Choosing the Right Break Bulk Cargo Handling Equipment

Break bulk cargo has become a significantly reliable option for international shipments. Over the years, the demand for break bulk cargo has grown substantially – not just in Australia, but also in many parts of the world. The reasons for its progress are various, ranging from an increasing awareness of its utility to increased government spending on infrastructure developments like renewable power projects requiring break bulk cargo.

To maximise the benefits of break bulk cargo, one must have a decent knowledge of the different types of break bulk cargo handling equipment. It is also critical to understand what type of equipment you should choose.

Below, we will discuss what break bulk cargo is all about, what its benefits are, and the type of equipment available.

What is break bulk cargo?

Breakbulk cargo refers to cargo stowed on board a vessel as individual units. It is often confused with ‘bulk cargo’, which is where cargo is stowed as one whole unit such as dry or liquid bulk consignments.

Common examples of break bulk cargo are bagged cargo, drums, barrels, bailed goods, vehicles and any super-sized cargo. Cargoes usually imported into or exported from Australia include, but are not limited to, farm machinery, coil, pipes, refinery equipment, transformers, windmills, oilfield equipment, copper, zinc, locomotives, timber and defence equipment. Read our complete guide to breakbulk cargo here.

break bulk cargo example

What are the benefits of break bulk cargo?

Shippers prefer break bulk cargo as their method of shipment because of the following reasons:

1. It can accommodate items beyond container capacity

Huge machinery or equipment that cannot fit inside a standard-sized container needs to be broken down into several parts. Fortunately, for regular break bulk operations, you won’t have to fit each part in a container and ship them separately because you can ship them as a whole unit.

Many break bulk cargo vessels have heavy-duty deck cranes and break bulk handling equipment, so you can conveniently load and unload your cargo.

break bulk cargo on vessel

2. Reduced deconstruction and reconstruction time

When you ship in breakbulk, you don’t need to deconstruct the items into separate pieces while incurring additional costs and times. So, aside from being affordable, the procedure speeds up the total delivery time. For example, if you are shipping turbines or generators, break bulk shipment allows you to be more productive as you can ship the products anywhere without disassembling them.

3. Break bulk cargo can dock in smaller ports

Not all ports have the modern break bulk cargo equipment to receive containers. Break bulk cargo usually doesn’t require deconsolidation or reconsolidation and can enter most ports across the globe. Moreover, the ship already carries with it unloading equipment to save transportation time.

Cargo shipped in break bulk can also be offloaded easier onto smaller vessels so that it can be transported in underdeveloped ports. Normally, large ships or tankers cannot dock in smaller ports due to their size and depth.

break bulk cargo being loaded onto cargo vessel

4. It can be shipped together

With breakbulk, you won’t have to separate the items and put them inside individual containers but you can use special equipment equipped on the ship. A proper combination of the different cargo handling equipment can stow your unitised shipment safely and securely.

What are the disadvantages of break bulk cargo?

Not all methods of shipment are perfect. Below we will highlight several drawbacks of employing break bulk cargo:

1. Higher labour and handling equipment cost

Since units are broken down into individual units, the labour cost is typically expected to be higher. The break bulk handling equipment of the vessel and at the port must be capable to handle the break bulk cargo.

Moreover, oversized cargo occupies more space than goods piled up on top of each other. There are also instances where specialised warehouses are needed to store the cargo. Add to that extra costs for security and protection.

port workers handling cargo

2. Not ideal for food products

Food items have a shorter shelf life and certain items require specific temperature control like that of refrigerated ships.

3. Higher risk of damage or pilferage

Due to the individual units, there’s a higher chance of the goods getting damaged or stolen. It is therefore critical that you have a marine insurance policy in place to cover yourself in case your goods are lost, stolen or damaged.

4. More tedious

The labour involved for break bulk cargo is more intensive and time-consuming. The process of packing, repacking, loading, and unloading may be taxing.

What are the vessels used for break bulk cargo?

