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Series of buckets on a pallet of a bucket elevator

Bucket elevators: A comprehensive guide

Choosing the right equipment for your bulk material handling needs is crucial to ensure efficient and effective operations. When it comes to vertically transporting bulk solids, bucket elevators are often the equipment of choice. Offering a flexible approach and a small footprint, bucket elevators can be tailored to suit a wide range of applications, from fine chemicals to ore. However, with the multitude of design decisions involved in buying a bucket elevator, it’s essential to educate yourself to make the best selection.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key factors that should influence your decision-making process when choosing a bucket elevator. From understanding the different types of bucket elevators to considering the material, design, capacity, and customisation options, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and insights necessary to make an informed choice.

Understanding bucket elevators: An overview

A bucket elevator is a vertical conveyor system that transports materials in a controlled manner using a series of buckets attached to a rotating chain or belt. These buckets scoop up the material at the bottom of the elevator, lift it vertically, and then discharge it at the desired location. Bucket elevators are widely used in industries such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and more for handling bulk materials.

Components of a bucket elevator

  1. Buckets: These containers hold and transport the material. Buckets can be made of various materials, including steel, stainless steel, or plastic, depending on the specific requirements of your application.
  2. Conveyor belt or chain: The continuous loop that moves the buckets is either a conveyor belt or a chain. The choice between the two depends on factors such as the type of material, the height of the elevator, and the overall design requirements.
  3. Drive mechanism: The drive mechanism powers the conveyor belt or chain, providing the necessary force to lift the material. It usually consists of an electric motor, gear reducers, and other power transmission components.
  4. Head assembly: This top section of the bucket elevator includes the head pulley, discharge chute, and sometimes a drive motor. It guides the material into the buckets and facilitates its discharge at the top.
  5. Boot section: The bottom section is called the boot. It typically includes the boot pulley, which redirects the belt or chain for the return journey, and a loading chute to feed material into the buckets.
  6. Belt or chain tensioning device: This component maintains the proper tension in the conveyor belt or chain, ensuring smooth and efficient operation.
  7. Casing or housing: The casing encloses the entire conveyor, providing structural support and preventing dust or debris from escaping. It also helps maintain the alignment of the buckets during operation.
  8. Bucket attachments: These mechanisms secure the buckets to the conveyor belt or chain. They allow the buckets to pivot or tilt for easy loading and discharge.
  9. Take-up device: A take-up device adjusts the tension in the conveyor belt or chain, compensating for any stretch or slack that may occur over time.
  10. Safety devices: Bucket elevators are equipped with safety features such as sensors, guards, and emergency stops to ensure safe operation and prevent accidents.

Types of bucket elevators


There are three main types of bucket elevators, each designed for specific applications:


  1. Centrifugal bucket elevators: These are the most common type and are ideal for handling heavy, abrasive materials. Centrifugal force is used to discharge the material from the buckets, making them suitable for smooth, fast handling.
  2. Continuous bucket elevators: These are designed for the gentle handling of fragile materials. They operate at slower speeds and are often used in food processing industries where material degradation is a concern.
  3. Positive discharge bucket elevators: These are used for materials that tend to stick or are difficult to discharge. They are designed with features to prevent material buildup and ensure smooth discharge.

Understanding the different types of bucket elevators will help you determine which one is best suited for your specific application.

Factors to consider when choosing a bucket elevator

Choosing the right conveyor involves considering several factors that will impact its performance, cost-effectiveness, and longevity. Let’s delve into the key factors you should take into account during the selection process:

Material characteristics

The characteristics of the material being transported are of utmost importance. Different materials have varying properties that can influence the design and operation of the elevator. Consider the following material characteristics:

water moisture content

Some materials flow easily, while others may be sticky or prone to clumping. The flowability of the material will impact the selection of bucket design, belt or chain type, and discharge mechanism.

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Particle size and shape
The size and shape of the material particles can affect the bucket design and spacing. Irregularly shaped or oversized particles may require special considerations such as modifications to the design to ensure proper loading and discharge.

