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What's the Biggest Machine in the World?

written by: Erik Hinrichsen • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 7/30/2010

This article provides a description of the world's largest machines, including record-holders such as the largest truck and the largest rocket, ending up with the true largest machine in the world.

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    The world's biggest machines are behemoths so large that the biggest dinosaurs look like bath toys in comparison. These devices combine thousands of tons of steel and other building materials into earth-shaking monsters, all the more impressive for their ability to move about. But what, truly, is the biggest machine in the world? There are many good candidates, each so massive that it boggles the mind to see, but in the end there can only be one. Still, to give a proper perspective, I'll review some of the other candidates. Even if they're not the largest in the world, they're still incredibly impressive feats of engineering.

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    The world's largest truck

    Liebherr T282  

    The Liebherr T 282B is the largest earth-moving truck on earth. The 7.4 meter tall truck makes humans look like so many ants as they walk about below, scarcely reaching half the height of the truck's wheels. Even unloaded, the truck weighs 203 tons, and when carrying its maximum load of 365 tons it comes out to a staggering 592 tons. Such a heavy truck obviously requires a huge engine just to move about; indeed, this truck redefines the word "gas guzzler." It is driven by a 90 liter diesel engine capable of producing 3650 horsepower, which weighs in at ten and a half tons. Still, the engine does its job, and is capable of getting the Liebherr up to 40 miles per hour. This truck doesn't come cheap, though: it carries a price tag of 3.5 million dollars.

    Image source: Wikimedia

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    The biggest digging machine: The Bagger 293

    bagger288   This incredible machine is basically a mobile strip mining operation. Appearing like something out of a science fiction movie from a distance, the saw-like apparatus is actually a gigantic digger, with 20 individual buckets attached. Each bucket can hold 15 cubic meters of material. The machine was built by the German company Krupp to dig, and dig it does, at a prodigious rate. The Bagger 293 can remove 240,000 cubic meters of material a day, or enough coal to top off 2400 coal wagons. It is 96 meters tall and 225 meters long, and weighs 14,200 tons, making it the tallest and heaviest machine on Earth. It is capable of moving up to 10 meters (33 feet) per minute. However, the machine is not self-powered; it requires an external power source. The Bagger 293 needs 16.56 MW just to operate.

    Image source: Flickr

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    Saturn V Rocket: the largest rocket ever built

    SaturnV   Developed by NASA in 1967, this rocket is long discontinued (it was taken out of service in 1973) but still holds many records. It remains both the largest and most powerful vehicle ever successfully launched, and was used in the Apollo and Skylab missions. It was developed in part by the famous rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, who can be seen next to his creation at left. The multi-stage rocket stood 110.6 meters high and weighed in at nearly 6.7 million pounds. It could transport a payload of up to 262 tons, using a 3 stage rocket system. The first stage consisted of 5 Rocketdyne F-1 Engines and produced 7.6 million pounds-force of thrust. Stage 2 made use of 5 Rocketdyne J-2 engines and produced 1,000,000 pounds-force of thrust over 360 seconds. Stage 3 consisted of 1 Rocketdyne J-2 engine, which burned for 490 seconds over two burns and produced 225,000 pounds-force of thrust.

    Image source: Wikimedia

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    The World's Largest Machine: The US-Canada power grid

    us power grid   Now, this may seem surprising: after all, most people don't think of a power grid as a machine. But Merriam Webster defines a machine as "an instrument designed to transmit or modify the application of power, force, or motion," and the power grid fits this definition nicely. The purpose of a power grid is to transport electricity (power) from electricity generators (power plants) to homes and businesses. This involves much more work than many people realize, for teams of engineers must monitor the status of the grid and constantly modulate the quality of electricity to deal with heavy demand and the aging, overly-interdependent grid. The US power grid is integrated with the Canadian power grid to make up the largest machine in the world. The grid includes over 185,000 miles of power lines, operated by at least 500 power companies. In fact, the massive size and age of the US power grid has contributed to issues of efficiency and brownouts, and many scientists and engineers are now studying ways to create a smart energy grid. Although there are many worthy contenders, the US-Canada power grid is by far the biggest machine ever built.

    Image source: Wikimedia

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    Further Reading

    The following are some interesting articles about other large machines

    The Biggest Boat in the World

    The Spruce Goose: the largest airplane ever built

    The Ares V: NASA's newest and largest rocket