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What is a Bucket Elevator?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bucket elevator or grain leg is a piece of equipment which is used to move materials in bulk. Bucket elevators are used in a wide variety of settings, including commercial agriculture and mining, and several specialty companies produce bucket elevators and accessories. These devices are used primarily when materials need to be handled in a large scale, and they are capable of moving huge volumes of bulk material every hour.

Essentially, a bucket elevator is like a conveyor belt with buckets attached. It can be used to move things vertically, but it can also be used for transport at an angle, or for horizontal transport, depending on the design. The buckets are designed to swivel so that they always stay upright, avoiding spillage, and their edges are scooped, so that they can pick up materials by being dragged through them. A bucket elevator can move materials like ore, fertilizer, and grain.

In a basic vertical bucket elevator, the elevator moves bulk materials up, dumps bulk materials at the top, and the empty buckets return to pick up a new load. The unloaded materials are routed into a chute which can be attached to storage containers, bags for packaging, and so forth. The bucket elevator makes materials processing purely mechanical, with no need for people to be involved beyond monitoring the activity of the elevator and changing settings as required.

More sophisticated bucket elevators can be programmed to unload materials at multiple intervals, in addition to running along horizontal tracks. As a general rule, the works of the elevator are shielded for safety, so that people are not caught in the moving elevator. This is especially important when the buckets are on a chain instead of a belt, as the chain can trap loose clothing, hair, or limbs and cause serious damage to operators and bystanders.

Like many pieces of heavy equipment, the bucket elevator is designed for continuous operation. Start and stop operation can damage the device or decrease efficiency, in addition to increasing the risk of spills. A company may opt to run a bucket elevator for a set period of hours every day, or to run the device nearly continuously if its processing needs are ample enough. The bucket elevator does have emergency stop settings which allow people to turn the device off if there is a problem, and some are sensitive to blockages which suggest that something is caught in the device, and will turn off automatically.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Esther11 — On Sep 30, 2011

Before the bucket elevator was invented, just think of all the manual labor it would have taken to transport raw material from one location to another.

They must have had a line of people who loaded the buckets and passed them down from person to person to the dumping spot. It would have been like the "bucket brigade." At least with this old method, there wasn't much danger of injury.

This old method is really different than the mechanized bucket elevator that we have today. It requires very few men to operate it. But with this big piece of machinery, there is the risk of serious injury.

By BabaB — On Sep 29, 2011

I think that I would like to just watch a bucket elevator in operation. I think that it would be fascinating to watch the buckets scoop up material, climb up to the top on the moving belt and dump the contents into the pile over and over again.

As I remember my brothers had a toy that worked something like this with the little buckets swaying as they were cranked upwars or to the side.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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