Below are the vessels commonly used for break bulk shipments:

  • Barge carriers
  • Tramp ships
  • Forest product carriers
  • Project carriers
  • Roll-on & roll-off vessels
  • Conventional reefer ships

Types of break bulk cargo handling equipment

To optimise the break bulk cargo handling procedure, it’s vital to get a good grasp on the different types of equipment. In a nutshell, there are two types of cargo handling equipment used: In Port and On Board.

Many of the cargo handling equipment have remained the same since the 1960s, but significant developments in technology have emerged, which improved break bulk cargo handling operations.

In Port cargo handling equipment refers to the equipment used to facilitate the movement of cargo to and from the ship. On-Board cargo handling equipment refers to all equipment used to move the cargo on the vessel.

In Port cargo equipment example

In Port

In Port equipment play a vital role in making sure that cargoes board the vessel efficiently and securely. We have provided a list below of the common equipment used today for easy reference during your break bulk procedure:

1. Bolsters

If you remove the walls and ceiling of a container van, you will have a bolster container. If your item is heavy and awkward-shaped, the bolster container just might be the solution for you.

This equipment is ideal for breakbulk with a weight of generally up to 23 tonnes. Bolsters are highly durable thanks to their sturdy base made of high-quality Corteen steel and wood.

break bulk cargo bolster equipment

Bolsters improve handling efficiency by reducing manual handling during operations. Items you can handle using bolsters are the following.

  • Steel plates
  • Coils
  • Small yachts
  • Crates
  • Machinery

One important thing to note for bolsters is that your cargo will be exposed to external weather elements. However, if your shipment can withstand harsh weather elements, then you can proceed with this type of cargo.

2. Roll trailers

Roll trailers are heavy-duty flat platforms used for transporting heavy unmovable cargo during normal break bulk cargo handling operations. It is constructed with a solid steel frame and a sturdy hardwood surface. Its sides have handles for connecting lashing hooks and a front pocket for towing by a terminal tractor.

Beneath the roller trailers are heavy-duty rubber tires, that can effectively move weighty cargo in a matter of minutes. Roll trailers are flexible and sturdy enough to carry breakbulk weighing up to 140 tonnes and measuring up to 28 meters long. This equipment is available in 20, 30, 40, 62, and 80 feet.

3. Multi-purpose bogies (MPB)

Multi-purpose bogies work better than roll trailers in terms of load distribution. Using MPBs offers greater control and maneuverability. Thus, it reduces the risk of damage to your product because of safer handling.

Using a pair of bogies doesn’t just allow balanced load distribution, it also doesn’t restrict the height and weight limitations of your product. Carrying long, narrow heavy equipment won’t be as difficult when using multi-purpose bogies.

MPBs can be fitted with a long platform, rails, or attached to form a lighter version of a Samson trailer. They can carry cargo weighing up to 140 tonnes and measuring between 6 to 18 meters. They are commonly used for break bulk cargo handling operations involving generators, transformers, fabricated beams, and rail cars.

Photo credit:  Wallenius Wilhelmsen
Photo credit:  Wallenius Wilhelmsen

4. Samson Light

The Samson Light is a combination of MPBs attached with a push bar, which is available in different lengths to accommodate your product. The main benefits of the Samson light are the same as the regular MPBs, but it’s equipped with two supporters and a heavy-duty footprint for even weight distribution.

This equipment is normally used for transformers, motors, generators, and steam drums weighing up to 140 tonnes.

Photo credit:  Wallenius Wilhelmsen

5. Samson Light heavy-lift trailer

The Samson heavy-lift trailer is suitable for cargo weighing up to 220 tonnes. The equipment has several variants according to dimensions: 8, 10, and 16-metre. They are commonly used for generators, transformers and turbine rotors.

