Delivery and assembly of the Buttimer Engineering designed and manufactured Docksolid® New Ship-Unloading Hopper and Conveyor System is now complete and operational with the final commissioning works well under way at Belfast port.
Completed in August 2023, the Docksolid® system provides fully automated crane and hopper operation, with real-time integrated control, reducing cycle time, eliminating cargo spillages, and increasing overall efficiency.
The system provides 1,000tph (tonnes per hour) capacity and facilitates offloading via four different routes and capacity modes.
The customer is part of a diversified group of international commodity trading, storage, agribusiness, and industrial companies. The site is one of the largest grain storage facilities in Europe, discharging commodities directly from ships to storage. The site operation involves unloading bulk cargo ships, using a crane and ‘grab’ discharging to hoppers, that deploy cargo to a network of conveyors transporting the cargo to storage. The 24/7 ship-unloading, and storage operations handles ships from the UK, Europe, the Americas, and Southeast Asia. Further conveyors unload the product from storage, into road wagons for distribution to the market. Much of the existing equipment and infrastructure on site was 1960s technology, with filling and cargo route management being manually controlled in the storage building.
Docksolid® loaders are bespoke designed for each client and each application —ensuring they are made to meet the specific environmental requirements, and flow characteristics of the product being handled.
Due to the replacement of two existing cranes and their associated smaller hoppers with a single new higher capacity grab crane the customer required a single bespoke design high-capacity rail mounted quayside hopper and integrated cargo handling system. The system required fully automated crane and hopper operation, with real-time integrated control, reduced cycle time, eliminating cargo spillages, dust suppression, and increasing overall efficiency, by doubling capacity from 500 to 1,000tph, plus facilitating offloading in four different route and volume capacity modes.
  • Automation of cargo routing from hopper to storage locations, plus connecting new hopper into both gantry conveyor routes on the berth side of the store.
  • Creation of a parallel feed system to both gantry conveyor routes; this parallel feeding requires bespoke hopper geometry with a double conveyor discharge arrangement which is connected to two diverter inlet points at one time.
  • Upgrading of all conveyors within the store, to ensure increased throughput, replacing the existing open belt conveyors with enclosed chain and flight conveyors with slides and diverters to the silo bins. All new equipment to use innovative control technologies, digital integrated RADAR probes, and level sensors. Provision of mechanical spot filters on the new conveyors to reduce dust emissions.
  • The hopper-control systems were integrated with the overall facility automation system, and equipped with interlocks to ensure the hopper’s handling equipment does not operate until downstream equipment is confirmed to be running. Pneumatic hopper slides for filling vehicles were controlled remotely by the control system combined with CCTV monitoring, with option for hopper movements to be controlled by site personnel, independent of the control system.
  • There was a strict requirement that ongoing site operations are not impacted, and that intake, storage and product discharge operations are fully maintained during the re-fit project. Working space alongside the deepwater berth and within the storage facility was very limited, given the scale of upgrade required.
  • Extensive discussions with the customer’s dedicated and experienced project management team throughout the design phase ensured we fully understood their business requirements and that the final solution included the highest EHS and ESG standards expected.
The solution offered to the customer by Buttimer Engineering’s team called on the company’s extensive knowledge and four decades experience of design and manufacture of bulk materials handling solutions. There was intensive competition from other bulk handling specialists bidding the project, with Buttimer Engineering’s innovative use of digital technologies being a key differentiator from the competition, enabling the project to be secured and a unique cutting-edge Buttimer solution be provided.
As some of the existing equipment and entire site infrastructure was based on 1960s technology, the level of detail of building and equipment dimensions required for a project of this scale was limited. This can preclude use of modern design technologies from being used, however Buttimer overcame this challenge by carrying out full 3D scanning of the existing facility to enable the project to benefit from its BIM technology.
Once processed and refined the 3D scan provided a digital baseline to enable Buttimer’s engineers to create a 3D Model using its Solidworks software system. This enabled real-time online input from the customer on finer details and functionality of the hopper machine and grain store upgrade solution.
The combination of the scale of the Hopper Machine required (approximately 180 tonne weight) coupled with the automation and complex operational features required by the customer, did provide many design challenges to be overcome. The confined site location of the machine’s final destination adjacent to the deep-water berth at the port meant that the machine had to be designed narrower than typically used. An innovative structural design using a 12.5t pre-cast concrete counterbalance was required to enable the automated hopper to operate in the confined site and provide the high performance and versatility required. Buttimer Engineering’s energy efficient design utilized low power consumption drives and motors, it enabled faster cycle times, and hence reduced ship unloading time, providing long-term cost and sustainability advantages to our customer.
During Buttimer Engineering’s early concept and design development evaluation, the tight programme time and requirement not to impede ongoing site operations became a key consideration.
The original grain store used open belt conveyors for the cargo transfer; while being equipped with dust handling cyclone systems, these belts created dust emissions in the upper levels of the store. Buttimer Engineering’s innovative design evaluation resulted in utilization of higher specification, and higher cost, enclosed chain and flight conveyor systems. This was in keeping with the customer’s EHS focus and ensured Buttimer Engineering presented a high quality, energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and sustainable working environment into the future.
Buttimer Engineering’s BIM design evaluation also resulted in the decision to increase the utilization of its OSM facility (off-site manufacturing), and pre-assembly off-site. Rather than deliver standard-size manufactured components to site for assembly, use of its OSM facility enabled large components of the 180-tonne weight steel hopper machine to be pre-assembled and delivered to Belfast by the company’s heavy lift specialist transport partners.
Pre-assembly provided programming and scheduling advantages, which lead to cost efficiencies and sustainability benefits. Buttimer Engineering’s location adjacent to the motorway network proved to be advantageous for the OSM approach, however the BIM modelling system was the true enabler of this innovation. The 3D modelling and detail design created in Solidworks was used to ensure that each component manufactured off-site would fit into the site, accurately join to adjacent new components, and provide the overall solution required by Buttimer’s customer.
For wider international markets, Buttimer Engineering operates with its global partner Terex Prostack, who are the bulk materials division of Terex Corporation, a leading global provider of materials handling and processing equipment. The Buttimer Engineering/Terex Prostack offering provides a wider product portfolio of custom-made bulk materials handling and conveying port equipment and the partnership can provide significant advantages to port operators throughout the world.