A Guide to the Different Types of Bulk Material Equipment
If a facility manufactures a material that’s loose, dusty, powdery, lumpy, or granular, they need a way to move it from one place to another. In the good old days, they might have transported those materials using muscles, shovels, and wheelbarrows. But as technology developed, so too did the variety of ways people learned how to move materials. If you ever wondered how companies move things like grains, ball bearings, minerals, and more without risking spoilage, loss, or safety, here’s a guide to the different types of bulk material equipment.
Storage Space Devices
While bulk material handling might automatically put you in the mind of large, heavy, motorized bulk material handling equipment, manufacturers know that some of the most necessary material handling equipment doesn’t move an inch. While bulk materials often need to move from here to there, they also need a place to stay in-between moves. Proper storage must preserve the materials and keep them safe from harm without interfering with day-to-day activities in the facility. There isn’t much technological terminology necessary to describe these devices. You’ll recognize most by name, such as pallets, racks, stacking frames, bins, drawers, shelves, and overhead and sometimes hidden spaces referred to as mezzanines. Hoppers are another containment device that works with reclaimers, stackers, and other machines we’ll discuss later in this blog.
While 18-wheelers are necessary to move materials over highways and roads, smaller vehicles do most of the work without leaving the factory, mill, or facility. Industrial trucks come in an assortment of sizes, doing the work that was once accomplished using muscle power alone, such as loading and unloading vehicles and similar jobs. Some are simple devices, like dollies, handcarts, pallet jacks, and platform or panel trucks. They don’t use motors; instead, employing wheels or leverage to help operators tote heavy containers. Larger and motorized trucks include forklifts, pallet lifters, order pickers, side loaders, and others. These little trucks do a lot of work!
Carriers and Conveyors
Some equipment transports incredible amounts of materials without leaving their spots! When items are particularly loose, you need a system to carry them swiftly and carefully from one part of the facility to another. Horizontal conveyor belts are the most well-known means of tirelessly toting bulk materials from here to there, and they often employ bins, drums, and hoppers to contain the material and keep it from spilling. Conveyor belts can also carry items vertically or at an angle. Stackers and reclaimers perform the jobs that their names suggest, with stackers gathering up and stacking materials into stockpiles and reclaimers recovering the material from these stockpiles.
Agricultural and Food Devices
Agriculture has its own special set of requirements for moving bulk materials. Organic substances like grain, sugar, flour, and the like need special equipment to both gather materials and keep them safe from contamination, fire, or—believe it or not—explosions. Bucket elevators are machines that use a belt to scoop up the goods, lift them vertically, and drop them into a waiting receptacle or vehicle. Grain elevators are similar to bucket elevators but are (as the name implies) reserved for transporting grain from a stockpile or other arrangement into a silo for storage. Silos are remarkable things that deserve their own section. And so…
Silos are structures built to store bulk materials. But don’t think they’re just giant, glorified buckets. Silos turn up in every industry and hold everything from waste to grains to milk. Silos are cylindrical not simply because of tradition—no doubt you’ve driven past a proud batch of red farm silos in the country at some point in your life. Physics is the reason. As more material is stored in a silo, the weight of the contents results in an incredible amount of pressure. The round shape of the silo distributes the weight more evenly, a phenomenon known as hoop stress, preventing the possibility of the silo buckling or bursting. So silos are amazing technological devices all their own, able to keep track of and relieve an incredible amount of pressure. Silos also keep organic materials contained and out of the surrounding air where they run the risk of igniting and exploding.
Robots and AGVs
Want to feel like you’re living in the future? Consider the fact that many factories rely on robots to do the work of bulk material handling. Of course, this doesn’t entail bipedal androids pushing around handcarts and dollies. Robots are usually very non-human-looking collections of wires, platforms, tracks, and so on that either rely on human operators to load them or recover and transport materials by themselves. Other sites have automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) that follow a program to carry materials in hoppers or on pallet jacks along a prescribed path through the facility. Most follow wires or markers on the floor, while others employ more high-tech lasers, sensors, and other gizmos to get around the factory floor, avoid accidents, and deliver their packages to the right place.
One piece of bulk material handling equipment that doesn’t get its due is the simple chute. When materials go up via a stacker or elevator, they often need a device that lets them down gently. Chutes provide a slide that loose yet more granular and solid material can easily tumble down without spilling and spoiling. It may not be high-tech, but the simple chute has helped humanity sort, transport, and store materials for an exceedingly long time.
That’s a basic guide to the different types of bulk material equipment. While we’ve touched on the reasons why such equipment is necessary, that’s worth a review as well. Bulk material handling equipment is useful in preventing accidents and stress on workers and helps a handful of employees handle a job that once required hundreds of people. Keeping track of how much you have and where has never been easier. As suggested, this reduces loss because materials are moved in a contained manner. It also protects more perishable items and those that can be eaten or contaminated by vermin. Most importantly, this equipment makes the entire process safer without sacrificing productivity, two of the biggest goals any factory should have!