Ship unloading developments

by Emily Buckley
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For World Grain’s annual review of developments in the process of shipping grain, we have surveyed the top suppliers of loading and unloading equipment.

Across the board, each has found particular new developments in the process of continually trying to meet customer needs. Grain loading and unloading projects at ports are requiring increased equipment flexibility, expanded methods for dust control and means of positive cleanout between each shipment unloading.


Vigan Engineering, a leader in the ship unloading industry located in Nivelles, Belgium, is continually looking to improve its ship loaders and unloaders, particularly in the areas of optimizing energy consumption, reducing environmental impact, increasing safety, and improving materials and component quality.

"The quality of our equipment is always improving little by little, similar to the car industry," said Alain de Visscher, Commercial Manager of Vigan.

Dust control, noise and capacity are all still prime concerns of customers and grain port elevators, but de Visscher said clients are increasingly focused on flexibility, equipment weight, easy maintenance and safety.

Clients want unloaders to be flexible so that they can discharge both small and large size vessels with the same equipment, he explained. Decreasing the weight of equipment is a factor, he said, in order to reduce quay construction and/or refurbishment costs.

Although there is demand for identity preserved grains and a slowly growing interest in containerized grain shipping, de Visscher believes this will be limited to specific markets, and that demand for traditional unloaders will remain high.

"Pneumatic systems have the advantage that no residues are left in the equipment at the end of unloading operations; the pipes are self-cleaning and the large amount of air ensures no residual moisture inside the equipment for possible growth of molds and/or other pathogenic microorganisms.

De Visscher identified several areas of port development growth, mostly in areas where there is limited cereal production and a continuous population growth, particularly in a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East.

He foresees a significant upgrade to barge unloading systems around the world, primarily because of the low agribulk transport costs of barges but also as a solution to the traffic problems caused by large numbers of trucks and railways cars.

In traditional ports, he said, there is a tendency to switch to continuous unloading systems where noise and dust pollution are large concerns. Another trend Vigan has witnessed is that many medium and large size flour millers worldwide are launching their own unloading installations, frequently opting to use continuous unloaders to ensure total quality control.

Vigan recently completed a turn-key project for Terminal Internacional de Sur (TISUR) at the port of Matarani in Peru, in partnership with Peru-based companies IMECON and Asean Brown Boveri (ABB). Vigan supplied a combined unit that unloads 400 tph and loads 200 tph. IMECON supplied nearly 300 meters of belt conveyors with a capacity of 400 tph, a 200-tph bucket elevator and other accessories. ABB performed the electrical work.

In addition to supplying unloaders in Korea, Algeria, France and in Iraq for the World Food Program in 2003, Vigan has been very active in China. Presently, it is manufacturing a 400-tph barge unloader to be delivered in November to a port on the Yangtze River, near Chongqing, China. Vigan previously sold an unloader to ADM’s joint venture in China, the East Ocean ag-processing facility in Zhangjiagang in the Jiangsu Province.

Vigan has also delivered two tower-type barge unloaders, each at 400-tph unloading capacity, to Cargill at Santarem, Brazil. This Cargill facility, located on the Amazon River is mainly for storage of soybeans from inland areas prior to export. The soybeans are unloaded primarily from barges but also from trucks to a storage system with a total capacity of 60,000 tonnes.

Most recently, Vigan has been contracted to supply two 200-tph pneumatic unloaders to Heraklion, Greece and one 300-tph pneumatic unloader to Silos de Safi in Morocco.


The GBS Group, Quinto di Treviso, Italy, has been engineering and manufacturing both mechanical and pneumatic loading/unloading systems since the mid-1960s.

According to Lodovico Bernardi, GBS’ grain handling systems manager, GBS’s ship loading development efforts have mainly focused on improving the efficiency and reliability of its loaders/unloaders while the main handling system remained the same — a blower for the pneumatic system and a chain conveyor for the mechanical system. GBS has worked to provide viable solutions to different problems, such as handling non-free-flowing material, using very narrow quays or working with the use of quays without rails even for large units, Bernardi said.

