Different Types Of Material Handling


Material handling is a broad name used to describe various activities, equipment and products throughout the manufacturing and distribution setting. These industrial activities include the movement, transportation, storage/warehousing and control of materials, products, parts, or goods during manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. A broad range of material handling equipment exist for use in these industrial processes. Therefore, the type and size of the material to be moved ultimately determine the most suitable type of material handling equipment.

What is Material Handling Equipment?

Material handling equipment (MHE) is any tool or equipment used to move, protect, store or control materials and products inside facilities or industries. Some examples of these facilities include the manufacturing plants where the product is created up to the disposal sites where it finally ends up. The goal of material handling equipment is to safely, quickly and more easily manipulate materials and products industrially as compared to doing it the manual and traditional way.

Examples of huge material handling equipment includes cranes, trucks and lifts, while smaller material handling equipment includes materials such as storage bins, dollies, cartons and even pallets.

Broadly, material handling equipment can be classified into five major categories:

  1. Transport Equipment

These are equipment used to move materials and products from one site or location to another, such as between workplaces, between a loading dock and a storage area, and so on. The major subcategories of transport equipment include conveyors, cranes, and industrial trucks. Even though materials and products can also be transported manually using no equipment, using transport equipment ensure safe handling and faster turnaround time. Some examples of transport equipment are: hand trucks pallet jacks, pallet trucks, platform trucks, sideloader, automatic guided vehicles and forklifts.

  1. Positioning Equipment

This class of material handling equipment is used to handle materials and products at a single location so that they are in the correct position for subsequent handling, transport, or warehousing. Unlike transport equipment which are used to manipulate and move material across locations, positioning equipment is usually used for manipulating materials and products at a single location or workplace. Manipulation of material can broadly mean turning around, pivoting, or stacking the material. Positioning equipment is majorly used to reduce worker fatigue, ensure safer handling, especially if the equipment is awkward to move or manipulate manually. More importantly, positioning equipment are used to move material that is too dangerous or fragile for human hands. Some examples of positioning equipment are lift/turn tables, industrial robots, hoists, balancers, and manipulators.

  • Unit Load Formation Equipment

This category of material handling equipment is used to restrict materials and products so that they remain intact when handled as a single load during transport and for storage. If materials are self-restraining, that is, they can stick together on their own (as a single part or interlocking parts), then they can be combined into a unit load with no equipment. Some examples of unit load formation equipment are pallets, skids, tote pans, bins/baskets, slipsheets, cartons, bags, and crates.

The most common unit formation equipment is the wooden pallet. However, a pallet can also be made of paper, plastic, rubber, or metal with enough clearance beneath its top surface (or face) to allow the insertion of forks for subsequent lifting. A slipsheet can also be made of paper, corrugated fiber, or plastic. While slipsheets are used in place of pallets to reduce weight and volume, loading/unloading is however slower.

  1. Storage Equipment

Material handling equipment in this class are used to hold or buffer materials over a period of time as they await transportation to their final destination from the manufacturer or wholesaler. Using the appropriate storage equipment can increase efficiency and also maximize space utilization on the production. Examples of storage equipment include: racks, such as pallet racks, push-back racks, and sliding racks, stacking frames, shelves, bins and drawers, and mezzanines. The aim of storage is to allow production to continue without having to stop as a result of an excess quantity of the product. Storage is also useful for warehousing surpluses in case of a shortage elsewhere.

  1. Identification and Control Equipment

This are equipment used to collect and transmit the information that is used to coordinate the flow of materials and products within a facility and between a facility and its distribution chain. In large facilities, having efficient tools and techniques to keep track of all of the material is important. While this can be done manually on a smaller scale, large facilities depend on control and identification equipment. Examples of control equipment are bar codes, radio frequency tags and magnetic strips.


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