NIVELLES, BELGIUM — Since opening for business in 1968, VIGAN Engineering SA has continuously improved its design and manufacture of port equipment to meet the changing needs of customers.

VIGAN, based in Nivelles, Belgium, first started with the manufacturing of portable grain pumps to convey cargo in many different working configurations. This included sucking grain from ship holds and discharging into trucks or to quay conveyors, loading and/or unloading silos or flat warehouses. Over time, the company extended its range of equipment to include continuous ship unloaders (pneumatic and mechanical) and ship loaders, said Valerie Veriter, sales and marketing coordinator.

The company designs and manufactures port equipment for dry bulk handling, mostly for agri-bulk cargoes such as grain, oilseeds and feedstuffs. The company’s equipment can handle other free flowing products such as biomass pellets, fertilizers, soda ash and alumina. Its products include mobile portable pneumatic conveyors (also called vacuum pumps) ranging from 100 to 250 tph capacity; pneumatic continuous barge and ship unloaders from 160 to 800 tph; mechanical continuous ship unloaders for vessels up to post-Panamax up to 1,500 tph; and loaders for any size of ships up to 1,500 tph.

VIGAN’s expertise also includes complete turnkey projects for port terminals including storage facilities and bagging operations.

With 1,250 machines sold throughout more than 90 countries in the last 47 years, including 180 large pieces of equipment with several hundred tonnes handling capacity, Veriter said VIGAN is a reliable and specialized company with recognized international experience and know-how. The company exports more than 95% of its production outside of Europe.

Vigan pneumatic ship unloader of 400 tons/hour installed in South Korea.
Pneumatic ship unloader of 400 tonnes per hour installed in South Korea.

Meeting Demands

Vigan is continuously investing in innovation and R&D, improving the design and quality of key components of its machines in terms of efficiency of sucking elements; flexibility of the machine in different configurations; duration of wearing parts and maintenance ease; continuous support to users; and reliability and long-term support to its customers.

Changes may be minor, Veriter said, but they reduce operational costs, increase the shelf life of the components, favor the environment and operator working conditions, and improve productivity in engineering and manufacturing.

VIGAN designs, manufactures, pre-assembles and pre-tests at its facility in Belgium. VIGAN is unique, Veriter said, in its “A to Z” control from design to commissioning.

“It is the only way to serve the customer over the 30-year lifetime of the equipment,” she said.
“In response to customers’ request for higher reliability and quality, VIGAN is doing in-house design, manufacturing and pre-assembly. It takes only three to four weeks to erect and commission equipment due to the pre-assembly at the factory.”

Quick cleaning. One of the most challenging operational tasks for any ship unloader is its reliable capability to quickly clean the holds. The mechanical and pneumatic continuous ship unloaders have different technologies for handling the products.

The pneumatic unloaders will suck products down to the hold floor surface and its corners. This means that pneumatic unloaders are a first choice for unloading barges and for any size vessel. A lifting hoist with a capacity of up to 10-12 tonnes can be installed on the suction boom for auxiliary equipment for even more speed.

Mechanical unloaders (mainly screw, belt or chain type) will maintain a stable handling rate along 80-85% of the hold volume. The remaining bottom layer of products (about 50-70 cm high) is much more time consuming to clean out. This bottom layer is the height necessary for the intake booth of any type of mechanical unloader to be able to pick up the products.

Energy consumption. VIGAN has made important improvements for reducing the power consumption. In the continuous ship unloaders (CSU), the most significant changes were related to the speed variator technology (also called frequency inverters) and the energy monitoring devices for the fine tunings of the motors and other mechanical components.

Compared to 15 years ago, the power consumption of pneumatic equipment has decreased from 2 kilowatts per tonne to 0.6 to 0.8 kilowatts per tonne. Average efficiency and energy consumption of the CSUs have significant impact on annual costs. The energy costs have far less influence on results than the average efficiency.

Safety. Pneumatic suction nozzles do not have any running components along the vertical and horizontal handling lines, so accident risk is non-existent, VIGAN said. Suction pipes of pneumatic CSUs do not require maintenance and can be easily repaired; there’s no need to dismantle the complex mechanical system.

Almost all the maintenance can be done in the main engine room, which is easily accessible. Risk of cargo residues (which can eventually ferment due to high humidity) and cross contamination is avoided in pneumatic machines because the large volume of air is continuously cleaning the pipes and other components such as the filter bags.

Addressing Dust and Noise Emissions

Environmental awareness has always been a concern for VIGAN, Veriter said. In most ports, controlling dust emissions is not only a major concern but also a main objective.

“Pneumatic CSUs are environmentally friendly because the cargo is handled in a totally enclosed system from the ship hold to the delivery in trucks, quay side conveyors, wagons,” she said.
At the transfer point, where some dust could escape into the environment, special devices are mounted to suck the air/dust and filter it.

Noise reduction is also a major concern and special techniques (acoustic insulation of the machine room, suction nozzle) have been developed by VIGAN to comply with the most strict regulations.
It is one of the reasons why, along the rivers where ecological and neighbor associations are attentive to protecting the environment, the pneumatic CSUs continue to have success for discharging barges.

VIGAN loaders are also limiting dust emissions thanks to a fully retractable cover of the telescopic belt conveyor boom; automatic self-cleaning filters mounted on the top of the integrated belt conveyors; and the dust-free loading head and/or dust suction equipment which can be installed at the telescopic loading spout.

For instance, the bottom of the telescopic spout can be equipped with a large dust skirt at outlet. A level sensor controls the automatic luffing of the skirt at the bottom of the loading pipe during the loading process. The dust skirt always remains in contact with the pile of grain in order to control the dust emanation. The luffing occurs by automatic step of 20 cm.


Veriter said some of VIGAN’s state-of-the-art equipment designs include:

• The multi-stage centrifugal Turbo Blower, which sucks products by generating a depressurized air flow. Its operational principles are the same as those employed in turbo jet engines or turbines for power plants.

• Automatic self-cleaning pneumatic filter with high pressure (7 to 8 bars). It features a continuous system by injection of high quality compressed air, guaranteeing a long lifetime to VIGAN unloaders.

• The airlock, which is one of the main parts of the machine. Its main goal is to evacuate the product while keeping the vacuum in the filter. Since any leak of pressure in the system would result in losses of efficiency, its design and characteristics are crucial. Thanks to its adequate dimensions, it can handle high quantities of products with a relatively low rotational speed.

• Telescopic piping system, moving horizontally under the boom, and vertically from the boom into the ship holds. VIGAN has focused on innovating the wear-resistance of its piping, particularly on the Ni-Hard (nickel-chrome alloy) elbow which does not require any maintenance before 5 million tonnes.

Ship Unloading/Loading Trends

VIGAN said there are several trends in the ship loading/unloading industry, including demand for machines with larger capacities. Customers want strong after-sales service. VIGAN is still supplying spare parts for unloaders that are 25 to 30 years old.

“The Middle East continues to be an active area for new equipment, as the region is working to feed an increasing population,” Veriter said.

VIGAN has also obtained a Western European network of rivers in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.