Machines for mobility

By Carsten Paulun
Our need for mobility keeps growing. To satisfy it, we use machines that are increasingly smart and in some cases more powerful than ever. To ensure their efficient and trouble-free operation in typically harsh, heavy-duty conditions, all components – including Schaeffler’s rolling and friction bearings utilized around the globe – have to deliver top performance.
© (c) 2015 Frank Schultze / Agentur ZS

The track layer

Weighing 650 metric tons (716.5 short tons), 177 meters (580.7 feet) long - read more about the railroad monster here!

© Plasser & Theurer

An awesome weight of 650 metric tons (716.5 short tons) and an incredible length of 177 meters (580.7 feet) – the nondescript abbreviation RU 800 S stands for a veritable multi-talent. The tracklaying giant renews complete railroad tracks including the ballast bed, crossties (sleepers) and rails in a single pass. At the front, the behemoth spreads the old rails apart and picks up the crossties and the ballast bed. Belts then convey the track ballast to a screening system for cleaning. While the RU 800 S continues to travel, it levels the ground, and deposits and compacts the cleaned track ballast. At the same time, the new crossties are laid, filled with new track ballast, followed by laying the new rails on which the work train can already travel again. In a 10-hour shift, the RU 800 S lays nearly 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) of track this way.

The RU 800 S track-laying giant renews almost 2 kilometers of track in a single pass in a 10-hour shift.

The tunnel digger

What happens to the 100-million-euro drill once it has done its job? More here.


They dig themselves through soil, cut their way through rock and crack concrete like a piece of cake: tunnel boring machines are man-made high-tech moles. It took these underground monsters a full 17 years to nibble themselves through the Swiss Alps, creating the two tubes underneath the Saint-Gotthard Massif that make up the world’s longest railroad tunnel with a length of 57 kilometers (35.4 miles). Tunnel boring machines have a diameter of up to 20 meters (65.6 feet), can be up to 400 meters (1,312 feet) long and cost between 30 and 100 million euros a piece. In most cases, they’re universal machines that bore the tunnel, convey the excavated material rearward on belts, and line the tunnel with steel plates and shotcrete in the process. Many tunnel boring machines are purpose-built for a particular tunnel and after completion of the project, which may take several years, typically scrapped right on site. If the machines are used only for short periods of time, they’re dismantled and subjected to a complex complete overhaul.

Tunnel borer: the million-euro giants in action

The asphalt paver

Bon appétit: how this road construction machine digests up to 1,600 metric tons (1,763.7 short tons) of asphalt - click here!

© Vögele

The Super 3000-2 paver by German construction equipment specialist Vögele is a world leader in its class. In a single pass, the unique machine achieves a maximum pave width of 16 meters (52.5 feet) – without any joints whatsoever. That’s enough for a three-lane highway including a filter lane and shoulder. The achievable layer thickness of half a meter (1.64 feet) is impressive as well. The same applies to the pave speed of the Super 3000-2 which can amount to as much as 24 meters (78.7 feet) per minute. And as becomes a true behemoth, the Super 3000-2 expects to be fed well, devouring up to 1,600 metric tons (1,763.7 short tons) of mix per hour which equates to more than 20 truckloads of material. Traveling in front of the paver is a so-called feeder that picks up the mix from the trucks and supplies the Super 3000-2 with a homogenous compound that’s kept at a consistent temperature. The trucks back up against the feeder at three-minute intervals and dump the mix into the feeder’s hopper. All this happens while the paver-feeder combination keeps moving forward.

The Super 3000-2 paves a three-lane highway, including turning lanes and shoulders, seamlessly in a single pass.

The bridge builder

Guess which country this monster machine comes from!

Everything in China is a little larger than elsewhere and sometimes a bit more unusual as well. To manage the booming construction of new highways and railroads, the engineers in the Middle Kingdom have standardized the bridge building projects – and in the process developed bridge building machines to suit their needs. The Beijing Wowjoint Machinery Company alone has more than 100 different types of these purpose-built machines in its portfolio. The largest ones are nearly 100 meters (328 feet) long and weigh 580 metric tons (639.3 short tons). During the construction project, they’ll travel to the edge of the bridge, pushing steel girders onto the next free piers. Then the finished bridge element is pulled by a sliding crane system to the place where it will be installed, lowered and mounted in the corresponding bearings. Subsequently, the gigantic machine travels back to pick up the next bridge section.

The tree transplanter

Erwin, put the spade away! With the root ball lifter, you can replant a tree in 15 minutes. More here!

© Opitz

You can’t shift an old tree without it dying? Says who? If a tree that’s worth preserving gets in the way during road construction or tracklaying projects, it’s time to deploy the Optimal 2500. Officially, it’s called a “hydraulic tree spade,” but we can simply call it a tree transplanter, because that’s exactly what the Optimal 2500 does. It digs up a root ball around the plant, just like any gardener would when replanting a plant. It’s just that these plants are a little bigger than usual. Instead of one spade, the Optimal 2500 has an amazing five of them, each of them tapered and sitting on a massive ring. This ring has an opening that closes as soon as the ring has enclosed the tree. Subsequently, the spade ring will push into the ground with pressure of 260 bar (26 Mpa) to dig up the root ball. With a noticeable smacking sound, the root ball is lifted and, depending on the construction project, either loaded onto a truck or transplanted into a nearby hole which the Optimal 2500 has previously dug as well.

