MSG 50

Nearly Complete
In My Living Room

Close-up of Base

Close-up of Base

Again at Home

Close-up of Base

MSG 50
(containerized lifting device)

The MSG 50 (operated by Mammoet) is a unique crane, and is one of the largest land-based lifting devices in the world. It is a massive machine capable of spectacular lifts. The first time I saw it online, I knew I had to build a model of it.

Model Specifics

• Total Height: approx. 15 feet (4.6 meters)
• Base: 2.25 x 2.25 feet (0.69 x 0.69 meters)
• Total Motors: 22


Many special thanks go to Jan van Wees and Dennis Bosman of the Netherlands. Without their help, this model wouldn't have been possible. I received information and pictures from them as well as their support during the construction of the model. Thank you, gentlemen!

Thanks to Jake McKee as well! He took the only pictures of the model when it appeared at the show in Dallas.

The Real MSG 50

Base of MSG 50

Lift in St. James, Louisiana, USA
Photo by Robert Roest of Mammoet

Close-up Front "Shoes"
And Support Beams Under Boom

Sketch of MSG 50

The Real MSG 50

StoTra, a Dutch firm, originally designed and built the crane. It started life as the SSG 50 in 1997. The SSG was the same as the MSG, but without the jib. Later a fly jib was added, and the name was changed to the MSG 50.

Mammoet, an international heavy lifting and transport company based in the Netherlands, was 50% owner of StoTra, and later bought the other half. StoTra then became Mammoet Engineering and Innovation (MEI). Some of the people that originally worked on the design and construction of the crane are still involved with it!

Today, there are two MSG 50 cranes in existance. If you see pictures of them, one is painted mostly red with some white. The other one is mostly yellow. The two cranes are slightly different in capacity:
• Max. Capacity (red crane): 3600 metric tons
• Max. Capacity (yellow crane): 4000 metric tons

It was designed to minimize transport costs, and all its components ship in either 20 foot containers or in pieces no larger than a standard 20 foot container. No piece weighs more than 24 tons.

The boom breaks down into sections 5.7 meters in length. Sections of the back masts are slightly smaller in width and height, and will slide inside the main boom sections for easier shipping.

The MSG 50 is an extremely heavy-duty crane. It has a maximum load moment of over half a billion foot-pounds! The following is taken from Mammoet's website (as of Oct. 2003).

• Max. Loadmoment: 544226000 lb·ft (75242 t·m)
• Max. Radius: 525 ft (160 m)
• Main Boom: 154-351 ft (46.9-107.0 m)
• Jib: 51-231 ft (15.4-70.3 m)

The SSG/MSG-50 is a stationary land-based crane that is broken down into small parts when transported. When a lift is made, an area of land is cleared and leveled. Wedge-shaped foundation plates are laid in a ring to form the base of the crane. The circular tracks mount on top of the plates. From the pictures I've seen, the crane looks like a special lifting device that is set up for unique lifts (and quite heavy lifts too) that may only occur once.

Disclaimer: The images presented in this section did not originate from me. The are copyrighted by other persons and organizations. I've presented them here only for information and for fellow hobbyists to understand the real crane. I draw no profit or benefit from these images in any way. For that matter, I drew no profit from the model either! In fact, it cost me quite a lot of money to make! :-)

Model at Show
That's Me Setting Up

Steve and I Converse
During Set Up

Shot of Mast Tops

Finally Set Up!

Model at Show
Unpacking the Boom

Fixing Final Details

Working Hard
In The Heat

Crashed Model
Steve Sits and Ponders

Model History and Its Demise

All pics in this section were taken by Jake McKee.

Planning for the model began sometime in 2001. I acquired a full ring of old 4.5 volt plastic LEGO train tracks. I knew that it would make a nice base for a ringer crane. Once I saw the MSG 50 (after searching online for ringer cranes), I decided to build a model of it. The only problem was that there was hardly any information available online. I could barely find a few good pictures.

