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Sennebogen Blog

How to Choose Port Equipment

As a port operator or manager, how do you go about choosing a material handler that will get the job done the best way and in the least amount of time? One that’s reliable, consistent and adds to the port’s productivity and bottom line?

With so many options, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to choose. In this guide, we break down how we approach building a machine that best fits a port’s environment, layout and day-to-day operations.


Selecting the Energy Type
Selecting a Pedestal or Pylon
Selecting a Cab
Picking the Main Upper Carriage
Picking a boom
Picking an Attachment
Choosing an Undercarriage
Choosing the Cab Lifting Mechanism
When Would I Use a Balancer?



1 - Selecting Energy Type

Diesel vs Electro


One of the first decisions that you’ll make is whether you should have a diesel-hydraulic drive versus an electro-hydraulic drive. In the United States, diesel is still the standard and the majority of port equipment features a diesel-hydraulic drive.

Diesel is more common because it is typically cheaper upfront. However, while an electrical-powered machine may cost a little more upfront, it is far cheaper to maintain and operate in the long-run - essentially paying for itself within 1-2 years; and afterwards saving you money every year due to far less energy usage and extremely low maintenance costs.

Electro vs Diesel

If your port layout is conducive to having an electric-powered machine, that would be our recommendation for reducing costs and maximizing long-term profits.


2 - Picking the Main Upper Carriage

How far? How quickly? How frequent?


When choosing the main upper carriage, ask yourself these questions:

How far does the machine have to reach to lift and unload the materials? The further you need to reach, the less you’re able to lift unless you choose a machine with higher lifting capacity, so keep that in mind.

How quickly do you need to unload the barge or ship, and how frequently do you need to unload it?

Your upper carriage needs will vary if you need to unload a six-ton barge in two hours versus eight hours. Likewise, your needs will vary if you unload one barge a day versus one barge a week. And lastly, your needs will change if you need to unload the barge and place the items nearby, versus if the load needs to be placed a further distance away – since it will affect how many cycles per minute you’ll be able to complete.

Accounting for all of this information accurately will help you determine your expected lifting capacity, which in turn, will guide you to the best option for the main upper carriage.



3 - Choosing an Undercarriage

The foundation for your machinery


The undercarriage is the foundation for your piece of machinery. Every type of undercarriage has its own advantages and its own restrictions. Learning about the different types and the advantages they have may help you select the undercarriage type that is ideal for your loading and unloading situation.

Mobile Undercarriage

Its main advantage is that you can easily move from point A to point B, at speeds as high as 15-mph. Typically, a mobile undercarriage has 4-outriggers to provide the stability while working (unloading).

  • The load distribution is higher on various points with this type of undercarriage.
  • This is the undercarriage of choice unless the ground conditions are not stable.


Put another way, it has 4 wheels and 4 outriggers for stability and speed. This option is best when needing to get from one point to another quickly and there are no foundational issues with the ground below.

Just like a mobile undercarriage, a crawler also moves from one point to another. However, this type of unit moves along a track rather than wheels. This increases the stability, but takes away from the speed. If the foundation at your port is not stable, is older or prone to damage, it is recommended to use the track undercarriage so the weight of the machine is spread out more evenly over a larger area.

4-Point Pedestal

  • Water levels,
  • Type of vessel, and
  • Where you are unloading the material

This is the cheapest option and one that is good if you don’t need to move at all. (Very unlikely in ports, so it may not apply to you.)

Crawler Gantry

This option is best used when the layout of the port allows it to unload the material directly from the vessel and onto a truck. The truck can park right under the gantry and the Material handler can make quicker, more efficient cycles.

Rail Gantry

A rail gantry is like a crawler, except instead of loading into a truck, you are able to load directly into a train or rail car. The train or rail car fits directly under the gantry, allowing you to quickly and easily load or unload the equipment from the ship into the railway equipment.

Pontoon Construction

A pontoon construction undercarriage is different from the other options, by allowing your equipment to be placed out on the water, rather than on solid, dry land. If you load or unload ships or barges in the water, pontoon construction is your best option.



4 - Selecting a Pedestal or Pylon

Raising the upper carriage for better visibility and faster operation


A pedestal or pylon is something that can be added on top of the undercarriage and below the main upper carriage. It is not something that is always needed.

Depending on the layout of the port, on the size of the vessel and the water level, adding a pedestal can raise the upper carriage to allow better visibility and faster operation.

These are all fixed, and do not change heights. This is why our “purpose-built” machines are designed to accommodate how the port operates the majority of the year.



5 - Picking a Boom

Compact or Banana?


When you are selecting a boom, you will have a choice between a compact boom or a banana boom. The major difference however, between a standard boom and a banana boom, is that the banana boom, as its name implies, is curved so you can go further down to reach material (water levels, barge, etc.)

When you’re choosing a boom and a stick combination, this combination will depend on the following:

  • Water levels,
  • Type of vessel, and
  • Where you are unloading the material

Put in another way; it’s a combination of standard water levels and the occasional variations, the horizontal and vertical reach that’s required, as well as the point of discharge. You need to consider how you’re picking up material and where you’re unloading it.

Pro Tip: Always choose a machine or attachment that serves you MOST of the time.