"Although we believe the pneumatic ship unloading system is a good solution for unloading capacities below 200 tonnes per hour, the answer to many of our client’s concerns is the mechanical system," he said. "Customers require us to provide a complete, technically state-of-the-art and cost effective solution to their handling problems," he said. "The fact that we manufacture both mechanical and pneumatic systems shows the customers we can provide them with the best solution." GBS pays a great deal of attention to security issues during the project design phase, Bernardi said. "Apart from the sturdiness of the structure, we feel that a simpler operational process grants a higher level of safety. Also training of personnel is a key factor."

The company is also confident it can meet the growing demand for identity preservation. GBS’s existing unloaders are designed to handle a large variety of products and are capable of quickly shifting from one product to another to avoid contamination. In addition, GBS offers complete hardware and software solutions to help manage this problem, Bernardi said.

GBS’s recent projects include a 300-tph Transload ship loader to T.M.O. (Toprak Mahsulleri Ofisi) in Iskenderun, Turkey; two Transmec mechanical ship unloaders at 300 tph each to Interflour Vietnam Ltd. at Phuoc Hoa Port in Vietnam; a 600-tph mechanical ship unloader to Grandi Molini Italiani in Livorno, Italy; and a 1,000-tph ship loader to Gulf Import & Export Company, Jebel Ali, U.A.E.

Of these, the Vietnam project was the most challenging, Bernardi said. "The quay in fact is only 16.5 meters wide. Considering that a quay conveyor of 600 tph was installed before the delivery of the unloader, we had just 13 meters at out disposal for the erection of the two units."


Tecno Moageira, based in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, said most of its new technical developments come about as custom-solutions to meet a client’s specific needs.

"The technology used for the development of the ship loading systems has remained basically the same throughout the 37 years that Tecno Moageira has been in the market," the company said. "Yet there are constant improvements whenever a new loader is supplied to meet the customers’ requirements."

For example, the company said that during its recent experience of supplying a ship loader and shuttle belt conveyor to Ag Processing International (AGP) in Aberdeen, Washington, U.S, there were several special features that were required and developed, such as electronic system improvements and electric motor control (automation), said Luiz Antonito Ritter, who worked on the AGP project.

Dust control, a matter of growing importance over the past decade, is another area in which Tecno Moageira works to find customized solutions. For this same project, Tecno Moageira developed special features for dust control on the belt conveyors, Ritter said. The conveyors use a three-part method of emission control that uses a high performance scraper, a secondary cleaning rotating brush and a third cleaning with pneumatic aspiration.

Another means of environment control is on the loader’s telescopic tube, which has its own dust control filter system keeping dust emissions within North American standards.

To prevent cross-contamination, the entire loading system has its own cleaning system that washes the equipment clean after one kind of grain is loaded, Ritter said.

The AGP project also required the equipment be able to handle situations not commonly seen in the Brazilian market, such as earthquakes and snow accumulation. In total, the company is supplying AGP with a ship loader, a reversible conveyor of 56,000 BPH, together with tower, gallery and pillars.

All of these new developments will be available for future projects, said Tecno Moageira.

Tecno Moageira has also recently supplied loading equipment to Corporación Navios, at Nueva Palmira Harbor, Uruguay. Other projects during 2002 and 2003 include work at PASA – Paranaguá Operações Portuárias in Paranaguá, Paraná, Brazil; HERMASA Navegação da Amazônia S/A at Itacoatiara, Amazonas, Brazil, and with a consortium of five companies at Terminal XXXIX in Santos, São Paulo, Brazil.


The most striking development from BMH Marine, of Bjuv, Sweden, is its SIMON Siwertell Monitoring System, which is available as an option for BMH’s Siwertell continuous screw-type ship unloaders. After BMH Marine’s engineers adapt software to specific Siwertell applications, the SIMON system offers several advantages, including reduced time for trouble-shooting, easy unloader start-up, an analyzing tool for problem solving, a preventive maintenance guide, storage of historical data, and remote access by BMH engineers.

"With the remote access, a BMH engineer as well as the customer, can view the unloading operation via the Internet from any place around the world and take actions or suggest solutions for the best operation, if required," BMH said. "In addition, the Siwertell Anti-Collision System and the Siwertell Semi-Automatic unloading system ensures the best possible average unloading rates." Any of these are optional systems for a range of the Siwertell ship unloaders.

BMH this spring saw its two Siwertell unloaders begin operation in March for the Yemen Company for Industrial Investment, Hodeidah, Yemen. The unloaders, which were delivered in November 2002, are rail-mounted and used to discharge wheat from Panamax ships at 600 tph.