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Materials with high abrasiveness can cause wear on the buckets, conveyor components, and other equipment. Selecting abrasion-resistant materials and implementing proper maintenance practices are crucial for longevity.

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Moisture content
High moisture content can lead to material buildup, clogging, and reduced flow. Materials with high moisture content can cause clumping, clogging, and other flow issues within the elevator. Specialised bucket designs or additional process line equipment like screw feeders or lump breakers may be required.

Temperature sensitivity
Extreme temperatures can impact the performance and durability of a bucket elevator. Materials that are extremely hot or cold may require special design considerations and material selection, and additional features to handle temperature-related challenges.

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Dust emission
Certain materials may generate dust during the conveying process. Adequate dust control measures need to be implemented to comply with environmental and safety regulations. Enclosed bucket elevators are a better choice for powder handling applications.

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Some materials may be prone to degradation during handling. For fragile materials, the design of the buckets and the speed of the elevator should be carefully considered to minimise degradation.

By understanding the characteristics of your material, you can select a bucket elevator that is designed to handle it effectively and efficiently.

Applications of bucket elevators

Bucket elevators are used in multiple industries for bulk material handling due to their versatility. Common applications include:

Agriculture and grain handling

Bucket elevators are widely used in the agriculture industry to handle grains, seeds, and other agricultural products. They are employed in grain elevators and processing facilities for the vertical movement of crops like wheat, corn, rice, and barley.

Mining and minerals processing

In the mining industry, these type of conveyors transport minerals and ores, such as coal, limestone, phosphate, and more. They play a critical role in bulk material handling systems to vertically move mined materials within processing plants.

Cement and construction materials

Bucket elevators are used in cement plants and construction material manufacturing facilities for bulk material handling of products like cement, limestone, gypsum, and sand.

Food processing

In the food industry,  elevators handle various bulk materials, including grains, nuts, seeds, and other food products. They are commonly used in processes like conveying bulk ingredients in the production of cereals, snacks, and baked goods.

Fertiliser industry

Bucket elevators handle agricultural chemicals for the production and processing of fertilisers.

Chemical industry

The chemical industry uses bucket elevators for the vertical conveying of bulk chemicals, including powders and granules.

Aggregate and construction materials

Bucket elevators are employed in the construction industry to handle aggregates such as sand, gravel, and crushed stone.

Power plants

Power generation facilities use these type of conveyors to transfer materials like coal or biomass in fuel handling processes.

Recycling facilities

Elevators transport materials such as shredded paper, plastic pellets, or glass in recycling plants.

Pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical manufacturing uses bucket elevators for powders and granules.

Design considerations for efficiency and reliability

Bulk material handling conveyor designs require careful consideration. It is essential to select and design a conveyor based on the specific characteristics of the material being conveyed, the required capacity, lift height, and other process-specific requirements.


To enhance efficiency and reliability, several key design considerations should be taken into account:

Plant considerations

Product manufacturing inside a factory using a bucket elevator
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1. Capacity

Determine the required capacity of the elevator based on your material handling needs. Consider factors such as the volume of material to be transported, the required throughput, and any future growth projections.

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2. Lift height
The vertical distance that the material needs to be transported will impact the design of the bucket elevator. Higher lift heights may require additional power, reinforced components, and safety measures.

3. Speed
The speed at which the buckets move affects the handling capacity and overall performance of the elevator. Balancing speed with the material characteristics is crucial to prevent degradation and ensure efficient operation.

4. Space constraints
Evaluate the available space for the installation of the conveyor. Bucket elevators are reliant on gravity for their discharge chutes. Limited headroom in a facility can pose challenges for installation of a bucket elevator conveyor. In some cases, modifications or alternative conveyor systems like aero-mechanical conveying systems may be necessary to accommodate spatial limitations.

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5. Structural support
Bucket elevators carry high costs associated with engineering and structural support. They have a large footprint and the weight of the buckets, depending on the materials used by bucket elevators manufacturers, can make for an exceedingly heavy machine, especially when under load. 

Maintenance requirements

Assess the maintenance requirements of the elevator, including regular inspections, lubrication, and cleaning. A well-maintained elevator will have a longer lifespan and ensure reliable operation.


Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure efficiency and longevity. Bucket elevators tend to have restricted maintenance access. Neglecting maintenance can lead to misalignment, excessive wear, and reduced overall performance.


Give consideration to the following maintenance requirements: 

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1. Planned downtime
Due to a multitude of buckets on a single machine, cleaning is not simple or easy. This, along with scheduled maintenance, can impact availability when machines must be taken offline for long periods for cleaning and maintenance.

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2. Repairs
Each bucket is an individual moving part. The more buckets on your elevator, the higher potential for breakdowns and unplanned downtime.

Material characteristics


As discussed earlier, the material being conveyed plays a crucial role in determining the design of the buckets. Materials that clump, have poor flowability, or are highly abrasive require specific bucket designs to ensure smooth operation and prevent clogging or premature wear.


By considering these design factors, you can optimise the efficiency and reliability of bucket elevators, ensuring smooth operation and increased productivity.

Customisation options


Depending on your specific requirements, customisation options may be available for your bucket elevator.
Consider the following options:


  1. Bucket design: Work with an experienced bucket elevator manufacturer to select the bucket design that best suits your material and application. Different bucket designs, such as medium front (MF), high front (HF), and super capacity (SC), offer varying handling capabilities.
  2. Additional features: Depending on your material and process requirements, additional features may be necessary. These can include vents or drain holes to prevent material buildup, different materials of construction to handle corrosive or abrasive materials, and specialised discharge mechanisms.
  3. Automation and control: Explore options for automation and control systems to enhance efficiency and safety. Automation can help optimise operation, monitor performance, and detect potential issues.

Disadvantages of bucket elevators


While bucket elevators are generally efficient for the vertical lifting of materials, they come with their own set of challenges that may affect their application in certain environments:


  • Space requirements: Bucket elevators require vertical space which may not be available in facilities with limited headroom.
  • Material limitations: They are not suitable for all material types. Materials that are sticky, wet, or extremely abrasive can cause excessive wear or clogging.
  • Maintenance and repair: Bucket elevators have numerous moving parts that require regular maintenance. In the event of a malfunction, repairs can be complex and costly.
  • Operational costs: The power required to lift materials can lead to higher energy costs compared to other conveying systems.
  • Noise levels: Bucket elevators can generate significant noise during operation, which might require additional noise control measures.
  • Dust generation: The loading and unloading points can be sources of dust emissions, requiring additional dust control systems to maintain air quality.
  • Mechanical failures: Components such as belts and chains can be prone to mechanical failures, leading to downtime and potential safety hazards.
  • Throughput limitations: The fixed bucket size limits the volume of material that can be transported at a time, which may not be optimal for all operations.
  • Initial investment: The cost of installation for a bucket elevator system can be higher than other types of conveyors due to its construction and the need for precise alignment to function properly.

Understanding these drawbacks is essential. Depending on your specific plant processing requirements, a bucket elevator may not be the best bulk material handling system to implement. You may want to consider comparative technologies such as aero-mechanical conveyors equipped to deal with fine powders and highly fluid materials, or drag chain conveyor systems that can facilitate complex routes with limited headroom and as an alternative option for vertical transport, or screw conveyors that can safely handle materials that might be hazardous. The suitability of a bucket elevator largely depends on the specific material characteristics, environmental conditions, and the operational requirements of the plant.


Bucket elevators are indispensable in vertical material transport across multiple industries. Understanding their working principle and key components is crucial for their efficient and reliable operation. Designers can enhance their efficiency and reliability by taking into account the characteristics and properties of their bulk materials and processing routes.

Selecting the appropriate bucket elevator design for specific applications ensures optimal performance, increases productivity, and reduces downtime. With careful consideration of design factors and proper maintenance, these type of conveyors become valuable assets in the vertical conveyance of bulk materials.

Consulting with powder handling specialists and thorough planning are essential for implementing the right bulk materials handling conveyor system to streamline operations and drive success.

If you’re considering a conveyor system for your next bulk powder or granule handling project, 
get in touch with Floveyor. As powder handling specialists with a long history, we can help you determine the best conveyor for your manufacturing plant.