Material Handling Equipment Tips

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Where can I find material handling equipment companies?

Where to Find Material Handling Equipment Companies

If you are looking for material handling equipment manufacturers, check out the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) Web site. The MHIA is a non-profit trade association representing the material handling and logistics industry. The site has an extensive list of material handling equipment companies. You can search by company name, brands, categories of equipment or by state. After that, you will be given succinct information about that company, including Web address, phone number, address, email and brief description of the services or equipment it provides.

Perhaps you want more than just material handling equipment company information. If you want to stay abreast of the material handling industry, check out the latest industry news by reading articles, research and press releases featured on the site. Find out where and when the next trade show is taking place, browse an online bookstore full of books about your field or find out where you can take a class to become more educated in your industry. Get information about organizations you can join and turn to for support, such as the Materials Handling & Management Society (MHMS), the Association of Professional Material Handling Consultants (APMHC) and the Material Handling Institute.

What are the "moving and positioning" categories of Material Handling Equipment?

The Five Categories of Material Handling Equipment Part One

Material handling equipment, also known by its acronym MHE, is used to assist in moving and storing material on-site or at a facility. There are five basic categories for MHE.

The first two are concerned with moving and positioning material.

  • Transport Equipment gets the materials from point A to point B. For example, offloading from a dock to the storage area, or moving from workspace to workspace. This equipment includes industrial trucks, cranes and conveyors.
  • The second category is called Positioning Equipment. This is used at a single site or location and is often used to position materials correctly for further on-site use.

While these terms are quite elementary for those with experience in materials handling, trainees, interns and other newcomers to your business will most likely need a quick education on areas those with seniority take for granted.

How can I contain spills in the warehouse and protect drains from oils and solvents?

Warehouse Spill Control

It's inevitable; eventually during the course of warehouse operations, a drum will tip, rupture, or get punctured. The contents are rapidly spilling onto the warehouse floor and in danger of contaminating other materials stored in the area. What to do now? A "spill dyke" is your best temporary solution to contain the spill. These dykes are basically urethane or plastic diverters that can be connected together to contain a spill and keep it from spreading. Many of these dykes are built to form a seal on smooth surfaces, while others are designed to be used on rough surfaces such as blacktop. All of them are non-absorbent, and come in a variety of sizes, some as tall as six inches. One important use for a spill blocker is to protect drains when environmentally damaging materials are leaking. A spill dyke will prevent your company from becoming liable for allowing oil, paint, and other prohibited substances to enter a local drainage system.

What about ergonomics?

Material Handling Safety Part Two

One of the key factors in material handling safety involves ergonomics. Repetitive use injuries related to environments where material handling solutions should be found are widespread.

There are a wide variety of material handling solutions that can ease or eliminate bad ergonomics. The Opti Bench, for example, features a variable height work surface to accommodate workers of different heights. With a five hundred pound capacity, this material handling solution can handle pneumatic wrenches, tool boxes, spare parts and many other work-related items.

Be sure and ask your customer service representative how you can give your work centers better ergonomics. Sometimes, an assessment can be made to see about replacing old material handling solutions that don't conform to modern ergonomic standards.

What kind of Material Handling Equipment is used to bind material for transport and delivery?

Five Categories of Material Handling Equipment Part Two

Material handling equipment has five basic categories. One of those categories is equipment used to bind a group of materials so they may be transported or delivered as one unit.

If you have a pile of timber or rebar, it must be bound up as a unit. The equipment responsible for handing this binding is called Unit Load Formation Equipment, and can include palletizes and shrink wrappers. It can also include the shrink-wrap itself, crates and pallets.

If you are training interns, new hires or even conducting a familiarization tour of your facility these will be good concepts to pass on to your newcomers.

What are the last two MHE categories and what are their functions?

Five Categories of Material Handling Equipment Part Three

Two more categories of Material Handling Equipment: Identification and Control Equipment and Storage Equipment.

