Streamline Container Unloading With the Right Equipment

Container unloading is one of the few remaining labour-intensive aspects of the modern economy. Thanks to the range of items and the cramped spaces in which they are packed, the only processes that are still manual in logistics are the loading and unloading of these big steel crates. 

And yet, with the boom in e-commerce, the supply chain is flooded like never before by containers crammed with consumer goods.

If steel and electricity could replace muscle and sinew in this crucial function, there would be obvious benefits for workers, employers, and the economy. Luckily, we have worked hard to provide a solution to the container unloading problems. If you are a logistics professional seeking to unload a container or trailer safely and efficiently – keep reading and prepare to get some actionable information.

Container unloading challenges

Container unloading is challenging because of various reasons:

  • A container is often a cramped space, with limited maneuverability. 
  • It is usually performed by relying on manual labour, which is in short supply and prone to injury.
  • Lifting heavy items puts a strain on people. According to NSC Injury Facts, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) create financial burdens for businesses, including medical costs, reduced productivity, and employee absence. In 2020, the private sector reported 247,620 MSD injuries or illnesses, resulting in lost workdays. Implementing ergonomic measures and workplace safety initiatives is crucial to minimize the impact of MSDs on businesses.

“We have had so many customers coming to us and sharing the pain of manually unloading inside a container or trailer… Logistics companies have problems with ergonomics. It is hard to find people to do this job, and a swift return on investment (ROI) is both essential and difficult to achieve with existing mechanical solutions. This is the essential dilemma of container unloading.”

Anders Knapasjö, Vice President Nordic, Baltic & Germany for TAWI

In theory, machines can transform the unloading process as long as they are designed to consider the complex issues that arise when a container is backed up to the warehouse gate.

But, automated systems have limited flexibility. Even if a machine can handle a wide range of items stacked in various ways, there will always be something that demands human intervention.

Flexibility is expensive. Mimicking a human being’s ability to identify, reach, grasp, twist, and lift multiple items comes at a prohibitive cost.

This is why robots are not a solution – at least not for the foreseeable future. 

However, unloading containers is an excellent example of an industrial process in which semi-autonomous systems – machines combined with human operators – are more likely to offer an efficient way forward.

Operator unloading pallets woth boxes from a container

Traditional container unloading tips and best practices

As mentioned, container unloading is a challenging task, and it is important to think about safety as well as efficiency. To ensure secure and effective container unloading, here are some essential tips and best practices to follow:

1. Take special precautions if the container is loaded with hazardous materials

If the container is loaded with hazardous materials, it is crucial to take extra precautions. Adhere to all relevant safety regulations and guidelines specific to handling hazardous substances. Provide appropriate protective gear to workers and ensure they are trained in handling such materials safely.

2. Utilize appropriate equipment

Depending on the nature of the cargo and its weight, choose suitable equipment for unloading containers. Forklifts, mobile lifting solutions, container unloading systems, cranes, and conveyor belts can streamline the unloading process, increasing efficiency and reducing manual effort. Select the equipment that best matches the requirements of your cargo and facility.

3. Asses all possible dangers and address them

Before initiating the unloading process, carefully assess all possible dangers associated with the container and its contents. Look for signs of instability in the load, such as leaning or shifting items. If any hazards are identified, take immediate action to mitigate them. Secure the load properly to prevent it from falling or causing injury to workers.

4. Ensure worker safety

Workers directly involved in container unloading should be trained in proper safety procedures and techniques. Emphasize the importance of maintaining a clear and safe workspace, ensuring that workers do not get trapped or injured inside the container. Implement effective communication channels and signals to coordinate movements and minimize risks.

5. Optimize workflow and organization

Efficient container unloading requires careful planning and organization. Establish a systematic approach to unloading containers, ensuring a smooth flow of goods. Clearly label and categorize items to facilitate their handling and subsequent storage. Consider implementing technology-driven solutions, such as barcode scanning or RFID tagging, to enhance accuracy and streamline inventory management.

By implementing these container unloading tips and best practices, you can enhance both the safety and efficiency of your operations. Remember, prioritizing worker safety and taking proactive measures to address potential hazards are crucial for successful container unloading.

Here’s how to streamline container unloading with TAWI

Since there was an urgent need for machines that can help with container unloading we at TAWI are proud to announce that we developed mechanical aid that can tackle all the unloading challenges safely, intuitively, and flexibly. Our engineers developed a machine suitable for unloading the full spectrum of heterogeneous parcels. 

The new TAWI mobile high-frequency lifter (MHL) can resolve all container unloading challenges.

How does it work?

  • push it on a pallet jack, take it inside your container, connect it to a source of electricity, and start unloading from the top of the stack with a gentle squeeze of an ergonomic trigger.
  • the mobile high-frequency lifter uses TAWI’s tried and tested vacuum technology to grasp items and release them onto a pallet or conveyor.


