Side lifter: The ultimate wharf tool

A classic shipping container can come in various standard sizes – 20 foot (6.09 m), 40 foot (12.18 m), 45 foot (13.7 m), 48 foot (14.6 m), and 53 foot (16.15 m) – and vary in height from 8 to 9.5 feet (2.4m – 2.9m). But, it is the standardised width of eight feet that has made the humble box become the world’s ultimate tool to load, transport and unload freight.

Ironically, handling the most ordinary freight task on the planet has led to the creation of the most advanced transport solution in the wharf haulage sector – the side-lifter. This is a semi-trailer equipped with a specially designed set of cranes and retractable stabilising legs that is able to lift and transport shipping containers of various types, sizes and weights.

Using a side-lifter – also called Self Loading Trailer (SLT) – a single person can load and unload a container in minutes, without additional equipment or personnel. This can deliver a significant cost advantage when compared with traditional equipment, such as rubber-tyred gantry cranes, reachstackers or straddle carriers. Side-lifter cranes can also be mounted on a truck deck for handling 20-foot containers and many are engineered to stack two containers on top of each other.

Often viewed as a niche product, the side-lifter technology has proven to be a viable alternative to mainstream equipment – and as international shipping of containerised commodities is indispensable for global trading firms, it is likely to gain more ground in the container haulage and wharf market.

According to Steve James, General Manager, Global Sale at New Zealand’s Steelbro, the side-lifter technology can be used to support a number of different operations. “Using a side-lifter, you can transfer containers between train and quay, across the port, or inside a warehouse. In addition, the truck is quicker than traditional container handling equipment such as reachstackers and forklifts and is compulsory if the roads between terminals are public roads.”

But, it is the ability to switch from one mode of transport to another and add flexibility to port terminal operations that has made the side-lifter more than just an insiders’ tip in the port game.

On a typical journey from China to the US, for instance, a container will be loaded in Hong Kong onto a container ship, offloaded by crane in Los Angeles onto a rail wagon for the long ride to Denver, Chicago or Houston, and then offloaded again onto a skel for delivery to the final destination. Starting in LA, a side-lifter can help streamline the transport process and unload the container on the client’s doorstep – eliminating the need for forklifts and other heavy equipment to be available at both ends of the container’s route.  “The benefit to the haulier is much faster vehicle turnaround time – avoiding the queues and time waiting to be serviced by a straddle carrier or reachstacker,” says James.

On that account, the side-lifter has become a popular complementary tool allowing transport companies to drop/pick up containers in dedicated areas without being restricted by the availability of cargo handling equipment.

And, once on the ground, the container can be loaded or unloaded more easily, without the need for specific infrastructure such as platforms or loading ramps, and even forklifts can enter the container. In addition, the mere purchase cost is very competitive – about one-third that of a reachstacker.

Although it seems unlikely that the side-lifter will ever replace the reachstacker or straddle carrier in medium or large-size ports, it has the potential to become an indispensable supplement – especially in small ports.

“Traditional container handling equipment can prove to be too expensive to purchase, set up, operate and maintain,” says James. “Plus, forklifts and specialised container lifters have a limited capability on unformed surfaces, and a very limited operational range when a container needs to be transported for even a modest distance. The sidelifter, however, can travel long distances and is capable of operating directly on uneven ground which hasn’t been concreted.”

Nonetheless, it is still the case that only a small portion of container movements are made with the use of side-lifters. According to Bengt-Olof Hammar, Managing Director of the eponymous Swedish brand, one major reason is that old habits die hard. “To completely understand the advantages of a side-loader, the entire logistics chain has to be scrutinised. Thus, our system is as much a question of culture, habits and ways of thinking as it is about technology and the smart handling of containers.”

That is one reason why Hammar’s Area Sales Manager Middle East, Caribbean and South Africa, Oskar Björk, is on the road more than 100 days a year – he believes that there are still many people who haven’t heard about the concept in the first place.

The markets Björk is looking after have existed for a while, but they have been slow to come up to speed. “When I am in these countries, the focus is not on explaining the advantages of just the Hammar product, but instead I must market the entire concept from scratch,” he says. “I often receive a pleasant reception, but on the other hand, the customers do not always see the advantages at once. Because they do not operate in the same way as we do, it is a question of detecting new areas of application.”


Market Overview

Next to New Zealand company Steelbro and local rival Swinglift, Boxloader (France), Hammar (Sweden) and Valart (Portugal) dominate the global side-lifter scene. At the moment, the main demand is in Australia, Scandinavia, Africa and island territories such as the French West Indies. And, although each market is different, there is one universal constant – payload.

Steelbro (New Zealand)
Steelbro’s new SB362 Lightweight model (see page xxx) is continuing the trend to minimise tare weight without compromising on structural integrity. The SB362 is also available in a low ‘gooseneck’ and an extendable ‘trombone’ version. In addition, Steelbro offers the heavy-duty SB450 series (45t) and the lightweight SB121 model (12t).

Hammar Maskin (Sweden)
Hammar Maskin AB has been developing, manufacturing and marketing side-lifters since 1974. According to Hammar, the 150 series is the “most powerful side-loader in the world” with a capacity of 36 to 42 tonne. The 160 series (33t), meanwhile, is Hammar’s standard heavy-duty model. The latest addition to the Hammar family is the 190 series, offering a capacity of 25 to 36 tonne depending on the configuration. Hammar offers a wide range of chassis, including an extendable, gooseneck and B-double version.

Valart (Portugal)
Since 1990, Valart has manufactured the so-called Valartlift. The 20-foot semi-trailer version can cart up to 34 tonne. In the 34 tonne class, Valart also offers a telescopic model that can be extended up to a length of 45 feet. The smaller 20-45 foot version can cart 30 tonne. In addition, Valart has a rugged sliding crane model on offer that can transport both 20 and 40 foot ISO containers.

Boxloader (France)
French brand, Boxloader, offers five different variations of the classic side-lifter concept – including the semi-extendable XHT, the fully telescopic XFT and the truck-mounted TMS model. To cart classic 40-foot containers only, Boxloader has devloped the FHP (Fix High Payload) model. Available as a 20-foot or 40-foot version, the rugged FHD (Fix Heavy Duty) series is the heavy-duty variant of the FHP.

Swinglift (New Zealand)
Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Swinglift also offers a fixed length version for 20-foot containers, the HC 20. The original Swinglift, however, is the HC4020 (35t), designed to lift both 20-foot and 40-foot containers. Also available is a 40-tonne model and a 45-foot variation called HC4530. The SL20M is a compact truck mounted Swinglift with a capacity of up to 25 tonne.

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