  • Control Equipment is used to gather data to help the smooth flow of materials from the facility and the worksite or its customers. This gear can include portable data terminals, barcoders and RF taggers.
  • Storage Equipment is used for holding materials for any length of time. These can include drive-in racks, cantilever racks and storage carousels.

If you are new to the industry and need some familiarization, take a good look around your worksite to see how many of these items you can identify in everyday operation.

Do I really need to inspect my material handling equipment supply?

Bulk Material Handling Safety Issues Part One

Take a good look at your material handling supply; that is, take a hard look at your supplier AND your current roster of equipment.

  • What is the state of your material handling equipment?
  • If you haven't had an inspection recently, you're probably overdue.
  • Is your supply due for an upgrade, repairs or replacement? Some equipment seems to last forever; others may develop 'make-do' problems your crew learns to work around. It may be time for a risk assessment of problem equipment.
  • In the age of lawsuits and increasingly bad press with regard to mishaps, can you afford to let your 'make-do' equipment stay on the floor?
  • If your crews become lax with regard to safety equipment and procedures, even the newest piece of your material handling equipment supply is at risk.
  • Safety goggles, helmets and especially hearing protection can be worn improperly or not at all. Most shops have requirements in place to insure the proper use of these items, but it could be time to take a lesson from some military repair depots who use a 'buddy system' to insure safety compliance.

Your supplier may have inspection checklists or maintenance schedules you can use to create your own calendar of routine safety checks and balances.

What is the advantage of spending money on 'single-operator' material handling equipment? Isn't muscle power good enough in this area?

What kinds of single-operator MHE is available?

Single-operator material handling equipment can be excellent risk-management tools as well as workforce multipliers, as they allow much heavier loads to be relocated by a single crewmember.

Single-operator material handling equipment comes in all shapes and sizes; everything from the low-profile pallet truck to the liquid dispensing caddy. This gear usually doesn't requires spotters for standalone operation unless you have a high-traffic environment, such as a jet engine repair depot where there are blind corners and other maneuvering obstacles.

One very efficient single-operator machine is the trash can dumper, which allows one person to safely dump a stuffed full-size trash can into a receptacle without backstrain or the potential for injury.

What should I keep in mind when searching for a material handling solution?

What Material Handling Solution Is Best For My Operation?

Finding the right material handling solution can be tricky, especially for those who have stepped or been thrust into the middle of a situation where action is needed immediately. If you have any doubts about what material handling solution is best for your situation, you may wish to compare notes with a MHE sales rep from the company you are currently using to meet your material handling needs.

Also, find out what other companies usually do in your situation.

  • Is there a precedent or an industry standard?
  • Does your shop need this or a modified version of it depending on size and configuration?
  • Are you a federal government contractor? If so your choices could be affected by your status. Some government contractor discounts may apply in your case, depending on the vendor. This could definitely change your budget for the better.

Ask your sales rep for some case histories where similar operations met their material handling solution needs.

Why should I buy ergonomic material handling equipment?

Why You Should Go Ergonomic

According to 2005 statistics from the National Safety Council (NSC), the United States had 142,946,000 documented workers, work-related injuries and deaths cost the country $160.4 billion and the number of work days lost by U.S. employees was 80,000,000. Studies found that musculoskeletal disorders happened frequently in the manual material handling industry and that these injuries could largely be avoided with ergonomic interventions.

Ergonomics is the science of fitting a job to a person's body instead of forcing a person's body to fit a job. By adapting tools, work stations and tasks to an employee's body, an employer can reduce undue physical stress, strain and overexertion. Ergonomists, industrial engineers and occupational safety and health officials believe that reducing physical stress in the workplace could cut the amount of serious injuries of employees by half each year. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), you need to especially be aware of ergonomics if you work in the manufacturing, construction, maritime and agricultural industries and your employees:

  • Repeat the same motion throughout the work day
  • Work in an awkward or stationary position
  • Lift heavy or awkward items
  • Use excessive force to perform tasks
  • Are exposed to excessive vibration or extreme temperatures
Here is what ergonomic tools can do for your workplace:

  • Lower injury rates
  • Increase productivity by making jobs easier and more comfortable
  • Improving product quality because a more comfortable worker will make less errors
  • Reduce absences because workers will take less time off from muscle soreness and fatigue
  • Reduce turnover
  • Lower costs because worker compensation and payments for illness and replacement workers will be reduced
  • Improve worker safety
  • Improve worker morale
Therefore, it's worth your while to buy ergonomic material handling equipment for your factory or warehouse. To find out more, go to the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) Web site for a manual entitled "Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling." Here are some examples of what's on the market in the way of ergonomic tools, courtesy of

  • Ergonomic adjustable work bench: raises material to an ergonomically correct working height, featuring a fold-away hand crank located directly under the platform for easy raising and lowering. The bench has a hydraulic system that raises the platform evenly
  • Ergonomic matting: a comfortable cushion employees can stand on if they must stand for extended periods of time to do their work. Perfect for industrial settings, restaurants, retail and office settings
  • Ergonomic scissor lift: raises materials to an ergonomically correct working height
  • Ergonomic power pallet jack: aids the worker in transporting heavy loads set on pallets

What types of carts are on the market for me to transfer my bulky materials?

Different Carts for Your Material Handling Needs

All warehouses and factories need to transport materials from one place to another. This is why the simple cart is a great piece of bulk material handling equipment. There are general-use carts and carts made especially to transport certain types of materials. Here is a breakdown of some of the carts on the market designed to make your transfer of bulky material easier, courtesy of

  • Utility service cart: a hand truck with oversized wheels designed to transport materials across rough terrain
  • Battery powered cart: allows you motorized transport of your materials weighing up to 770 pounds
  • Aluminum carts: have a high load capacity and feature shock resistance
  • Truck cart dollies: designed for your heaviest loads, handling up to 4,800 pounds of material
  • Wood platform cart: ideal for shipping areas and offices
  • Vertical storage cart: features shelves that tilt up to 45 degrees
  • A frame cart: moves bulky sheets of material
  • Vertical storing cart: features five sets of removable handles that allow carts to be configured in different ways
  • Welding carts: cylinder carriers that secure and transport cylinder torches

What is a pallet?

All About Pallets

Pallets are a key piece of industrial material handling equipment. They are used for product shipping, receiving and storage. They are made of plastic and aluminum and are an economical and efficient way of arranging and transporting products such as drums. Here is a breakdown of three different types of pallets, courtesy of

  • Aluminum pallet: ideal for the food and chemical industry because it is durable, reusable and easy to clean with power washers. The aluminum pallet has a non-skid surface and stands up against high power steam, brushes and pads. The pallet weighs 40 or 50 pounds and has a capacity of 6,000 pounds.
  • Plastic pallet: ideal for export, pharmaceutical, medical and food applications. Made of polyethylene for a longer life. These have serrated deck holes for good drainage. These are safer to handle than wooden pallets.
  • Drum pallet: allows you to move drums around. Holds four 55-gallon drums. Has four-way entry and holes for drainage. Made of polyethylene.
And here is what's on the market in the way of pallet accessories:

  • Pallet jacks with digital scale: haul loads and weigh them at the same time
  • Power pallet jack: lifts the forks and reduces the pulling force by using the power drive accumulator
  • Hand pallet trucks: has two steering wheels and two front load rollers. Full featured hand pallet trucks include nose wheels located on the front edge of each fork to help with clean pallet entrance and exit
  • Pallet protectors: keep pallet loads safe from rain, snow or sleet while the pallets are being loaded and unloaded
  • Pallet stand: made from heavy duty welded steel. It's a work table for your pallet with an adjustable height
  • Pallet pullers: move pallets to a trailer's rear to allow forklift access

Should I try to save money with refurb forklifts?

Cutting Material Handling Costs With Reconditioned Forklifts

At one time, refurbished forklifts were considered less than ideal for material handling operations because the refurb industry had a bad reputation. In modern times, refurbishing has become a big business, and standards have definitely changed for the better. A major improvement? A re-interpretation of the definition of "refurbished". The best in the business don't consider a forklift properly rebuilt unless it has been completely stripped, sandblasted, and reassembled with all worn parts replaced. A mere swap-out of bad parts isn't enough in the minds of some to be considered truly refurbished.

