Ports & Terminals

Industry, Pa., Terminal Adds Efficiency With New Material Handler

When Jon Mihalic’s last cable crane operator retired recently, he knew the time had come to also retire the aging Manitowoc 4000 crane from his barge dock. “You can’t find a qualified cable crane operator anymore,” he noted, “but really, that old crane just wasn’t efficient by today’s standards.”

Mihalic heads the Watco Companies barge and rail terminal in Industry, Pa., near Pittsburgh. His two berths on the Ohio River handled 529 barges of ferro-alloy, gypsum and steel last year, serving 20,000 trucks in and out. As the terminal’s assistant general manager, he led the search for a new machine to replace the cable crane.

His team’s survey of new lifting equipment quickly narrowed down to two candidates: a 308,000-pound purpose-built material handler from Sennebogen, or 235,000-pound hybrid excavator model similar to others in use at various facilities.

The Watco team was leaning toward the proposal from Murphy Tractor for a Sennebogen “Green Hybrid” 875 R-HD, but it came to a split vote. “I was the hold-out,” Mihalic admits. “The sheer lifting power of the Sennebogen 875 would give us a significant increase in capacity, plus the powered rotating attachments we wanted. I just did not believe the fuel figures that Sennebogen was quoting to us.”

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To make his decision, Mihalic contacted other owners of the 875 working on the Ohio and Mississippi waterways. “They all said the same thing,” he reports. “For fuel efficiency, there’s just no comparison.”

The 875 R-HD is the flagship of the distinctive Green Hybrid series of heavy-lift machines that Sennebogen first unveiled in 2014. These models are easily recognizable by the massive center hydraulic cylinder mounted between the two main lift cylinders that operate the boom. The Green Hybrid cylinder is the heart of a novel energy recovery system that uses the weight of the boom to capture energy on each down stroke, then releases that free energy to provide lifting power for the next load. Fuel savings with the Green Hybrid system are dramatic—up to 30% less fuel compared to conventional material handlers, Sennebogen says.

Mihalic has now seen the results for himself. He was skeptical of the Green Hybrid concept. Then, when he looked closely at the system, he found that it’s “surprisingly simple.” His 875 consumes half the fuel of the converted excavators used by other facilities.

His yard also operates PC800 excavators. “The Sennebogen is 50 percent bigger than our excavators, but they burn about the same amount of fuel. That’s significant for us!”

Convinced that the potential fuel economy with the 875 was real, Mihalic put the 875 to work in August 2018. The new machine typically works a 10-hour day, but runs up to 16 hours on a busy day. Equipped with 6-yard bucket, the 875 has also delivered increased throughput. “On steel coil barges where unloading might have needed a shift or shift and a half to complete before,” he says, “the Sennebogen will finish in four hours. With a much smaller crew!”

“It took some getting used to for our operators to get comfortable with the 875’s hydraulic power and the elevating cab. But they’ve come around. Our biggest advantage is on steel barges: the control we have now, versus the cable crane, you can’t even compare it,”

Most of the steel that Watco receives comes in 20,000- to 25,000-pound coils, but the 875 has lifted coils up to 54,000 pounds. According to Mihalic, the terminal’s key factor is spec’ing equipment for the work it is doing. “We don’t look at the whole load chart. We look at how much it can lift from the outside wall of the barge from about 12 feet below grade, or our below dock level—that’s the only number that matters.”

Mihalic gives much of the credit to the powered rotator that carries the C-hook used to lift coils and billets. “You can put it anywhere you want it, very quickly; the old crane required a worker in the barge to place the C-hook into each coil; now the 875 operator can turn the hook any way he needs to, and engage the coil. We put a bunch of plywood out on the dock and the 875 just buries the forklifts that put the coils away. We’re unloading 120 coils in four hours, with a crew of one. It’s impressive!”

Caption for photo: The new Sennebogen 875 R-HD material handler unloads a barge at the Watco Companies terminal in Industry, Pa. (Photo courtesy of Sennebogen)