Moving and Unloading Machinery

Practical advice for getting a large, heavy, and expensive piece of industrial equipment off the truck and into place in the shop. October 12, 2007

How easy is it to move machinery with the roller type skates that riggers use? I need to roll a few machines off a flatbed at dock level. My only concern is the dock plate lip. I have had a few local riggers quote unloading the truck for me, but they want a huge sum of money for just a few hours work.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Try some lengths of pipe, and use a diameter sufficient to clear the lip. Ancient civilizations used this method to move stuff like the pyramids and such. I moved a fully assembled full size Striebig panel saw I bought at an auction completely through a facility and into an enclosed truck with a few 2x6s and some pipe. The machine riggers were taking bets on how far I'd get. I was pulling off as they were getting their tools out.

From contributor P:
I used to be in the business of moving high-dollar pieces of equipment and have done everything from multi-million dollar works of art, servers, CNCs, and my own shop. If you're careful, you can move anything. If you're not, you can destroy anything.

The dock plate or leveler is best dealt with by using a thinner sheet of steel, say an eighth of an inch thick, to smooth the transition. Incidentally, you're right to worry about this. I would bet that this is the spot in which most stuff falls over. I once watched a multi-million dollar server fall over the side of a dock at a convention center because a guy tried to pull the thing off a truck using a pallet jack which caught and spun on the leveler. This was interesting to see, especially since it wasn't my freight.

What sort of equipment is it? The dollies I think you're talking about, called four-ways, are best for items up to about five hundred pounds that can be tilted. You can certainly use them for heavier items, but you have to be able to get the machine on the thing. Personally, for most things under 700 or so pounds, I prefer a large kick-back dolly, or appliance dolly. If you have to move something large, say a wide-belt, and don't have a pallet jack or forklift or the machine isn't palletized or doesn't have fork holes, then you can rent piano dollies. These go under each end and lift the machine between them. These are great if it's a large, heavy machine.

The most important thing is to have plenty of help and not get in a hurry.

From the original questioner:
The kind of skates I was talking about are chain type rollers. I think the brand name ones are Hillmans? They appear to be just like lengths of pipe, but put together in a chain. They vary in capacity from about 3000lbs-60000lbs per skate.

The machine would be a widebelt sander that weighs 14000 lbs. It's 96" wide and 137" long overall, but that includes conveyor infeed and outfeed overhang. The base measures 96" w x 72" long.

I was just curious if anyone has used these sorts of skates. The one rigging company that came in here for an estimate said that would be all that they would use. Skates only, no forklift. I am just figuring that for half price I could have valuable equipment to show for my outlay rather than just an invoice marked paid. I've always wanted to buy the skates anyway to move stuff around in here. My only concern is they won't work in this case?

From contributor P:
I've seen those used but never had them myself. They seem to work quite well. I don't see any reason why you couldn't do it, as long as you have plenty of manpower. Getting over the leveler could be a problem with that sort of weight because the trailer is going to dive and make a severe angle when you get to the end. If the owner of the truck is okay with it, then you can put stands under the frame of the trailer to prevent that dive. Otherwise, you could have a difficult and dangerous situation on your hands. Still use a thinner piece of metal to make the transition from trailer to leveler smoother and if you're using one of those dock plates that's removable, make sure it's plenty wide and that it's flat. The only drawback is if you manage to dump the thing over or somebody gets a foot squashed. Then the damage is on you. Otherwise, you should be able to do this.

From contributor D:
I rented Hillman rollers once to move an edgebander and I can tell you the machine did not "skate" around the shop. It still took 4 people and some pallet jacks and a come-along to get it in place. Be very careful. It seems that a wide belt could be top heavy.

From contributor H:
Let the pros do it! They are insured and experienced. Save your back for better things.

From contributor P:
I was thinking about this all day. If you still want to do this, I'd buy a couple of Rol-A-Lifts. Earlier I referred to them as piano dollies. I've used them to move fifteen foot long industrial lathes that weigh 15,000 or so pounds.

Six people should be able to safely unload this thing if the trailer and dock are prepared as I said. If there's any sort of incline, have more people or a forklift. Also, the things are extremely useful whenever you have to move something large.

From contributor O:
Okay, color me stupid for the moment, but for what you are going to pay for piano dollies, why not just rent a forklift? Around here about $300.00 will rent a telescoping forklift that will reach into the truck and allow you to remove the sander. For what you have paid for the sander that size, auction or not, $300 shouldn't be that big a deal to get the thing in the shop safely, not to mention get it positioned in place. You might ask around if there are any local companies that would bring a lift over to give you a hand.

From the original questioner:
I did quote forklift rentals, as I figured that would be the easiest and simplest. A 20 or 30000lb forklift is $675.00 per day. But wait, it gets much better. $88/hr for delivery round trip, so they figure 5 hours total between drop off and pickup. So that's $1100+. The only forklift around here that rents for less than 200/day are small 4000lb lifts and we already have 2 of them.

I ordered a set of 4 riggers rolling skates with a 16 ton capacity total. I also ordered 2 12000 lbs lever bars with wheels (AKA Johnson bars). I also ordered a Portapower hydraulic pump with 4 10 ton jacks. Total cost was less than $1000.

From contributor E:
Sounds like you're trying to go broke saving money. The rigger moves this type of machinery every day, and carries insurance. If they damage the machine or your facility during the move, you're covered. They'll be in and out in a couple of hours. If you damage the machine or your facility during the move, you're stuck... How long will it take you to move the machine? Sometimes outsourcing makes sense.

From the original questioner:
Not going broke. We've decided to take a calculated risk. Pay someone $1000 for 2-3 hours worth of work, or invest that same or less money and have a nice physical asset to show for it at the end of the day. Keep in mind that these are assets that we have wanted to buy for a while. Insurance is not a concern; being a professional business we have that too. The experience of a rigging company would be nice. We have moved large machines in the past, up to 10000lbs. This one is 15000lbs, so it'll be our largest move yet!