If you are tempted to purchase a refurb forklift, find a company that shares this "total makeover" philosophy. Otherwise, you may be wasting your money and time. The same goes for those who want to improve their material handling operation by having the existing fleet refurbed. Those who take this advice will be spared the maintenance hassles of dealing with forklifts that break down piecemeal over the long haul due to aging parts that should have been replaced during a less ambitious forklift makeover.

Where can I shop to save money on miscellaneous material handling purchases?

Small Material Handling Operations

If you have a growing material handling operation and are in need of replacement parts, minor items such as casters, hoists, jacks and other equipment, you could save a great deal of money purchasing these items on eBay. Believe it or not, there is an expanding market for material handling accessories on eBay. One search turned up 122 results for "forklift parts and accessories". Another search yielded 160 results for "carts and trucks" and 90 for "hoists".

Many of these are listed under "eBay Express" or are "Buy It Now" items, so bidding in the traditional manner is unnecessary. When shopping online, be sure to compare the prices you find at eBay and other retailers with the current catalogs you are using to make your purchasing decisions. Also, a quick phone call to a trusted vendor could get you an additional discount if you mention a competitive price found through your online shopping experiences. It never hurts to play eBay off your existing suppliers.

What are some safety issues connected to conveyors in my material handling operation?

Material Handling Safety: Conveyors

Material handling safety is critical to avoid liability issues, unnecessary injury, and death in the workplace. This is especially true for material handling operations that use conveyors. According to one insurance agency, conveyor belt transfer mechanisms, passage areas beneath the conveyor, and power transmissions are among the main safety hazard areas for conveyor belts. Loose hair, jewelry, clothing, and related items all present a hazard to the operator where moving parts are involved. It's not enough to post a warning sign in situations like these. Your liability begins when the employees step onto the floor near a working conveyor. It's up to your supervisors to enforce best practices for conveyor safety. Those practices include a strict "no jewelry" rule around machinery, proper conveyor loading, and employee training for the operation and location of emergency cutoff switches. You can find a wealth of safety information in OSHA's Concepts and Techniques of Machine Guarding publication.

Am I covered for earthquake damage from falling equipment and materials?

Material Handling Operations in Earthquake Zones

If your operation is on the West Coast, the Midwest, or even some locations on the East Coast, you may need to examine your operation for potential hazards in an earthquake situation. Many California material handling operations install "seismic restraints" across pallet racks to keep shelved or palletized items from falling during an earthquake. This is a serious liability issue that can come back to haunt you later in times of a disaster.

  • Does your insurance cover such accidents?
  • What about the loss of life or limb related to "unsecured" items during an earthquake?
In the same way that many in Louisiana were shocked to learn their insurance didn't adequately address issues related to flood waters combined with hurricane damage, your operation may be in similar danger when it comes time to recoup losses caused by an earthquake. The more proactive measures you take, the better off you'll be when the time comes. Ask your insurance representative about how your coverage is written for earthquakes and other natural disasters.

How can I better control summer heat problems in my material handling operation?

Air Flow And Temperature Control

Warehouses and shop floors often encounter problems with summer climate control. Summer heat issue can often be abated in part with a system of low speed, high volume ceiling fans. When your material handling operations are in full swing, these fans will circulate fresh air, which not only helps with heat and comfort issues, but can also help alleviate sick building syndrome in areas where motor vehicles are operated within a shop, warehouse, or depot area. Fans also help prevent damage that can be caused by stagnant, humid air.

Crates, cardboard boxes, and other materials are vulnerable to both water damage and mold issues caused by excessive humidity. Dissipation of fumes, humidity, plus good air circulation are very good reasons to install ceiling fans, but there is an added morale benefit when your employees see such modifications added, clearly indicating concern on the part of management for employee well-being.

