What is Material Handling

Materials handling is accomplished through a combination of human labor, semi-automated processes, and automated equipment. These combine to support logistics and keep the supply chain operating. Material handling can help with lots of parts of the business cycle:

Forecasting – preparing for highs and lows in supply and demand
Resource allocation – putting your materials in the right places
Production planning – scheduling and implementation of customer orders
Flow and process management – keeping product moving
Inventory management and control – keeping track of product and shipping with just in time delivery
Customer delivery – taking product from the warehouse to the customer
Support and service – providing customers with help aftermarket

When a manufacturer has an excellent material handling system, customer service is improved, there is not as much inventory to store, delivery times are quicker, and overall costs for handling and distribution are cut. Material handling systems show up in nearly every industry:

Aerospace
Automotive
Beverage
Construction
Consumer goods
E-Commerce
Food
Manufacturing
Paper
Pharmaceutical
Retail
Warehousing and distribution

Material handling does have standards that ensure all phases of the process are handled efficiently as a single unit. When managers analyze the goals of material handling and use best practices, they create a well-designed system that will reduce costs, improve efficiency, and keep customers satisfied.

These best practices can best be defined as follows:

Planning: Determine the needs, functional specifications, and performance objectives of the proposed system. Enlist the use of supporting technologies and use a team approach.

Standardization: Ensure that all methods of handling controls, software, and equipment are standardized and flexible enough to perform multiple tasks in any operating condition.

Work: Keep the work simple by merging, reducing, shortening or eradicating any useless movement that might slow productivity.

Ergonomics: It is essential to reduce any repetitive motions or strenuous labor that might cause injuries or long-term damage to any worker. Always stress safety.

Unit load: To ensure the most efficient process possible, groups of pallets, totes, or containers should be moved in single loads.

Space utilization: Work areas need to remain free of clutter, maintain accessibility and flexibility, and keep storage areas to maximum density. Always use overhead space as much as possible.

System: It is essential that managers and warehouse operators move material and coordinate storage during all parts of the material handling process: receiving, storage, packaging, production, inspection, assembly, order selection, shipping, transportation and returns.

Environment: Whenever possible, energy use should be reduced and environmental concerns addressed. It is necessary for the overall health of the system to have as much control over emissions and other environmental issues as possible. This is not only good for the environment, it is also good for maintaining a healthy work environment for employees.

Automation: The technologies for automated material handling can help increase consistency, efficiency, and responsiveness.

Life cycle cost: When combining semi-automated and automated machinery with human labor, all equipment must be maintained on a regular schedule. Each machine should be analyzed for life-span, initial investment, setup, operation, maintenance, repair, programming, reuse value, training, and disposal.

Material handling is executed in a relatively small, geographic area. The manufacturing facility, warehouses, and shipping facilities are the primary areas used in material handling.

Product is made, inspected, and packaged in the manufacturing facility. Product is stored and organized in the warehouse, and the shipping facilities send the products to clients and customers around the globe.