In mid 2002, with the help of Jan and Dennis, I got enough information to build a scale model. The real construction didn't begin until late 2002. Most of the construction (working 10-15 hours per week) took place in April, May, and June of 2003. I guesstimate I spent over 250 hours total on it.

In late June, I finished the model and took it to the LEGO 2003 What Will You Make Roadshow stop in Dallas, Texas. I arrived on the first day of the show and set up the model just as hoards of children and their parents crowded around us ("us" meaning the TexLUG group). It took me over 2 hours under the hot sun to set up the crane.

The Accident: Only 15 minutes after set-up and testing, I walked away from the model to take a break in the shade. I neglected to set the locks on the winches that controlled the boom luffing. They slowly paid out line and let the boom down. There wasn't enough ballast to support the boom lower than about 45°, so at that point, the model became unstable and tipped over.

The crash was quick and surprizingly loud. Pieces went everywhere. The result was a mess of tangled bricks and string. I knew it would take more than a weekend to fully repair. It would have taken a full day to properly sort all the parts and plan the re-build. I gave up right there.

Steve Arnold's Manitowoc 888 model was right underneath the boom of the MSG 50 model. The 888 was squashed and damaged, but we repaired it soon after.

The MSG 50 model had a major flaw: it was just too big and awkward. It was fine for setting up at my home, but as a travelling display, it wasn't feasible. My only regret is that I didn't get more pictures of it while it was up.

I would have liked to have rebuilt the model, but the time, effort, and space needed to assemble/disassemble and move the model was too much for me realistically. I was to give a presentation at Brickfest 2003 and I needed to take a model with me. These things would take some time to complete. So I declared the MSG 50 model finished, and I moved on.

Model Track
First Thing Built

Boom and Jib

Boom Truss Section

Winch Hidden in
Top of Box

Bottom of Winch
Showing Transmissions

Front Boom Supports
& Support Beam

Bottom of Front Support
-Motorized Wheels

Hoist Hook

2nd Items Built:
Boom and Ballast Supports

Complete Ballast Box



Below The Winch
Empty Space for Ballast

Bottom of Ballast
Box Showing Rollers

Again From The Top

Hoist Winch(s) Assembly

Hoist Winch Front

Model Details

The model was a challenge from beginning to end. Aside from its massive size, there were many complicated mechanical features to be constructed.

The model functioned on a basic level just as the real crane. Its boom luffed up and down, it could slew (rotate), the jib could be adjusted, and it could lift loads. But the specifics of these functions differed from the real crane.

Main Hoist: The real MSG 50 uses strand jacks instead of conventional winches (e.g. powered, rotating drums that spool cable). These jacks have hydraulically powered grippers that hold the wire cable and hydraulics to move the cable back and forth. The advantage is that they are extremely powerful and come in a relatively small package. The disadvantage is that they are fairly slow.

I tried a few times to build mechanisms that would grip string in a manner similar to a strand jack. I didn't create any working prototypes, so I gave up and built very small, but powerful winches using the new 9v motors from LEGO's RC Race Buggy set.

There were 4 small spools, each powered by one of the race buggy motors. The winch assembly was quite large and heavy. This set-up resulted in 4 hoist lines, each connected to one hook. The motors were all geared together, so the spools rotated at the exact same speed.

This proved problematic as the spools turned at the same speed, but the string didn't spool up the same way for each spool. Eventualy, the lines became uneven. I had planned a method for solving this, but didn't get a chance to fix it before the crash.

Luffing Lines: The same applies to the lines that hold the boom up. Instead of strand jacks, the model uses conventional winches that are hidden in the counterweight boxes.

The winches were sized to fit inside the counterweight boxes. There were two winches, one per box. Each winch had a large spool powered by 4 motors (the geared 9V type). There was a fifth motor that actuated a locking mechanism. This mechanism used the transmission pieces (the ones that engage the dark gray 16t "conical" gears). One gear was engaged to a locked axle to hold the spool, and the other gear was connected to the motors to turn the spool.

The locking mechanism ultimately proved to be the downfall of the model, as I forgot to use them! The motors were geared low, so when the line was loaded, it would freely rotate the spool and release string.