Such a fan system may not keep you in compliance with any regulations governing clean air and indoor motor vehicle emissions, but it can help improve the comfort level in your work center. You can evaluate your need for such a system by polling your crew on climate and exhaust control in the work center. Chances are, if you don't already have a fan system in place, your employees will be very keen on getting one installed.

When should I expand, renovate, or relocate my material handling operation?

Expanding Your Materials Handling Operation

When is it time to expand, renovate, or relocate your operation? There are a few obvious physical indicators that go overlooked as time passes, but one good way to evaluate your current material handling operations is to come on-site after a weekend and inspect for the following:

1. The "Material Shuffle." Do your workers have to constantly shift containers, forklifts, or other items around the work center to accommodate arriving or departing loads?

2. Work Slowdown. This one is related to the "Material Shuffle". Any stoppage, rescheduling, or slowing of work based on a lack of space, employees, or an overcrowded schedule due to these factors.

3. Strained Electrical System. Are you experiencing brown-outs, frequent interruptions in your electrical service, or other symptoms of an overloaded electrical system?

Any of these symptoms can indicate that you have outgrown your current facility for materials handling. If you catch these symptoms early enough, you can begin planning for renovations, relocation, or refurbishment before the entire operation is affected. If you even suspect you are entering a trouble phase in this area, develop an action team to tackle the problem before it happens.

What kind of reference materials can I find to help me plan a more efficient material handling operation?

Materials Handling Help

Some material handling solutions have nothing to do with hardware, software, or safety. These solutions have everything to do with the planning stages of your operation. The Lean Enterprise Institute publishes books that can help planners rethink the movement and storage of materials in an operation and find more efficient uses of the space and materials used in everyday operations. One such book is called Making Materials Flow, and addresses problems include what the book's author calls "The lack of a lean material-handling system for purchased parts to support continuous flow cells, small-batch processing, and traditional assembly lines." That quote can be found on the Lean Enterprise Institute's web page for Making Materials Flow, and the institute has a large selection of important titles that can help facility managers and planners come up with more efficient material handling solutions. Books such as Creating Continuous Flow and Learning To See could be a vital addition to your team's knowledge base.

Do I need custom fabrication for my material handling needs?

Do I Need Custom Fabrication?

The phrase "custom fabrication" is used when an operation needs material handling solutions that are non-standard. If a one-size-fits all conveyor solution, for example, doesn't suit your needs, you may need to contract a materials handling factory to create a specialized system for you. The automotive industry is an excellent example of a type of work flow where customization is the norm, not the exception. Special pallet conveyors are needed for different types of products. Car seats have unique conveyor needs than tires. Flat prices are naturally unavailable for these types of jobs. You will need to develop a plan to include the types of specialized equipment needed, the quantity you need in your work area, and study the impact manufacturing time may have on your business operations. You may have better luck working with a company that can provide "turnkey" service for your entire operation rather than working piecemeal with several unrelated companies. A turnkey solution can include training, installation, and other much-needed benefits. If you have decided you need such custom fabrication services, choose a company that specializes in non-proprietary, or open-source setup in design and implementation of your customized system. If that company goes out of business at some stage you will have a much easier time finding upgrades, repairs, and modifications for the affected systems.

Do spill dykes have a shelf life?

Spill Dyke Materials and Shelf Life

Did you know that spill dykes have a shelf life? Many of these spill containment products made from urethane or polyurethane should only be kept for about five years before being replaced. This generally applies to spill dykes made of softer materials, but you should check the manual to see what the recommended expiration date might be. You should also check to for "compatibility" when it comes to the chemical makeup of your spill dykes versus the type of spill you need to contain. Some solvents, caustics, and other materials may cause a chemical reaction with the materials in your spill dyke. Some are not rated to handle certain types of spills. Acetone, for example, is only to be contained with certain types of spill dykes in emergencies only. Some manufacturers publish a chemical compatibility guide to help you determine the best use of your spill dykes. Be sure to ask the manufacturer how to access such a guide for the appropriate products.

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Tammi Reynolds