Putting spreaders to work for bulk

Mantsinen's Quick Coupler allows the swap over of attachments in minutes. Credit: Mantsinen
Mantsinen's Quick Coupler allows the swap over of attachments in minutes. Credit: Mantsinen
RAM's pipe-handling system improves handling speed and safety. Credit: RAM Spreaders
RAM's pipe-handling system improves handling speed and safety. Credit: RAM Spreaders
Flinders Logistics' unique Bulka Bag Spreader can load cargo without the need for staff being in the immediate vicinity. Credit: Flinders Logistics
Flinders Logistics' unique Bulka Bag Spreader can load cargo without the need for staff being in the immediate vicinity. Credit: Flinders Logistics
Industry Database

John Bensalhia investigates attachment options that look beyond pure container operations

Handling bulk cargo presents its own unique challenges — there is no getting around that fact. If it’s not containerised, bulk cargo damage, lengthy handling times, and, crucially, safety risks all need to be mitigated.

An often-overlooked piece of bulk handling kit has seen its design evolve to tackle all those concerns. Spreader manufacturers bolstered their attachment creations to better serve bulk cargoes, delivering the twin win of reduced harm to the cargo and safer and faster loading and unloading.

RAM Spreaders provides a wide range of attachments suitable for ports dealing with all kinds of bulk cargo. For the breakbulk market, the manufacturer has developed a Universal Pipe Handling Spreader.

“This is capable of handling a wide variety of pipe lengths and diameters, making it suitable for a safer and faster quayside loading,” says Patrick Draper at RAM SMAG Lifting Technologies (UK).

Pipe handling can pose a variety of difficulties for ports, such as safety risks (from the heavy, cumbersome pipes), as well as possible damage and wear and tear. It's also a time-consuming process if done manually, with groups of workers having to carry large, heavy pipes one or two, if possible, at a time.

RAM's Universal Pipe Handling Spreader makes this kind of operation safer, faster and more productive. Various sizes of pipes can be handled thanks to its separating telescopic quad beam system. The adjustable beams feature end grippers which have pipe protection plates that reduce the risk of pipe damage. With the technology deployed in the spreader, fewer workers are needed.

Timber moves

The ferrying of timber from port to vessel presents similar challenges of weight, variety of sizes, and slow labour. Spreader attachments can also help to overcome issues with handling this cargo. Mantsinen's grab attachments for timber are available in two formats depending on the amount of wood cargo to be moved. While the tip-to-tip attachment handles larger amounts of timber with ease, the bypass alternative is more suited to lifting smaller loads or even individual logs. Either option ensures quicker, precise timber carrying without the need for multiple workers.

Likewise, these benefits apply to Mantsinen's sawn timber spreaders — available with manual or hydraulic length adjustment — which use automatic hooks to pick up and then release the wood.

Meanwhile, Stevenel's wood pulp unit claims to raise wood pulp production by quite a margin, handling 450 tonnes per hour. Compare this with the more conventional kind of manual spreader, which only manages 150 tonnes per hour. Using the Stevenel unit, loading time can, says the manufacturer, be considerably reduced from a turnaround of 27 hours to just nine. The pulp unit includes wires that either catch or release the material. Because of this, only one crane driver is required to oversee the operation, saving on manpower costs.

Storage demands

While the not-so-humble spreader attachment offers worthy benefits for ports, it's a product that needs precise care and attention, not just during use, but also in storage. Spreader beams, in particular, should be placed in a dry environment at the right temperature, away from chemicals. Excess damp, heat, and toxicity can result in damage. The beams need proper inspection, both from a qualified professional on an annual basis, and by port staff after use to ensure that they are still suitable for future projects.

Safety-wise, some ports are providing their own spreader attachment solutions to boost safety levels when handling large scale cargo.

For example, the South Australian-based Flinders Logistics (a subsidiary of Flinders Port Holdings) is devising its own purpose-built spreader in-house. The Bulka Bag Spreader, made with lightweight polypropylene bags, features air release hooks which means that bulk products can be loaded on to vessels without the need for staff being in the immediate vicinity. Instead, workers can release the bags remotely from a distance, boosting safety levels.

The other side of the safety coin is the careless use of attachments. Spreader beams, especially, need special attention when being prepared for use. Sloppy planning can result in accidents, so port staff must have the right knowledge of the relevant health and safety rules. Also, great care must be taken when calculating the loads.

Poor preparation can cause damage to both cargo and beam. Pipes, for example, need the right length of beam. If the length of the pipe is longer than the beam, this then affects the force and compression of the load. The right balance must also be prepared accurately. While containerised bulk is more straightforward, awkwardly shaped cargo loads need careful evaluation before lifting in terms of judging where to place the beam hooks. If the cargo isn't evenly balanced this can strain the mechanism of the beam hook, and can result in damage to the load.

Switching cargoes

Using multiple spreader attachments can also prove to be a difficulty. A port handling a variety of bulk cargoes will want to switch spreader attachments quickly, easily and, of course, safely.

Mantsinen's range of spreader attachments features two key components to ensure a swift change: a hydraulic quick coupling system and a fixed rotator system. If a port operator wishes to change attachments, the quick coupler allows the swap-over to be completed in minutes, using the MC620 or MC720 integrated rotor, which includes a built-in tool interchange attachment. Mantsinen's attachments can also be used with other makes of crane.

Sheet metal coils are catered for with Elme's slave attachment. Available in a single or double hook version, it's a solution that offers ports flexibility in that it comes in different sizes, styles and capacities. Similar flexibility is afforded by Elme's steel slab grab unit (featuring hydraulic jaws) which is capable of dealing with different sizes and weights.

A watchword of spreader attachments is innovation, with varied solutions being devised for ports handling a variety of bulk cargoes. RAM SMAG's Mr Draper explains that his company, Peiner SMAG, provides various types of bulk handling grabs – from hydraulic clamshell grabs and orange peel scrap handling grabs to speciality grabs, such as the stone block grab, sugar cane grab and an underwater rope grab.

Environmental factors are also a key consideration for current and future spreader attachment manufacture. Companies are aware of the growing wish to protect the environment. As RAM SMAG's Mr Draper explains: “Producing greener and more efficient bulk handling operations is currently a hot topic and all too apparent with more countries now adopting strict environmental guidelines to help reduce pollution and emissions to become more energy efficient.”

He adds: “There is an increase in environmental awareness and the need for companies to adopt new systems. Our overall aim is to continue to help these companies reduce unnecessary financial burdens, increase profit and help them to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Spreader attachments require careful preparation and usage by ports. But investment in this equipment can produce vivid results in terms of boosted efficiency, environmentally sound solutions, increased safety levels and financial gains – all benefits worth getting attached to.


Safe handling of bulk cargo is paramount and it’s a given that the wrong use of machinery and equipment can lead to accidents. To that end, spreader attachment beam usages require exact planning before lifting occurs.

Port operators must ensure that they correctly calculate the load so that the cargo isn't beyond the spreader attachment's reach. As well as the cargo, the spreader beam and any extra accessories such as slings must be factored into the equation. Working out the precise weight will make sure that nothing goes wrong with the lift, thus avoiding potential accidents.

Devices such as the Straightpoint Radiolink Plus can aid operations for breakbulk and project cargo, as well as weighing and monitoring spreader beam loads. Boasting an efficient strength to weight ratio, Radiolink Plus features an update rate of 3Hz, and can be arranged to run at speeds of up to 200Hz.

Added bonuses include the ability to glean data in real time, a compact design, and its ability to withstand tough environments and climates.


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