What is Bulk Material Handling?

If you’re asking the question ‘What is Bulk Material Handling’ you are likely new to process manufacturing or looking to solve a current need in your production process.  Either way, we can help.  At Spiroflow we’ve been helping customers with their bulk material handling needs for over 45 years.  So we’d like to share a few insights with you.

The term ‘bulk material handling’ generally refers to the engineering involved in designing mechanical equipment to handle and process bulk materials.  Bulk powders, granules, flakes or pellets are supplied and delivered in a variety of different containers.  These are typically bulk bags (often called big bags, FIBCs or super sacks), boxes (often called octabins), and rigid bins.

Bulk material handling is an essential part of all industries that process dry bulk ingredients.  Process industries include the manufacture of food, beverage, confectionery, pet food, animal feed, tobacco, chemical, agricultural chemical, polymer, plastic, rubber, ceramic, cosmetic, environmental, electronics, consumer home products, mining, mineral, powdered metal, paint, pigment, coating, paper, textile, and recycling industries ALL utilize dry bulk materials.  Why?  For the same reasons, Americans flock to Costco to buy in bulk.  Buying in bulk saves money.  Quite literally thousands of materials are bought or sold in bulk. These vary from food ingredients, chemical powders, and pharmaceutical powders to plastic pellets or flakes.  The photo below shows bulk bags loaded and stacked in the hold of a ship.

Characteristics of Your Material

Bulk materials can be sourced from multiple suppliers all over the world. It is vitally important to understand that the flow characteristics of the same ingredient from different suppliers can be different. For example, milk powder from one processor may be more compacted from shipping or have a higher fat content than another producer.  It is crucial to understand the precise flow characteristics of your material including:

  • Bulk density
  • Particle size
  • Temperature
  • Material form (powder, flake, granule, pellet, fiber, crystal, lump, prill, curl or other)
  • Flowability defined by its angle of repose,
  • Hopper characteristics (does it bridge or “rat-hole”),
  • Material characteristics (interlocks or mats, light & fluffy, aerates, aerates & fluidizes, packs, packs under pressure or vibration, heat sensitive, cohesive, abrasive, fragile, smears, dusty, hazardous, toxic, corrosive, explosive, flammable)
  • Liquid content (% water, % fat, % oil, hygroscopic)

These material characteristics directly affect how you can successfully fill, discharge, convey or mix in your application using bulk material handling equipment.

What Comes in Bulk Bags Must Come Out

Processors must store their bulk materials, then transport and empty them where needed in their process. So you must have mechanical bulk material handling equipment designed to discharge material from bulk bags.  This is the realm of bulk bag discharging which is also called bulk bag unloading.

There are many options to consider. Understanding your application, your material characteristics, and your site conditions allow a specialist bulk material handling supplier to recommend the optimal bulk bag discharger design.

You might be surprised to find that many people contact us regularly needing a bulk bag discharger to fit in a processing site with very limited headroom.  We’ve even built bulk bag unloaders to fit in elevator mine shafts!  Here is a sample of a bulk bag discharger with an integral hoist for processors that don’t have a forklift truck available or are prohibited.

How You Move Your Bulk Material

You’ll need mechanical or pneumatic bulk material handling equipment designed to transport your dry bulk materials within your process. This is usually accomplished with some type of conveyor or feeder such as a belt conveyor, bucket elevator, pneumatic conveyor, cable or chain drag conveyor, rigid or flexible screw conveyor, aero mechanical conveyor, or a vibratory tray feeder.  Selection of the correct conveying technology is again dependent on your application, your material, and your site requirements.  Here is an example of two aero mechanical conveyors conveying material from two rigid silos to a hopper.


Supplying Your Bulk Materials in Bulk Containers

If you supply your material in bulk, you will need bulk filling equipment at the end of your process to fill bulk bags, boxes/octabins, drums or totes. Bulk material filling equipment is very beneficial to processors as they can be used to fill multiple types of bulk containers, minimize manual handling, and provide a safe, easy, controllable and dust-free method of filling. Filling stations can be customized to suit height and access requirements along with potential hazardous areas. Here at Spiroflow, our bulk bag fillers are designed to provide not only a dust-free and accurate method of weighing and filling but also a stable, upright bag for safe storage or transport.

Of course, there are many other types of bulk material handling equipment such as hoppers, bag or sack dump stations, storage silos, bin activators, screeners, bulk bag conditioners, control systems, and more.

At Spiroflow, we have solved bulk material handling solutions around the world.  So if you need some help or advice on the bulk material equipment configuration for your unique needs, contact us!