The term “material handling” refers to the industry that focuses on solutions regarding the protection, control, movement and storage of of materials. The ultimate goal of material handling equipment is to foster maximum productivity within a safe work environment. Material handling is especially important in plants and warehouses and it touches many different industries.
There are four distinct types of material handling equipment: storage and handling equipment, engineered systems, industrial trucks and bulk material handling.
Examples of equipment from these respective categories include: storage racks, conveyors, forklifts and cranes. Storage racks are shelf-like structures that manufacturers and homeowners alike can use to store, display or organize items of all kinds. Conveyors are used within industrial and commercial facilities to move, or convey, materials from one place to another. They can provide simple transportation or they made be just one component of a larger assembly. Forklifts and cranes are both used to pick and up and move heavy and/or bulk materials. Forklifts are smaller than cranes and more mobile. They mostly lift, load and move heavy pallets. Cranes, on the other hand, are more often used to hoist and move loads of various sizes. Generally, they can hoist loads up to 1,000 tons. Another difference between forklifts and cranes is how they pick things up. Forklifts have a driver-controlled lift mechanism that slides underneath loads like a dolly. Cranes pick up materials with a hook or a hoist that is attached to a chain or wire rope.
Other examples of material handling equipment include hydraulic lifts, balers, palletizers, pallets, hose reels and automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Hydraulic lifts use liquid mechanics to lift, lower and support materials that are too heavy to be moved by hand. They’re especially important in bulk material handling. Balers are used to bind and compress materials. They are most often used in agriculture, waste management and recycling. Palletizers are machines designed to load and unload pallets before and after shipment. They are available in manual, automatic and robotic forms. Pallets are simply stackable platforms upon which products can be placed for both storage and transportation. Hose reels are secondary items of sort. In essence, they are giant spools that house hosing. They are important tools for keeping industrial hosing dry, kink-free and organized. They’re available in both manual and automatic models. Finally, AGVs are self-guided vehicles that move around a plant transporting materials from one place to another or performing tasks like parts assembly.
Frequently, manufacturers supplement their material handling equipment with analytical systems that help them track and process their inventories.
Material handling equipment is essential to the assembly and manufacturing processes of many industries. If you’d like to learn more about the individual equipment and machines used in material handling, browse the sections below. With each, you will find a list of manufacturers that make or supply those pieces of machinery. Visit their websites or give one or more of them a call to find out what they can do for you.
Automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, are computer controlled vehicles used in a variety of industry settings to transport materials and/or accomplish specific tasks. Because they are not guided by humans, these autonomous vehicles are sometimes also known as self-propelled vehicles or self-guided vehicles.
AGVS are equipped with very precise programming. This programming allows them to drive to and from specific points, performing tasks. At these points, AGVs carry out tasks such as parts assembly, loading and unloading, equipment towing and material transportation between conveyor belts.
While AGVs are well-programmed, they often move about with the help of physical guidance markings or indications. These include magnetic or colored guide tape, radio signal transmitting wires installed along a path in the floor, laser target navigation, inertial or gyroscopic navigation, natural features navigation, vision guidance and geoguidance. These navigation systems help the AGV better understand its surroundings and safely and efficiently maneuver them.
AGVs are useful in many industries. These include: automotive, chemical, food and beverage, healthcare, manufacturing, paper and print, pharmaceutical, theme parks and warehousing. Most often, AGVs are used for applications such as: raw material handling, pallet handling, finished product handling, container handling, roll handling, trailer loading and work-in-process movement. Learn More
Balers are machines used to bind and compress materials. Manufacturers can feed them a variety of different material types, including garbage, plastic, scrap metal, grains, newspaper and scrap cloth, among others. They work to simplify material handling, recycling, storage and transportation. Because of their diversity, balers are popular for use in consumer and retail, agriculture, waste and recycling industries alike.
Also because of their diverse applications, baler manufacturers produce a number of specialized balers. Examples of these include: cardboard balers, metal balers and trash compactors. For creating hay bales, they produce round balers. In addition, baler manufacturers commonly make heavy duty balers, also known as baling presses or drum crushers. They are for use with materials that will only compress under the force of an exceptional amount of pressure.