Counterweight Boxes: Ballast on the real MSG 50 crane is stored in huge stacks of 20 foot containers. It would have been interesting to build individual containers, but for simplicity, I built one large box (per side) that was completely hollow inside. I used different colors to simulate a stack of different containers.

The "containers" sit on a strong foundation structure. There are tension straps that connect this base to the rigging at the top. You'll notice the nearly vertical black members against the stack of bricks.

Slewing: Rotation, or slewing, of the real crane is done hydraulically. The track has solid blocks placed at small intervals around the circumference. Hydralic cylinders engage these blocks and move the crane around. Slewing is acheived by "jacking" the crane in a circle, basically.

Building this with LEGO parts would have been difficult, so I opted for a traditional motorized wheel set-up and hid the motors. I used the 30.4 x 14 VR wheels, as they fit nicely over the plastic tracks. The set of wheels that engage the outer circle are motorized, the inner set are not. I wrapped the outer set with a rubber band so that good traction was achieved. The outer tracks also have tiny grooves for better traction. The inner tracks are smooth for easy rolling.

Each "foot" or "shoe" has one geared 9v motor. There are four "shoes" under the boom, and four "feet" under the counterweight boxes (two per side). You'll notice in the pictures that the "feet" under the counterweights are linked together but are angled to accept the curve of the tracks.

This solution didn't operate as well as I'd liked. Sometimes one "shoe" would drag behind and others would speed ahead. I linked some of them together with solid beams. Later on, I found a picture of the real crane that showed some links just as I'd made for the model.

Scale: The scale is roughly 1:30. However, some parts are aren't quite right. For example, the width and height of the boom and mast sections are much larger than they should be. I built them this way for ease of construction and to have a simple, repeating truss pattern that was consistant throughout the model. The front "shoes" and spreader beams are also larger than they should be. This was necessary to make an adequately strong structure and to create a motorized wheel assembly.

Boom Trusses: Details of the repeating boom section can be found HERE. The most difficult parts were the ends of the trusses. They all had to terminate at a point to allow a hinged connection.

Electrics: A summary of the model functions:
• Slewing: 8 geared 9v motors
• Luffing: 8 geared 9v motors
• Luffing Locks: 2 geared 9v motors
• Hoist: 4 9v motors from RC Race Buggy set
• Controls: Manual switches for hoist and luffing locks, remote control for slewing and luffing.

Ballast: I've covered the counterweight boxes already, but the actual ballast used in the model was a combination of scrap steel and 12 oz. soda cans. The counterweight boxes were sized just right to slot in about a 12-pack each.

This proved to be a terrible decision, as the collapse caused one of the cans to burst. About 1/3 of the model was splattered. This turned to sticky goo a few hours later. Yuck.

Final Notes and Lessons Learned

The model was a great achievement for me as a builder but also taught me many important lessons. My experiences will not be soon forgotten:

1. Big model = big responsibility. Don't let your guard down and don't forget how it's supposed to operate. I forgot and wrecked it.
2. If you want a model that can be transported and set up for shows, make it easy to do so. This model was too big, too complicated, and too awkward to make shows an easy and fun experience.
3. Never underestimate the challenge. The MSG 50 looked simple enough, but the model was a different story. I hit unexpected challenges and complications that slowed the building of the model. Proper research and planning can help.
4. Never build a model so large that it is unfeasible given your inventory of parts, available space, and time. "Don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach".
5. Allow yourself adequate time to test the model and work out bugs prior to showing it.
6. If showing a model in public, make sure proper barriers are set up to prevent people (especially small children) from interfering with set up and coming in contact with the model. I set up barriers halfway through set up to keep children out of my way while I worked. The barriers also provided a clear space when the model crashed. No one was hit, thankfully.
7. Bricklink is a wonderful resource for LEGO parts, but is a terrible drain on the bank account :-)
8. Keep any liquids, especially those with sugar, away from your model!

Again, I'm extremely appreciative to those who helped me! Without your help I wouldn't have completed it. Thank you.

© Thomas J. Avery 2003