See the root ball lifter machine replaning trees

The dry-docker

In which city is the largest dry dock in Europe? The Answer is here!

© Peter Schubert/

Even the biggest ships have to proverbially visit a garage from time to time. However, to work on its underwater hull, one of these floating behemoths cannot simply be lifted out of the water. That’s why the ship is dry-docked. A dry dock is like a dead-end lock. The lock’s gate is closed behind the ship after it has entered and the water pumped out. Now the ship is on dry ground and all the work on the normally submerged hull can be performed without the workers having to dive. Elbe 17 of Blohm+Voss in the Hamburg harbor is one of Europe’s largest dry docks. Even gigantic cruise ships like the Quantum of the Seas (347 m/1,138.45 ft long, 41.4 m/135.83 ft wide) and the Souvereign Maersk (347 m/1,138.45 ft long, 42.8 m/140.42 ft wide) container vessel have been dry-docked in this concrete monster measuring 351.2 meters (1,152.23 feet) in length and 59.2 meters (194.23 feet) in width. To support the awesome weight of such ships, the base plate is made of nine-meter (29.53-foot) thick reinforced concrete.

The Queen Mary 2 at the Elbe 17, one of the largest dry docks in the world

The brick-road layer

Stones go in at the top, finished paving out at the bottom - that's how it works!

© Tiger-Stone

This is a machine thousands of construction workers around the globe have been waiting for: Instead of tediously squatting and kneeling while laying paving bricks, all the construction workers have to do is feed the Tiger-Stone with the bricks in the desired pattern. The machine, which is 1.60 meters (5.25 feet) high and equally long, then lays a finished pattern on the previously prepared subsoil like a carpet. Brick roads laid this way can be up to 6 meters (19.7 feet) wide. To ensure a neat result, the machine has built-in sensors that follow the curb which has been laid in advance. Traveling on electrically powered tracks, the Tiger-Stone is capable of paving up to 300 square meters (3,229 square feet) per day – three times more than a seasoned bricklayer could. The machine designed by a Dutchman has won an innovation award and is a huge success in the United States.

The Tigerstone machine lays pavement fully automatically up to six meters wide

The traffic manager

Do you know what takes this machine only 30 minutes to do, but several days for a crane?

© Road Zipper

Jersey barriers secure road construction sites and managed lanes more effectively than simple traffic cones, but the concrete sections weighing some 700 kilograms (1,543.24 pounds) are hard to handle. This is the where the Road Zipper comes into play. This special machine, weighing 30 metric tons (33 short tons), has been used in the United States since the mid-1980s. On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Road Zipper transfers a row of concrete sections in the morning to create an additional inbound lane, and an outbound lane in the evening. The zipper lifts the concrete barrier sections and passes them through a conveyor system to the place where they’re set down. The transfer width is between 1.2 and 5.5 meters (3.94 and 18.04 feet). It takes the zipper about 30 minutes to transfer 2,800 of these concrete barrier sections, while it would take a crane truck several days to do the same job. The 15-meter (49.21-foot) long Road Zipper is used by road authorities and contractors around the world, including several European countries.

The Road Zipper in action on the Golden Gate Bridge

The License Plate Printer

What do you need a machine that stamps 650 license plates per hour for? Click here!

© Hersteller

License plates are the personal ID of any passenger car. They’re mandatory in (nearly) all countries of the world and, like the registration documents, serve as proof of an automobile’s identity. In Germany alone, some 22 million license plates are embossed every year, typically using on-site manual embossing presses. However, license plates can also be embossed in large volumes with the fully automated embossing press from German vehicle identification specialist Utsch. This machine performs all process steps in fully automated mode, embossing up to 650 license plates per hour. If desired, the embossed inscription of the license plate can be automatically inked using hot stamping foil. Such computer-controlled lines are used, for instance, by operators of large fleets like car rental companies, as well as government authorities in countries that centrally issue license plates.

This machine stamps 650 license plates per hour – video evidence

The river vacuum cleaner

This ship fights against fare evaders. What it's all about - click here for more!

© Hochfeld/HPA

Waterways rank among our most important transportation routes. They not only allow ships to travel on their surface but carry along plenty of “stowaways” such as sand and sludge. For navigable rivers, harbors and channels, these stowaways can pose a problem in places where they settle as sediment. That’s why waterways and shipping authorities regularly use so-called hopper dredgers to remove sand and sludge. A suction head loosens the sediment at the bottom which is then aspirated via a large pipe on board of the dredger, similar to the way a vacuum cleaner works. The solid particles such as sand and sludge are deposited in the dredger’s cargo bay and either returned to the water at a different place or flushed ashore. In the Hamburg harbor, Europe’s third-largest one, alone, a million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of sludge and sand accumulate – per month! This is no different in other international seaports such as Rotterdam or Antwerp. The Hamburg Port Authority therefore uses up to three hopper dredgers simultaneously in order to provide the required depth for large container vessels or cruise ships such as the Queen Mary 2.

Ports like Rotterdam and Hamburg are in danger of becoming filled up with silt - huge dredgers are clearing the way

Carsten Paulun
Author Carsten Paulun
Why do something yourself if there’s a machine that can do the job for you? Carsten Paulun (50) has always been prone to delegate work: be it to a drill powered by a steam engine as a child, to a Kettcar tuned with a moped engine as a teenager or to a fully automated lawn-mowing robot at a riper age.