Warehouses and distribution centers are busy work environments that require a steadfast focus on efficient layout and workflow to optimize productivity and remain competitive in their market. Thankfully, forward-thinking facility operators have a variety of material handling equipment and design solutions at their disposal to improve dock-to-stock cycle times and order-picking capacity, reduce product damage, increase safety, and improve their fill rates and on-time shipments.
In this blog, we will run through a high-level overview of distinct types of material handling and storage equipment and its benefits for your business.
What Is Material Handling?
MHEDA, the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association, defines material handling as “the movement, protection, storage and control of materials and products throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, consumption and disposal.” Eastern Lift Truck Co. has been a member of MHEDA since 1971 and is proud to be a MHEDA MVP (most valuable partner).
Types of Material Handling Equipment
There are three distinct types of material handling equipment that are used to ensure the movement and storage of resources, materials, and goods.
Powered industrial trucks are the most recognizable type of material handling equipment. Commonly known as forklifts or lift trucks, these industry workhorses have been around for more than one hundred years. Today, lift trucks are available in an amazing variety of types, with capacities ranging from a few hundred pounds to well over one hundred thousand pounds.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) classifies powered industrial trucks as vehicles used to “move, raise, lower, or remove large objects or a number of smaller objects on pallets or in boxes, crates, or other containers.” Used in nearly every industry, they are most often used to move raw or finished materials.
Examples of powered industrial trucks include:
- Electric Sit-down Rider: Powered by lead-acid, lithium-ion, or hydrogen fuel cell.
- Electric Narrow Aisle: Single and Deep Reach Trucks, and Order Selectors
- Electric Pallet Trucks: Walk behind or Ride-on, with or without a mast, includes small tow tractors, and low-level order pickers.
- Very Narrow Aisle Trucks: Turret, Articulated Mast, Side-loader, and 4-Directional Trucks.
- Internal Combustion Solid Tire: Wide range of capacities, indoor use.
- Internal Combustion Pneumatic Tire: Wide range of capacities, outdoor use.
In addition to powered industrial trucks, there are a variety of other types of material handling equipment that support warehouse and distribution operations such as:
- Robotic Forklifts: Yale and Hyster robotic forklifts are capable of switching from traditional operator control to automated control and back again, and are used to pick up, transport, drop off pallets, and move carts.
- Layer Pickers: These sophisticated front-end forklift attachments allow quick assembly of a customized blend of products on a single pallet.
- Tuggers: Also known as tow tractors; often paired with multiple tracking trailers
- Rough Terrain: Often 4WD, with fixed or telescopic masts, for outdoor use.
- Personnel and Burden Carriers: Vehicles designed to move people or small loads.
- Mobile Elevated Work Platforms: Also known as aerial lifts; includes scissors and boom lifts, as well as manlifts.
- Utility Work and Low-Speed Vehicles: Includes UTVs and street-legal, electric people shuttles and work vehicles.
Storage and handling equipment keeps goods secured while in storage and before transit. This type of equipment can protect materials for any amount of time. Some examples of storage and handling equipment include:
- Pallet Rack: Selective, Push-back, Cantilevered, Pick Modules, Drive-Thru and more.
- Wire Partitions and Cages: Secure sensitive product; protect from dangerous equipment.
- Mezzanines and Work Platforms: Utilize unused space.
- Shelving and Bins: Keep smaller products better organized.
- Packaging Equipment: Shrink and Stretch Wrapping Machines.
- Workstations: Improve ergonomics for warehouse employees.
- Guarding Equipment: Guardrails, Handrails, Barriers, Gates, Bollards, Rack Guards, Column Protectors
Engineered systems, or automated systems, are a type of material handling equipment that utilizes computer-operated technology and robotics to transport and store goods. Some examples of automated and engineered systems include:
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): AMRs, such as those from OTTO Motors, use laser-based perception and navigation algorithms to dynamically move through facilities, infrastructure-free.
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): Travel a limited and predefined path using magnetic tape, beacons, barcodes, or laser paths.
- Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (AS/RS): These are computer-controlled material handling equipment solutions. They deposit and retrieve goods in warehouses.
- Robotic Cells: For repetitive work tasks, palletizing and pallet wrapping.
- Layer Picking Modules: Popular with 3PLs and cross-dock operations
- Parts on Demand: Use of AMRs to deliver assembly parts to a production line.
- Integrated Conveyance Systems: For Sorting and Accumulation functions.
We also have expertise in:
- High-Density Storage Systems (integrating AS/RS and shuttle systems)
- Bulk Storage Design & Integration
Benefits of Material Handling Equipment
Using the right material handling equipment can bring many benefits relating to productivity, product quality and customer service. Explore these advantages below.
1. Increased Productivity and Workflow
The biggest advantage of using material handling equipment is how much it increases productivity. Stay competitive in the manufacturing sector by optimizing your material handling capabilities.
Material handling equipment improves the efficiency of your floor staff. Whether through automated or manual operation, material handling equipment helps them be more productive. Workers with the right tools and equipment are less likely to experience fatigue. Being trained in using the equipment results in fewer mistakes and injuries and improves productivity.
2. Reduced Operational Costs
Utilizing material handling equipment is an innovative way of reducing operational costs. While it might be costly initially, the increase in productivity will compensate for it. The right equipment also means fewer staff members are required for specific tasks, so you can allocate team members to other job duties that suit their skills.
3. Improved Customer Service
Properly applied material handling equipment helps businesses improve their on-time deliveries to end users. Satisfied customers are repeat customers, and positive referrals result in more business.
4. Enhanced Worker Satisfaction and Attract Employees
Material handling is physically intensive work that can result in worker fatigue, injuries, and dissatisfaction. Streamlining their workflow makes their working conditions far more favorable. Better work conditions allow business to attract and retain employees.
Having the right tools and equipment will also boost your team’s confidence. This confidence translates into higher-quality work and better morale.
5. Decreased Risk of Damage and Injury
On top of improving productivity, having access to proper equipment reduces the risk of injuries and mistakes. With the right training and utilities, you can reduce the risk of damaging your stock and materials.
Explore Our Selection of Material Handling Equipment
Eastern Lift Truck Co., Inc. has an extensive range of forklifts and material handling equipment available to lease, purchase, and rent. After more than 50 years of business, we are still finding new ways to extend our range of products and services to provide our customers with the best possible material handling solutions.
We partner with well-known brands such as Hyster, Yale, Comblift, OTTO Motors, Mariotti, JCB, Steel King, Skyjack and many more trustworthy international brands. Browse our selection of equipment and contact us today to find out what we can do for you.