6 - Choosing the Cab Lifting Mechanism

Operate faster and with more productivity


The person operating your material handler will sit in the cab for often hours at a time. So, the more comfort and visibility that they operate with, the faster and more productive they can be. When selecting a piece of equipment, you will need to decide which cab lifting mechanism meets your needs.

If the operator needs to see over the vessel, barge or ship in order to unload it, you will need a cab lifting mechanism, or a skylift, that moves up and down, as well as forward and back. If your piece of equipment is high enough to see over the entire ship and unloading process, a standard skylift that is stationary is sufficient.



7 - Selecting a Cab

MaxCab, MaxCab Industry, MasterCab, PortCab


This is similar to choosing a skylift; if the operator needs to see over a higher vessel, having a cabin with windows all around, including the bottom will speed up unloading and improve efficiencies.

Cab options in order of increasing visibility:

  • MaxCab
    • The standard cab and one that provides you with great visibility above eye level and below eye level. It has a front windshield divided into two. Read more about it's features here.
  • MaxCab Industry
    • Similar to the MaxCab but built for more challenging material handling tasks. Read more about it here.
  • MasterCab
    • Provides glass all around and below for greater visibility and spacious working environment. Read more about it's features here.
  • PortCab
    • Is larger than the standard, allowing an operator to have a trainer inside the cab. It also provides the most visibility.

Last two are generally used at ports since they accommodate an operator that is generally looking down when doing the unloading. They are the most common as they allow for the most visibility, with glass windows all around and beneath the operator’s feet. More visibility means the unloading process is quicker and more accurate.

Imagine having to unload materials with no clear view; it’s like poking in the dark – this would surely prolong the unloading process and affect operational efficiency. But, if your port layout is relatively flat with a clear view of your barge and its materials, selecting one of the first two options will probably be sufficient to meet your needs.



8 - Picking an Attachment

Grain or Sand? Iron Ore or Fertilizer?


The last decision you need to make when selecting the right equipment for your port is the type of attachment that you will want on your material handler. This will of course depend on the types of materials that are handled.

Is it grain or sand? Is it iron ore or fertilizer? The reason it depends is that one t/m3 of grain has a lot more volume than 1 t/m3 of sand or stone due to its density. In other words, you will need a bigger attachment to lift 6 t/m3 of grain than 6 t/m3 of sand or even iron ore. The heavier/denser the material, the smaller the attachment will be.

Here is a quick breakdown of the main attachments:

Orange Peel Grab

An orange peel grab is often used for scrap metal. Things like aluminum, steel and iron can all be picked up easily with this type of attachment.

Clamshell Grab

A clamshell grab is used for light bulk material. This typically includes things like grain and fertilizer. Other types of clamshell grabs can also be used for both medium bulk material and heavy bulk material. This includes things like sand, stone, aggregate, iron ore and bauxite side.

Timber Grab

A timber grab is perfect for grabbing timber. This includes recently cut down trees, as well as lumber and wood.

Cargo Grab

A cargo grab is able to grab items that are already in boxes, pallets or other types of shipping containers.

The right attachment helps you to load and unload the materials that you encounter most frequently when unloading vessels and barges. It’s important to note that you can get different attachments specific to the materials you unload most frequently.

Sennebogen makes it easy to detach and reattach different attachments when unloading different materials. Using the quick coupler allows this process to be extremely quick and efficient. If you handle multiple materials and need to change attachments frequently, quick couplers allow you to do this very quickly to reduce the downtime of the whole machine.

This can be either mechanically actuated or hydraulic actuated. On a hydraulic actuated, the operator generally does not need to leave the cab to change the attachments. It’s as simple as disengaging from one and attaching to another. Traditionally, this process with other machines could take up to 4 hours of downtime. Imagine what saving those 4 hours on a regular basis could do to your bottom line.



9 - When Would I Use a Balancer

Cost reduction, energy savings, and productivity.




If you’re looking for additional cost reduction, energy savings, and a productivity enhancer, then you may want to consider learning more about our Equilibrium Balancer and whether it suits the layout of your port.

As you well know, it takes more energy to move heavier objects. Picture the boom and crane that attaches to the machine that then moves the material out of the barge. Not only must you be able to lift the weight of the material, but also the weight of the boom and crane attachments.

In addition, the further away from the machine’s center of gravity that you need to extend in order to unload a barge, the less weight you are able to lift. So, you can accommodate this distance by either getting a larger undercarriage which has more lifting capacity OR get a balancer that can provide counterweight to offset the weight of the boom and crane and allow you to use less energy to lift that same material.

This always is a great solution for situations in which you need longer reach for longer distances, or need to lift very heavy weights.

EXTRA PERK: If still using diesel powered equipment - you can expect at least a 50% reduction in energy usage, and if using an electric powered machine, you can expect an additional 25% reduction in energy usage.

In other words, you gain 75% in energy savings with electric engine and 50% with diesel engine.

Final Thoughts

If you’re interested in learning more about our state-of-the art equipment, or are interested in having of one of our engineers come out and conduct a FREE operational assessment to give you our analysis, feel free to fill out a form here or give us a call. We would love to clarify your concerns or answer any questions!

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