January 19, 2018

The Fundamentals of Bulk Material Handling Systems

Bulk handling of powders, candies, food, metals, and other materials is critical for the global economy. Yet the science and equipment behind bulk material handling systems are often misunderstood. Additionally, statistics often show that bulk material handling equipment for an array of materials is not optimized for maximum efficiency, requiring additional production time and incurring greater operating expense.

 Bulk material handling systems

What is bulk material handling?

Simply put, bulk material handling systems continuously move and supply bulk materials to other equipment in a processing plant – be it agriculture, manufacturing or mining. The basic processing technologies for these systems include operations involving:

  • Horizontal conveying
  • Lifting and lowering
  • Size reduction
  • Mixing and separating
  • Weighing and filling
  • Screening, filtering and granulating
  • Reclaiming

Each product generally moves by using mechanical or pneumatic methods. The design of a bulk material handling system is determined by the properties and characteristics of the product and the overall goal of the system, whether moving product from point A to B, conveying and storage, or delivery to packaging.


The key to bulk material handling is material flow

The science of conveying bulk solids depends on understanding a material’s flow properties. It is the most important variable to understand before designing bulk solids handling system or solving a flow problem. The key to reliable material handling is to design the equipment based on the measured flow properties of the material to be handled.

For example, in storage applications, solids may separate out in a process called segregation. This causes flow problems since they will feed erratically through a gravity-fed discharge opening and stick to bin walls. The two most common flow problems experienced in a silo, bin or hopper are arching (bridging) and ratholing.

  •  Arching occurs when large particles interlock to form an arch at a hopper outlet and stop flowing due to shape, pressure, moisture or temperature.
  •  Ratholing occurs when only a flow channel located above an outlet discharges product, allowing it to remain on the sides of the bin. This causes additional problems like caking, material spoilage and worsening product segregation.

In an optimal container system, all material in a silo or hopper moves at the same time. This eliminates ratholing and stagnant areas that cause spoilage.


Bulk solids handling systems continue to present other common challenges, such as:

  •  Poor product flow
  • Product separation and segregation
  • Irregularity in product quality
  • Process unpredictability
  • Equipment breakdowns
  • Particle breakdown
  • Powder caking
  • Spillage
  • Product flooding
  • Cross-contamination
  • Spoilage
  • Inventory or process control
  • Self-heating
  • Structure vibration or silo quaking
  • Abrasive equipment wear, erosion and corrosion
  • Chute plugging and buildup
  • Content uniformity

Problem resolution

Many of these problems are resolved with simple, cost-effective solutions. Preventing product inconsistencies starts by understanding the material and how it will move through a process or piece of equipment. Segregation is prevented in much the same way, by understanding how the bulk material transfers through the process in bins, hoppers, chutes, or conveying systems.


New bulk material handling trends and challenges

The field of bulk material handling equipment is always changing. Some new trends in the industry include:

  • More thorough equipment testing and evaluation before system selection and implementation
  • A move away from single high-speed lines to more flexible systems with hygienic designs and the ability to quickly change over to different ingredients
  • Obtaining more data from production lines to drive automation and to understand how the line is truly performing to allow for improvements and optimization

Read more about the fundamentals of bulk solid handling that makes overcoming these challenges possible, here.


Some of the challenges facing bulk material handling equipment providers and users have persisted throughout the industry while others are more cyclical.

  • Limited budgets for bulk handling research
  • Many engineering graduates do not know how to address solids handling problems
  • Aging equipment needs upgrading or retrofitting


Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, Gough Econ is known globally for its innovation, quality and reliability. Our comprehensive bulk-material handling solutions improve and add value to every step of the production process, with a broad spectrum of options available to handle projects of any scope or scale. Contact us today and let’s discuss how we can solve your dry or bulk material handling challenges.

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