Typically, balers are made out of a durable and corrosion resistant material like stainless steel. Though they vary in configuration, all industrial balers feature a hydraulic ram, which compresses the loaded material. In fact, some balers have two rams. Balers also vary in size and complexity. Some are small and simple, while others are large and complicated. Regardless of their exact configuration, balers are essential tools in applications that count on the compaction of materials. Learn More
Cranes, also known as overhead cranes, bridge cranes, hoist cranes or lifting cranes, are machines used to lower, lift and transport loads of all shapes, sizes and weights up to approximately 1,000 tons.
Typically, cranes are powered either by electric batteries, internal combustion or a hydraulics system. They typically consist of either one or two support beams, a hoist or hook, wire rope or cables and sheaves. Cranes are built out of steel or stainless steel. This is because these metals provide the greatest support, durability and corrosion resistance.
Believe it or not, cranes were first invented by the Ancient Greeks, who used them in the construction of tall buildings. Many years have passed since then and the crane has evolved over time. However, cranes are still used today in the construction of tall buildings. In fact, today, cranes are highly useful in a number of settings. These include auto manufacturing plants, building construction sites, oil rigs, paper mills and refineries, among others. In these settings, they attend to applications like raw materials handling, hot metal storage, the construction of paper machines and heavy press rolls, the maintenance of paper machines and heavy press rolls, material hoisting and steel refinement. Learn More
Conveyors are mechanisms that are used to move, or “convey,” products and materials from one area to another within a facility. Usually, conveyors either transport items to an area of storage or shipment, or they move items through the various stages of manufacturing and/or finishing. Conveyors are a great tool that you can use to further automate your material handling processes.
Conveyors have applications in nearly every industry imaginable, from paper production, to automotive manufacturing, to food and beverage processing, to industrial manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and medicine to military and defense. In these industries, they perform tasks related to: packaging, parts sintering, parts finishing, parts washing, parts drying, warehousing, material distribution, material handling and shipping and receiving.
Because conveyors are such a major component of so many industries, they are available in a very wide range of configurations. They can also be customized to fit your specific needs. Included in customization is integration into your already existing systems. Some of the most common standard conveyor configurations out there include: spiral conveyors, belt conveyors, vertical conveyors, overhead conveyors, chain conveyors, roller conveyors and combination conveyor systems. Of these, belt conveyors are the most popular, and chain conveyors are the second-most popular. Learn More
Forklifts, also known as forklift trucks, are essential vehicles to industrial and commercial warehouses. In these settings, they lift, move and load heavy product-storing pallets. Because this is such a universal warehouse application, forklifts can be used in many different industries, from paper and pulp to industrial manufacturing. In particular, forklift trucks are popular on construction sites, storerooms and loading docks.
Forklift trucks make the task of stacking loaded pallets on top of each other much easier. Pallet stacking is a common way to maximize floor space. The only limit to how tall forklifts can make these stacks is how high they can reach.
Forklifts are controlled by a driver, who has access to controls that allow them to move the forklift and raise and lower its lift mechanism. Usually, forklift trucks operate using gas power and hydraulic hoses. There are many different types of forklifts, including sideloaders, reach trucks, picker trucks and narrow aisle forklifts. Sideloaders are used primarily to assist in heavy duty lift applications. Meanwhile, both reach trucks and picker trucks are useful in warehouses for access to equipment, products and other types of inventory. Finally, narrow aisle forklifts, as their name suggests, are designed to fit and move within small spaces. Learn More
Hose reels are cylindrical spindles used in construction, industrial and residential industries alike. They are used as housings for hosings when they are not in use. In essence, they are giant spools. They are highly valued because they keep hosings neat, kink-free, clean and corrosion free.
Hose reels are available as both manual and mechanical models. Manual hose reels are usually operated using a side-mounted handle, while mechanical hose reels, also known as automatic hose reels, can be operated using electricity, a spring or pneumatic power.
Manual hose reels and automatic hose reels alike may have different design features, such as diameter, construction material, retractability and even how they sit. Usually, hose reels are made of some type of metal, plastic or fiberglass. The choice of which material with which to construct a hose reel primarily comes down to its intended application. For example, medical cord reels must be kept sterilized. Therefore, manufacturers will make them out of a sanitary grade material, such as 304L stainless steel. A flexible hose reel, on the other hand, will more likely be made out of a thermoplastic like ABS. Typically, hose reels are either mounted on a vehicle, fixed in a permanent location or completely mobile. Learn More
Hydraulic lifts are systems are used to raise, lower, support and move heavy objects or work surfaces. To work, they use the power of liquid mechanics, or hydraulics. Most of the time, they are used in industrial and manufacturing settings. However, they can also be used privately or commercially for accessibility purposes.
