Do You Need Materials Handling Equipment?

Some businesses run perfectly well without any material handling equipment at all, so how can you tell if your company would benefit from this type of investment? Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for, which may suggest that procuring assistive equipment could be beneficial for you:

  • About the task… are your employees:
    • Holding loads away from their bodies?
    • Making large vertical movements?
    • Carrying items for long distances?
    • Pushing or pulling strenuously?
    • Slowing their work rate to manage a process?
  • Are the loads:
    • Bulky, heavy or difficult to get hold of?
    • Unstable, awkwardly stacked or likely to move around during transit?
    • Dangerous, for example hot, sharp or toxic?
  • Is handling:
    • Repetitive, predictable and easily automated?
    • Restricted in efficiency due to the process?
    • Ongoing, regular and likely to increase?
  • If you already have handling aids, are they:
    • Correct for the job and well maintained?
    • Suited to the environment in which they work?
    • Appropriate for the person(s) using them?

If this checklist has thrown up any issues you were not previously aware of, you might be in a good position to review your current material handling equipment, and make plans to improve in the future.

HSE strongly recommends consulting with your employees before making any changes that might affect their health or safety in the workplace. Often, the workforce has a better overview of the health and safety issues in the business, and are more able to offer practical solutions to deal with them. 

Questions to ask yourself

Once you’ve decided that you do need equipment, it’s time to start narrowing down your options. Knowing which type of equipment is going to serve your business the best will help you make a wise investment, with a good potential for high ROI over the lifetime of the equipment. Ask yourself:

  • What needs to be moved? Animal, vegetable or mineral? It sounds daft, but starting at the very beginning with figuring out precisely what you’re moving is the best place to commence your search. Is it solid, liquid or gas? Is it hazardous, fragile or corrosive? All these things will help you start to eliminate options and narrow down your choice.
  • What weights will I be moving? Almost all new equipment will have a rated weight limit published in the product information. If you’re buying from a dealer or specialist, they will be able to help you find the right products for the range of weights you plan to move. It is essential that you stay well within the limits of the equipment to avoid it becoming a safety hazard.
  • How big are the items I will move? Aside from the weight of the materials, you’ll need to ensure any equipment you consider investing in is suitable for the dimensions of products you plan to use it with. Think about not only the materials in their loose or unboxed form, but also how big they are when they are packaged, crated or palletised for distribution.
  • How far will I be moving things? If items are going short distances, just from the production environment to a storage location, and only in small quantities, manual trolleys or carts will probably be sufficient. However, if you are moving greater distances or much more frequently, you would do better to consider motorised forms of transport such as forklifts, conveyors or tow tractors.
  • How high is my storage facility? If you plan to store items in a garage-height building, a scissor lift will probably do the job just fine. But if you’re storing in a lofty warehouse building, you’ll almost certainly need a mezzanine lifter, cherry picker or crane cage to make efficient use of the space. Consider also how the access to the warehouse is arranged, and think whether you’ll need to install ramps or purchase stair climber trucks to cope.
  • How much do I want to automate? There are pitfalls to be avoided in both over-automating and not automating enough. Under automating means you’re not taking advantage of all the available solutions, and have not planned for maximum efficiency. Over automating could result in you forcing a machine to work in a solution that it’s not really designed for, which could lead to breakdowns and reduction in productivity.
  • How much do I want to spend? Investing in your facilities should be done with confidence. As long as you make informed, intelligent decisions about the equipment you procure, you shouldn’t be worried about the capital expenditure, because you’re going to get it back and more in terms of efficiency savings. Set your budget by all means, but don’t be afraid to spend money in order to make money.

By answering these initial questions, you’ll be able to start narrowing down the types of material handling equipment that will do the job, and to start developing a shortlist of products that may be suitable for your needs. 

Materials handling equipment includes everything from storage bins and baskets to forklift trucks and conveyors. Some of these items are controlled manually, others are semi or even fully automatic, but all are designed to support the logistics of the manufacturing process, and to make the supply chain as effective and efficient as possible.

Using materials handling equipment can help with:

  • Forecasting and production planning: Being able to see at a glance what stock is running low and which items are moving faster than others helps to inform the manufacturing side to keep products coming as needed.
  • Efficiency improvements: Through the production system, good materials handling equipment can help ensure the right quantity of materials are delivered to the right place at the right time, boosting efficiency and improving productivity.
  • Reduction in damage and accidents: Good materials handling processes help to keep the items safe during their transportation from one area to another. This also helps to minimise the likelihood of an accident during handling, which could result in injury to employees.
  • Cost reduction: Better organisation through better material handling can mean storage of materials is conducted in a more space efficient, logical way. Not only will this cut down on indirect labour costs, but will also reduce wasted space, making every square metre of storage space work harder for your business.
  • Improved customer service: By employing excellent materials handling solutions, you can fulfil orders faster, reduce mistakes and improve your shipping processes. This will make for happier customers and a more profitable production line.
  • Recruitment and retention: Recruiting and keeping talented staff can be easier with better materials handling equipment. Investments in equipment will help you attract a higher calibre of employee, and staff with specific skills in using this type of equipment will be interested in coming to work for you.

Having a good materials handling process and suitable equipment in place is essential to any modern business. However, materials handling equipment can be expensive to purchase, and once bought and in place can be difficult to change later on, making it crucial to make good decisions right from the outset.

If you require further information on purchasing materials handling equipment for your business needs, speak to one of our advisors for help on choosing the right equipment to suit your workplace. Whether you require shelf trolleys, sack trucks , pallet trucks, or warehouse pallets, our team can provide in-depth knowledge on all of our products. 

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