The unloaders, weighing 265 tonnes each, were erected and installed at Salif, 75 kilometers north of Hodeidah. They are equipped with double spouts for sequential loading to trucks or belt conveyors.

BMH also recognizes demands for a reliable and robust unloader. Showcasing BMH’s durable and time-tested unloaders are two examples in Belgium, which are among BMH’s first grain unloaders. Delivered in 1977 and 1978 to Euro-Silo N.V. in Belgium, both are still in full operation today after handling a combined 60 million tonnes of heavy grain and derivatives. Each unloader has logged approximately 60,000 operating hours.

In 1976 Euro-Silo commissioned a ship unloader for 65,000 dwt vessels with capacity of 600 to 700 tph for different types of heavy grain and 400 to 500 tph for derivatives. The model delivered in 1977 was a Siwertell ST 490-C continuous screw-type unloader. Later that same year, Euro-Silo ordered a second Siwertell, delivered in mid-1978.

These unloaders are also a testimony to the Siwertell’s gentle handling of grain, according to Reima Vuokivi, Product Manager, BMH Marine. After years of operation, Luc Hoefman, Manager of Euro-Silo N.V., confirmed the unloaders’ low grain breakage and reported that one rice company in particular chose the Euro-Silo facility because of its low rice breakage, Vuokivi said.

Vuokivi also noted Siwertell’s continued handling improvements to the 1970s design that further prevent breakage with the use of sophisticated bearings and improved manufacturing technology.


Buhler AG, Uzwil, Switzerland, has tried to meet customer demands by designing ship unloaders that are flexible, mobile and environmentally safe.

"After successfully launching the Portanova pneumatic ship unloader for unloading capacities up to 350 tph in 2000, Buhler developed a new mobile ship unloading unit, the Mobilpneumat," said Buhler’s Hans Peter Schneider, Area Manager for Grain Handling. "This unit is also suitable for transferring grain from ships to trucks, grain from flat or silo storage to trucks or vice versa."

Schneider said that many customers are demanding machines that are flexible enough to load or unload various ship sizes. Environmental and safety requirements are still important too, he said.

"Explosion prevention and suppression plays an increasingly important role in the design and selection decisions for new plants and machinery downstream of the unloading equipment," he said. "Dust suppression during the loading of grains into ships has been looked at more closely based on stringent requirements in ports in Europe."

To meet this demand, Buhler has designed an efficient loading spout for dust-reduced loading of ships.

Flexibility was a crucial component in one of Buhler’s most recent projects, where it designed and constructed a complete grain terminal, including a grain mill and a 120,000-tonne storage elevator, for YIFICO, the Yemen International Food Industries Company at Salif, Yemen.

"One of the special things about this project is its two fully mobile ship unloaders," Buhler said. "Mobile units were a must in this case because they have to be moved off the pier after each unloading operation."

Buhler supplied a 300-tph pneumatic Portalift ship unloader to unload unload 80,000 dwt Panamax vessels. The bogie is equipped with four pairs of wheels with pneumatic tires, of which the front two can be steered. The drive is hydraulic. This traveling gear enables the Portalift to move to any position on the pier and to be parked on a paved area.

Buhler has also worked on several projects in Sudan, where liberalization has led to an increase in the milling industry and to wheat imports. Two of Sudan’s largest private millers operate Buhler ship unloaders at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

At Wheata Flour Mills, a Buhler Portalino ship unloader discharges vessels at a maximum of 300 tonnes per hour. At Sayga Flour Mills, a mechanical Portalino works with a recently installed pnuemantic Portanova unloader with an extended boom and unloads ships up to 60,000 dwt. Both unloaders together achieve a top unloading capacity of 550 tph.

Buhler has completed and commissioned various projects during 2002 and 2003, with successful deliveries to Brazil, Turkey, Sudan, Oman and Nigeria.

Buhler also recently worked with Arasco, a large Saudi Arabian feed manufacturer that operates its own ship unloading facility in Dammam port. Buhler supplied a rail-mounted mechanical Portalink Combi that unloads wheat at 600 tph and soybean meal at 360 tph; it is also capable of loading bulk carriers with finished feed produces at 300 tph. "The maintenance costs of the Portalink are extremely favorable, thanks to its mechanical conveying and low power consumption," Buhler said.