Our Nordics Sales Manager, Anders Knapasjö, has been centrally involved in developing this solution. Below, he answers many interesting questions about the machine and its role in container and truck unloading.

What is the main problem that the Mobile High-frequency Lifter helps to face?

The purpose of the unit itself is quite simple: its function is to lift objects from a container or trailer onto a conveyor or pallet.

The Mobile High-frequency Lifter takes away 90% of the pain with unloading items of up to 50kg. It is very versatile. You can attach multiple suction tools, which makes it possible to lift various objects. 

This is a plug-and-play machine, you just need an external power supply, and off you go. This lifting solution is nimble; you can move it on a pallet jack from place to place, so one machine can serve an entire warehouse – you don’t need to install one at each gate.

Why has nobody done something like this before?

The problem has always been the cramped conditions inside containers. These are only 2.4m (7’10”) from floor to ceiling.

Most lifting machines require significant headroom above the object to be lifted, making it impossible to lift objects high up in the container. We have solved this with a patented “elbow” and wheel system that inverts most of the steel vacuum tube by 90° from vertical to horizontal. 

This solution means the mobile high-frequency lifter can reach up to the highest lifting points in a container. Nothing else on the market can do this. Making it ideal for container unloading.

How easy is it to use?

User-friendliness is key, both in terms of getting to know the machine and then putting it to use. The Mobile High-frequency Lifter is extremely user-friendly, it takes just a few minutes to learn how to use it efficiently. There is one trigger to move an object up and down and another to release the load.

Is its use confined to container unloading?

No. So far we have only talked about using the MHL inside a container. But after you have emptied it, maybe you want to move stuff from one pallet to another. Then you can simply move the product and pick and place your objects wherever you like. 

Maybe you need to repack items somewhere inside the terminal – again, use our Mobile high-frequency lifter. In other words, this mobile machine has the potential to eliminate manual lifting inside the terminal also, making it easy to adapt in a fast-changing environment with high production demands.

Is this container unloading solution as fast as a person?

The difference is that the machine can keep up the same tempo throughout a working day, while a person slows down and needs to rest. 

So over a full shift, the Mobile high-frequency lifter is faster than a person. In general:

  • Manual handling will be faster than using mechanical help over the first hour or so.
  • By the third hour, the speed of each method is the same.
  • After three and four hours, the machine beats the person every time because it never gets tired. 

This is quite crucial because the logistics business is all about speed.

What implies for a company using this new solution?

Firstly, depending on what you are lifting, the Mobile high-frequency lifter can turn a two-person lift into a one-person lift. In this case, the ROI is a no-brainer. In certain countries, you also have insurance issues, such as in the USA where you don’t have the same health service provision as in Western Europe. 

But there are multiple efficiency gains with switching away from manual unloading. Staff turnover falls dramatically, while a large new recruitment pool opens up because anyone can lift anything with our product, whether they are old or young, male or female, big or small.

The MHL also means you can work for hours at the same tempo, so you can calculate more rationally how long particular tasks will take and the resources you will need to do them. This in turn means you can plan much more accurately, making for a more efficient flow of goods into the terminal and into the warehouse. It is all about making the logistics flow as smooth and predictable as possible. 

This brings a lot of positive effects beyond simply lifting inside the container. It is suddenly easier to allocate resources such as people, forklifts, and so on – there is a domino effect throughout the business.

So the MHL does everything except make the coffee?

Any machine has its limitations. Logistics involves multiple challenges, and the MHL won’t suit every task. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • To expect this unit to lift everything is unrealistic. It will handle 80-90% of objects, but some will be outside range.
  • Depending on the items and how they are packed, the top layer in the container can be a problem. For example, if the container is crammed to the ceiling, you may manually pull out the top layer before the MHL can take over.
  • When fully extended, the arm is 2m (6’7”) long and rotates 360 degrees so that you can reach a maximum of 4m. With a crane system attached to the warehouse ceiling, you can lift objects as far as 10m.
  • Sometimes a fixed crane vacuum lifting system will be more efficient in the long run for a particular task. For example, if you have a fixed conveyor in the warehouse and are sorting from the belt to pallets, the MHL probably doesn’t have the necessary reach. The MHL is a flexible solution for companies looking to move around with multiple pickup points.

To summarize

TAWI provides a wide range of smart vacuum lifting solutions to optimize your logistics operations. Our goal as a company is to connect the dots within the complex matrix of logistics issues. 

The Mobile High-frequency Lifter (MHL) marks the beginning of a new generation of lifting aids that can tackle these challenges. It provides a reliable solution for container unloading and offers the flexibility of multiple MHL units instead of a fixed crane system.

If you’re looking to optimize your logistics infrastructure and improve efficiency, consider incorporating TAWI’s innovative solutions. Get in touch with our team to explore how our products can help you overcome the obstacles in your logistics operations.

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