Photo credit:  Wallenius Wilhelmsen

6. Blocks and beams

If all other equipment cannot sustain the weight, blocks and beams might just be the last resort. Offering a capacity of up to 400 tonnes, you can stow any super-sized heavy cargo onboard the vessel.

beams-and-blocks-break-bulk
Photo credit:  Wallenius Wilhelmsen

7. Other equipment

There is other equipment used during break bulk cargo handling operations, such as:

  • Tug-masters
  • Forklift trucks
  • Powered straddle carriers
  • Van carriers
  • Stacking cranes
  • Dockside cranes
  • Mobile cranes
  • Container cranes
  • Level-luffing cranes
cargo container cranes

Which equipment should I choose?

If you’re still stuck on which equipment to choose, we’ve prepared a simple table below so you can easily pick the right equipment.

Equipment

Equipment Dimensions

Cargo Max Length

Cargo Max Width

Cargo Max Weight 

Pros 

Cons

Bolster

L – 6.1 m

W – 2.44 m

H – 0.23 m

9 m

3.5 m

23 MT

- Sturdy platform

- Stackable

- Do not limit irregularly-shaped cargo

Good for smaller break bulk cargo

Cargo is exposed due to no end walls and ceiling

Roll trailer

L - 20 ft, 40 ft, 62 ft, 82 ft

W – 2.5 m

H – 0.44 to 1.1 m

28 m

-

140 MT

- Stable platform

- Stackable

- Fast loading/unloading due to the rolling mechanism

- One-man operating system

- Can cater to all break bulk cargo types

Cargo exposed to open weather

Multi-purpose bogie

L – 3x2 m

W – 3x2 m

H – 0.94 to 1.1 m

6 – 40 m

-

140 MT

- Better load distribution than roll trailer

- Can be customizable using attachments

- Dual steering for better control

- High versatility; no height and weight limitations

- Great for long and narrow cargo

- Better load distribution than roll trailer

- Can be customizable using attachments

- Dual steering for better control

- High versatility; no height and weight limitations

- Great for long and narrow cargo

Cargo exposed to open weather

Samson light

L – 5.83 to 12.06 m

W – 3 m

H – 0.94 m

6 – 14 m

-

140 MT

- With available push bars that can fit each cargo

- Same advantages as MPB but enables equal weight distribution

-

Samson light heavy-lift trailer

L - 8 m, 10 m, 16 m

W – 3 m

H – 1.1m

6 - 18 m

-

220 MT

- Several dimensions available to cater to different cargo sizes

-

Blocks and beans

H – 1.55 m

50 m

-

400 MT

- Ideal for RoRo cargo

- Can be fitted into cargo being shipped

-

In the real world, however, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It takes careful planning and analysis before deciding on which handling equipment to use. Depending on the weight, size, and dimensions of the product, you can choose one, two, or a combination of the equipment

On Board

When onboard the vessel, cargo handling equipment is also needed to safely handle the goods. Up to this date, these are still being used in break bulk cargo handling operations.

break bulk cargo vessel
  • Crane – The crane is a lifting gear equipped with shackles used to hoist heavy cargo on the vessel. Lifting gears can either be on the quay, floating, or attached to the ship.
  • Can or barrel hooks – used for hoisting drums and barrels
  • Cargo nets – used for mail bags or similar cargo to protect the items when hoisted
  • Heavy lifting beams – used for heavy, elongated items like vehicles and boilers
  • Cargo trays & pallets – used for moderate-sized cargo such as bags, cartons, cases, and wooden crates.
  • Other loose gear and cargo tools for break bulk cargo handling operations include:
    • Snotter
    • Chain sling
    • Timber hooks
    • Box hooks
    • Cargo tray
    • Plate clamp

Which bulk cargo handling equipment is right for you?

Choosing the right equipment for your break bulk cargo handling operations helps smoothen the entire transportation process, which streamlines the whole supply chain. Optimising your cargo handling, indeed, is a perpetual effort to strengthen the whole supply chain network of your business.

Our freight forwarding experts here at International Cargo Express have decades of experience dealing with all types of break bulk equipment. If you’ve got any queries about which kind of equipment you need to use, get in touch with our team today and we would be more than happy to provide some tailored advice.

You can get in touch with us by giving us a call or leaving a comment below.

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