There are many different kinds of hydraulic lifts. The most prominent types include: lift tables, scissor lifts, aerial lifts, platform lifts, vehicle lifts and pallet lifts.
Of these, scissor lifts, are most likely the most common. Scissor lifts get their name from their base, which is crossed and stretches like an accordion when lifted. You can extend the platform or basket on the top of a scissor lift reaches the height you desire. Aerial lifts are technically a type of scissor lift. However, they can reach much greater heights than typical scissor lifts.
Meanwhile, lift tables are used to position work materials close to workers. Platform lifts, also called elevated work platforms, used for large-scale lifting,are larger than many other hydraulic lifts. Vehicle lifts, used in auto repair and inspection, are incredibly strong. Finally, pallet lifts are used to in warehouses to raise pallets during material handling and shipping applications. Learn More
Palletizers, also known as case pickers, are machines designed to load and unload pallets. Palletizers can be designed to deal with one type of product only, or they can be designed to process a variety of different products.
Examples of palletizer designed for specific products include: case palletizers, drum palletizers and bottle palletizers. In addition to regular palletizers, some large manufacturing and distribution centers use de-palletizers to unload packages. Furthermore, some manufacturing and distribution centers use palletizer accessories, such as load transfer stations or pallet dispensers. Load transfer systems are systems that allow workers to move loads from one pallet to another without disassembling them. Pallet dispensers are mechanisms that feed or “dispense” empty pallets onto conveyors.
They’re available in manual, automated and robotic models. Manufacturing and distribution plants usually prefer using automated or robotic palletizers to manual palletizers because of their many benefits. These include: increased precision, load stability and better operation speeds. In addition, automatic and robotic palletizers create a lower risk of worker injury. The reasons for their lower injury risk are two-fold. First, they require less lifting, rotating and wrenching by workers. Second, many palletizer varieties feature Smartscan work cell perimeter guards and QuickSTOP collision sensors. Learn More
Pallets, also known as skids, are platforms that manufacturers and distributors of various kinds use to store and transport their products. They are primarily found in shipping docks, warehouses, factories and superstores. The most popular type of pallet today is the plastic pallet. Plastic pallets are easy and inexpensive to make. In addition, they are stackable and nestable, meaning that they offer facilities increased storage space.
In the past, pallets were exclusively made out of wood. However, wood products are neither sustainable nor durable. What’s more, wooden pallets can easily splinter, rot, break, catch fire or become contaminated with dangerous pathogens like E. Coli. Plastic pallets, though, are much more durable and sanitary. On average, they last up to five times longer than wooden pallets. Plus, when they do wear out, they can be reprocessed into more plastic pallets.
Plastic pallets can be designed to meet international export specifications, Euro pallet specifications or American import standards. They can also be designed with specific applications in mind. This is the case with drum pallets, which contain and protect drums full of potentially hazardous dangerous and/or messy chemicals. Plastic pallets can also be custom designed to fit into unconventional spaces or unconventional shipping needs. Learn More
Storage racks are shelf-like structures used to efficiently organize, store and/or display items of all kinds. Because of their versatility, they are found in workshops, factories, plants, shipping areas, product assembly rooms, retail facilities, offices, garages, workrooms and homes alike.
They are perfect for stashing pallets, parts, tools, boxes, equipment, materials and products. Plus, they offer their users with an excellent means of saving space and using space more efficiently.
The best way to use a storage rack system is with either the “first in, first out” (FIFO) organization method or the “last in, last out” (LIFO) organization method. Both of these methods tell workers how to choose and replace material. Method number one, FIFO, indicates that the first items in should be the first ones you take back out. It also indicates that you should stock new materials in the back and pick ones from the front. This storage method is most commonly used with perishables like food. Method number two, the LIFO method, indicates that you should do the opposite. In other words, the last items in should be the first out. Mostly, LIFO is used with push-back racks and other storage racks that benefit from space-saving. Learn More