Material handling is an important part of the supply chain. It encompasses inventory management and control of the movement, storage, and protection of products and materials throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, and disposal. It includes diverse equipment types and storage systems—like single level or multi-level storage—and conveyor belt systems.
Material handling, when well-planned, ensures that materials are safely transported across facility areas, facilitates streamlining work activities and organizing space, and reduces accidents in locations that require the transport of heavy materials or loads.
But material handling is more than just about the goods—it’s about logistics like:
- Warehouse design
- Structural engineering and installation
- Storage and conveyance solutions
The Four Dimensions of Material Handling
Material handling includes four dimensions: movement, time, quantity, and space. How efficiently you can move products from receiving to shipping, length of time products remain in storage, amount of product that fits into an allotted space, and actual amount of available space are the areas in which material handling can improve efficiency.
This logistics process includes various equipment that’s manual, automated, and semi-automated. Equipment might include forklifts, trailers, pallets, hand trucks, tugger trains, and more. And if you’re involved in industry, it makes more operational sense to factor in the materials handling logistics earlier—not later—in the process of starting, expanding, or moving your business.
Material handling is integral to projects that include building or renovating plants and facilities, launching new products, improving workstations, and streamlining or reducing forklift traffic. The right material handling system supports diverse needs—and having a system that’s adapted to your specific, unique needs can:
- Save money, time, and space
- Increase safety, capacity
- Decrease downtime and the amount of damaged materials or lost products
- Improve ergonomics, flexibility, and the work environment
The Importance of Material Handling
Well-designed material handling systems and processes reduce inventory, streamline delivery times, improve customer service, and lower manufacturing, distribution, and transportation costs. A diverse range of industries—in addition to warehousing and storage—use material handling systems, including:
- Food and beverage
- Consumer goods
- Medical facilities
Throughout all industries that depend on material handling, the largest single field of applications is manufacturing. Issues with which material handling assists include plant and equipment layouts, routing, packaging, and storage. The construction industry requires proper receiving, sorting, storing and movement—and now the field includes specific methods and equipment which guides civil engineers in their project planning.
For just a small sampling of how different industries and applications use material handling systems, see this resource from MHI. For example, a production facility needed portable print and apply for case labeling on production lines. The company added technology that included modifying the initial labelers to utilize fingerprint sourcing and integrate Wi-Fi installation to improve and streamline the process. Another company that supplies meal delivery solutions for long-term care and correctional facilities and hospitals needed to automate their processes. The manufacturer implemented a multi-axis robot to disperse products onto pre-set pallets.
Why You Should Incorporate Material Handling into Your Planning
Many companies depend on warehouses as part of their daily operations. Warehouses contain thousands of items, and the lack of a good material handling system in place can severely affect operations. There are many reasons to justify incorporating material handling processes.
Accident prevention: Having the right equipment and machines to lift, move, and store materials reduces worker risk. In fact, 21% of permanent disabilities and 25%+ of temporary disabilities result from improper material handling.
Improved efficiency: The correct tools facilitates product and material organization so it’s easier to accurately track inventory and reduce the time to retrieve warehoused products.
Reduced product damages: Improperly stored and moved products are more easily damaged—which adds unnecessary costs.
Better plant layouts: Taking time to plan and invest in proper warehouse storage increases your ability to maximize the space, minimize “slip and trip” hazards, and create a safer environment for everyone.
Improved customer service: A material handling system that facilitates proper product movement throughout the warehouse and entire supply chain cuts down on service time, which saves money and increases customer satisfaction when the right products are delivered quickly.
Because so many industries and applications rely on material handling, creating and implementing the most appropriate system or process should happen sooner, not later. Consider partnering with a material handling company to evaluate your requirements and make recommendations. HeadzUp offers complete, end-to-end warehouse infrastructure solutions and has in-house design, engineering, and project management teams ready collaborate.