is 40 mph, but only 25 mph when loaded and on a 10 percent gradient. Why would anyone want such a large vehicle? Trucks like this, considered “ultra-class” haulers, are usually used in the mining industry, though they could be deployed to haul materials during large construction projects.

10
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Bertha

Photo: Jay Inslee (official Governor's Office photo)/flickr

First fired up in 2013 after being delivered by the Japanese firm that built it, this 326-foot-long, 6,700-ton borer was supposed to complete its 1.7 mile project quickly, with a tunnel on Washington State Route 99 opening for vehicle traffic in just over two years. Unfortunately, the drill met with an unexpected impediment, halting the project by two years. The “impediment” was an eight-inch diameter steel pipe forgotten after a previous drilling project. Though able to bore through soil and rock, Bertha’s 57-foot diameter drill face was not designed to cut through metal.

Unfortunately, you can't see Bertha any longer because it had to be dismantled. Most of its parts could not be reused, though the steel used in the drilling machinery can potentially be melted down and recycled. You will, however, eventually be able to drive through Bertha’s tunnel if you visit Seattle. A replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct that crossed downtown Seattle, the underground passage is supposed to open in 2019.