Unloading a river barge can vary greatly from port to port. The size of the terminal, the type of material handling equipment available and attitude of the workers can all make a difference in the efficient movement of material off of a barge.
Equipment configurations and maintenance also play a part in productivity as does the training of the crane operator. With so many factors at play, Waterways Today decided to get advice from a material handling manufacturer that specializes in such a task.
E-Crane International USA, Galion, Ohio, has approximately 65 of its material handling machines in operation throughout North and South America. The company’s president, Mark Osborne, estimates 50 of those specialty-built cranes are at work on the inland waterways. Osborne answered some questions for Waterways Today about effective barge unloading.
Waterways Today (WT): Unloading bulk materials such as coal, fertilizer, grain or aggregate from a barge can be done using a variety of material handling equipment. Can you detail what types of machines are available for this type of job when performing this task at a river terminal?
Mark Osborne (MO): To unload barges, there is a wide range of machines from the traditional pendant supported rope crane with a clamshell bucket to the more specialized gantry cranes with a rope-supported bucket that travels out to the barge, is raised and trolleys back to a gantry hopper. More recently, hydraulic excavators are being converted to material handlers. This type of material handler is a production-built digging machine equipped with a longer boom and stick with a hydraulic bucket at the end. Our line of material handling equipment has several variations which are designed specifically for barge and ship unloading. They are designed to be repetitive-motion machines that cycle 24/7. The bulk of our machines are stationary cranes. They can stand on a river cell, situated on four outrigger legs or on a straight bolted column.
(WT): How do material handlers work with other equipment to unload barges, and which equipment configurations are the most effective?
(MO): On the inland waterways, the most productive approach is a single stationary crane on a river cell with adjacent cells to form a wharf line. Barges are positioned using haul winches that pull the barge upriver or downriver into position for unloading. The E-Crane barge-haul system consists of two opposed winches—one forward, one trailing (upstream/downstream)—that work in tandem with a continuous steel cable that includes two master links with a hitch rope for tying to the material barge. The barge can be secured against drifting away from the river cell or dock face by a continuous bargebreasting cable. This is the fastest and safest way to handle and offload a barge.
(WT): What preparations need to be made to the terminal before material can be unloaded from an arriving barge?
(MO): The tug boat will bring the material barge to the dock line and one deckhand from the tug and one on the dock will attach the barge-haul cable to the barge. They will need to secure the barge to the wharf line or to the moving winch rope,take the barge covers off of the barges, and start unloading.
(WT): How do you determine the right-sized material handler needed for a particular job or location?
(MO): It is based on annual production needs, how many shifts you want to operate the equipment, and the vertical reach between the material inside the barge and the receiving hopper. The specific weight or gravity of what you are handling also factors in. You want to make sure you are using the entire capacity of the machine. When moving coal, an efficient material handling bucket that weights roughly 5 tons could have a payload of 13 tons or roughly 17 cubic yards. You have to look at desired productivity and estimated cycle time based on local conditions.
(WT): How can operators make the best use of material handling equipment to achieve the highest efficiency?
(MO): We believe strongly in OEM training to help improve the efficiency overall of the operation. At E-Crane, we provide more than just the equipment. We’ve seen a lot of examples of what works and what doesn’t. Our philosophy with operators and our equipment is, “Keep it simple.” Our equipment is very state-of-the-art, but the operator interface is simple. We put our attention in making things simple at the operator interface level.
(WT): What are some common errors that operators make when trying to move bulk materials, and how can they be avoided?
(MO): Small collisions can occur when the bucket is on its way down to the barge and is moving too rapidly. It can hit the barge floor or the coaming on the side. The grab could hit the hopper or spill material before it gets to the hopper. The solution is having the right OEM training and the right team of people with an attitude to perform and do things right. Training is crucial as well as the culture and attitude of the work team. It is important that they communicate well around large, heavy equipment. Safe operation is also a result of good maintenance procedures. E-Crane provides a daily “pre-flight” checklist to follow prior to startup. At 500 hours or every three months, there is a list of preventative maintenance activities to complete, including changing hydraulic filters, monitoring oil particle levels, and performing routine pressure checks.
(WT): How important is operator training to the safe and successful operation of a material handler?An operator is like the captain of a boat or the pilot of an aircraft; it is his responsibility to know where his deckhands are at all times.
(MO): Operating a material handler requires performing several simultaneous motions in order to be productive and to do it in a smooth fashion. It is important for an operator to know the basics of how his material handler works, so that when he pulls a lever he knows exactly what is happening. He should recognize any strange sounds or vibrations and investigate. An operator is like the captain of a boat or the pilot of an aircraft; it is his responsibility to know where his deckhands are at all times. It is his ultimate responsibility to see the that the barge is tied off and is safe and secured. He is the “top of the food chain”. At ECrane, we have a training simulator for operators and offer a combination of classroom and in-the-seat training programs with all of our new clients.
Mark Osborne is president, E-Crane International USA, Galion, Ohio.
Source: Waterways Today, January/February 2013