Shallow and Deep Bucket Elevator Buckets: How to Choose

Shallow and Deep Bucket Elevator Buckets: How to Choose

If you operate a bulk material handling system that utilizes a bucket elevator, one of the most important components to consider is the design of the buckets themselves. The buckets are responsible for scooping up and transporting the material being moved, so choosing the right bucket style, size, and configuration is critical for optimizing your system’s performance and efficiency.

There are two main styles of bucket elevator buckets to choose from – shallow buckets and deep buckets. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice will depend on the specific characteristics and requirements of your application. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the key differences between shallow and deep buckets, and provide guidance on how to select the optimal bucket type for your bucket elevator system.

What are Shallow Bucket Elevator Buckets?

Shallow bucket elevator buckets are characterized by a relatively short depth from front to back, typically ranging from around 6 to 12 inches deep. This shallower profile allows the buckets to scoop up and transport a smaller volume of material per bucket, but they can move that material more quickly and efficiently.

The main advantages of shallow bucket elevator buckets include:

  • Faster loading and unloading – The shallower profile allows the buckets to enter and exit the material bed more quickly, enabling faster cycle times.
  • Higher throughput capacity – By making more cycles per minute, shallow buckets can move a higher total volume of material over time compared to deeper buckets.
  • Lower power requirements – The reduced material load per bucket puts less strain on the drive components, allowing you to use a smaller, less powerful (and less expensive) motor.
  • Gentler material handling – The reduced material load per bucket is less stressful on fragile or delicate bulk materials, reducing the risk of product degradation or breakage.

The downsides of shallow bucket elevator buckets include:

  • Lower individual capacity – Each bucket can only hold a small volume of material, requiring more buckets to move the same overall throughput.
  • Potential for material spilling – The shallower profile means the material is less contained within the bucket, increasing the risk of spillage during transport.
  • Reduced material retention – Lighter, fluffier materials may have a harder time staying in the shallow buckets, especially during high-speed operation.

Common Shallow Bucket Applications:

  • Grain elevators – Handling light, free-flowing grains like wheat, corn, or soybeans requires fast cycle times to maintain a steady material flow. Shallow buckets excel at this.
  • Recycling facilities – Shredded plastic, paper, or cardboard materials need to be transported gently to avoid further degradation. Shallow buckets minimize product damage.
  • Limestone quarries – Moving crushed and graded limestone requires high throughput to keep up with production demands. Shallow buckets enable the needed capacity.
  • Pet food manufacturing – Delicate kibble or pellets should be handled carefully to preserve their integrity. Shallow buckets reduce breakage.

What are Deep Bucket Elevator Buckets?

In contrast, deep bucket elevator buckets have a much greater front-to-back depth, typically ranging from 12 to 18 inches or more. This deeper profile allows each individual bucket to scoop up and carry a larger volume of material per cycle.

The main advantages of deep bucket elevator buckets include:

  • Higher individual capacity – Each bucket can hold a larger volume of material, requiring fewer buckets to achieve the same overall throughput.
  • Improved material retention – The deeper profile does a better job of containing and retaining the material inside the bucket, even with lightweight or free-flowing products.
  • Greater material coverage – The deeper buckets can reach deeper into the material bed, scooping up more material per cycle.

The downsides of deep bucket elevator buckets include:

  • Slower loading and unloading – The deeper profile requires more time for the buckets to enter and exit the material bed, reducing cycle times.
  • Lower throughput capacity – Due to the slower cycle times, deep buckets may not be able to match the overall throughput of shallow buckets, even with their higher individual capacity.
  • Higher power requirements – Lifting and transporting the heavier material load per bucket puts more strain on the drive components, necessitating a larger, more powerful (and more expensive) motor.
  • Increased risk of product degradation – The heavier material load per bucket can be more damaging to fragile or delicate bulk materials.

Common Deep Bucket Applications:

  • Aggregate processing plants – Heavy, dense materials like gravel, sand, or crushed stone are best contained in deep buckets to maximize individual capacity.
  • Cement/concrete batch plants – The dense, abrasive nature of cement, fly ash, and other cementitious materials calls for the higher volume containment of deep buckets.
  • Mining operations – Transporting mined ores, coal, or other dense extracted materials benefits from the greater individual bucket capacity of deep buckets.
  • Biomass handling – Bulky, low-density biofuels like wood chips or energy crops are prone to spillage, so deep buckets improve material retention.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Bucket Depth

So with the key differences between shallow and deep buckets in mind, how do you determine which bucket depth is the best fit for your bucket elevator system? Here are some of the most important factors to weigh:

Material Characteristics
The nature of the bulk material being handled is one of the primary considerations. Lighter, fluffier materials may work better with shallow buckets to maintain proper material retention. Heavier, denser materials can typically be better contained in deeper buckets. The size, shape, and flow properties of the material are all important factors.

Throughput Requirements
If your application demands very high throughput rates, shallow buckets may be the better choice due to their faster cycle times and ability to move material more quickly. Conversely, if your requirements call for maximum individual capacity per bucket, deep buckets could be the way to go.

Available Space and Footprint
The physical dimensions and layout of your bucket elevator system can also influence the optimal bucket depth. If space is limited, shallow buckets may be preferable to minimize the overall footprint. Deeper buckets, on the other hand, may work better in applications with ample vertical clearance.

Maintenance and Serviceability
Bucket size and depth can also impact maintenance needs and accessibility. Shallower buckets are generally easier to inspect, clean, and replace, which can simplify ongoing upkeep. Deeper buckets may require more specialized tools and procedures to service.

Operational Costs
The power requirements and drive components needed for each bucket style can significantly impact your ongoing operational costs. Shallow buckets usually allow for smaller, less expensive motors, while deep buckets often necessitate beefier (and pricier) drive systems.


When it comes to bucket elevator design, the depth of the buckets themselves is a critical factor that can have a huge impact on the overall system’s performance and suitability for your needs. By carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of shallow versus deep buckets, and aligning your choice with the unique requirements of your application, you can ensure your bucket elevator is operating at peak effectiveness.

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