Material handling is a central element in any logistics, warehousing or manufacturing context. Items must be moved across short and medium distances using methods that are as efficient as possible. In addition, it has to be done with ergonomics and health and safety in mind. While identifying new and more effective workflows is always a challenge, there is no need to compromise on either efficiency or ergonomics. Read through our tips for effective material handling to find an option most suited to your needs.
What is Material Handling?
Material handling is defined as handling materials within a limited area, such as within a warehouse, to and from transportation vehicles, or between manufacturing processes. The material handling process also includes storage, control and protection of goods.
Material handling has a fundamental part to play in almost every industry. Your choice of equipment and processes has the potential to greatly impact costs, capacity, safety and efficiency, so read our tips for effective material handling to make sure you get it right.
Material Handling Options to Consider
The two alternatives to material handling to consider are manual or automated handling. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and depending on the circumstances, a combination of manual and automated systems may be the most effective.
Manual handling (MMH)
As the name implies, manual handling is when the workforce move items manually, by lifting, lowering, carrying, pulling, pushing or holding. When handling heavy materials, there are some obvious disadvantages such as longer cycle times, fatigue and an increased risk of injuries for workers. There may also be other hidden risks such as ergonomically awkward positions that lead to health issues in the longer term. The key benefit is that manual handling requires no large upfront investment.
Automated handling (AMH)
Automated handling refers to any form of automation that fully or partially eliminates manual handling processes. This includes using robots, mechanical equipment and sets of different devices for lifting, moving, loading etc. Human operators are still needed to operate and service the equipment, to ensure it is safe to use, which requires training. The equipment also requires an often-significant upfront investment, although it is likely to reduce long-term costs. The risk of injuries is reduced, and it’s possible to employ a smaller and more flexible workforce.
With the right approach to material handling, the amount of lost or damaged goods will be reduced, while the workforce is both more productive and at less risk of injury.
Objectives of Effective Material Handling Systems
Before deciding whether to invest in any lifting equipment, a cost/benefit analysis should be performed, and the objectives of the investment should be established. We have found that the top two objectives are usually:
- Improved efficiency and productivity – Improving overall productivity and efficiency is usually one of the main objectives when implementing a material handling system. The right equipment will make it possible to reduce cycle times and get more work done with a more compact workforce. This means labour costs can be reduced, while overall productivity will be increased.
- Increased safety and ergonomics – Manual handling of heavy goods and uncomfortable working positions can be costly in terms of fatigue, risk of injuries, and high employee turnover. By implementing the right lifting and handling systems, many of these risks can be reduced or completely eliminated, leading to considerable improvements in overall working conditions, health and safety levels and staff wellbeing.
Types of Material Handling Equipment
Many considerations will need to be made when selecting the most suitable material handling solutions for you, and there is an endless amount of equipment combinations and customisation options. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the different types of equipment from TAWI’s wide material handling product range.
A vacuum lifter uses vacuum suction power to lift goods safely and efficiently, with minimal risk of damage to the goods. Lifters can be adapted and customised to suit any working environment and can effortlessly lift loads of up to 270kg.
- High frequency lifter: A fast lifter is an ideal material handling solution for logistics centres and other facilities where speed of movement is essential. With a high frequency lifter, you can lift a range of different goods weighing up to 65kg. It will allow you to lift boxes, food products, drums and much more at a rate of 0–1 m/s. Boxes can be gripped from the top or the side and rotated 360 degrees. Due to its pistol-grip handle, TAWI’s high frequency lifter is best suited for rapid material handling at normal working height. For working at heights above the shoulders or below the knees, the multi-functional lifter is a more ergonomic alternative.
- Multi-functional lifter: The TAWI Multi-functional lifter can be adapted to lift a wide range of loads weighing as much as 270kg. It can be customised to a great extent, with for example, specially designed suction feet for paper and plastic bags, or custom tooling for woven and jute bags. In addition, the Multi-Functional lifter can handle practically any material including food, kegs, boxes, or sheets.
- Stainless steel lifter: When hygiene is essential, for example in facilities producing or handling food or pharmaceuticals, a stainless steel lifter will meet the strict requirements necessary. Anything from unwrapped meat or cheese blocks to sensitive chemical products can be handled safely and efficiently with our stainless steel equipment.
- Explosion proof lifter: Vacuum lifting and handling equipment is also particularly useful for handling hazardous materials. TAWI’s explosion proof (spark-free) lifter is tailored to meet the rigorous demands of rooms with a hazardous area classification. It is designed in a way that eliminates sparks and similar incidents that could ignite explosive or flammable materials.
Mobile Vacuum Lifters
TAWI’s unique mobile lifting systems enable fast, safe and efficient vacuum material handling for order picking, container unloading and more.
- Telescopic mounted unloader: TAWI telescopic mounted unloader makes unloading containers effortless and more safe for workers and greatly increases productivity. This vacuum lifter allows you to grip a load of up to 40kg and turn it as required. It is paired with a telescopic conveyor.
- Mobile Order Picker: This unique and fully mobile vacuum powered handling solution is ideal for order picking and any other tasks where mobility is essential. It is compatible with any forklift or pallet jack. The lifting capacity is 50kg and the lifter’s articulating arm provides maximum reach when moving goods from rack to rack.
- Container and truck unloader: TAWI Mobile Order Picker Compact is a scaled-down version of the standard order picker with a 35kg lifting capacity. It comes with an integrated battery, vacuum pump and a flexible arm that easily moves in and out of pallet racks. Due to its compact design, it is also suitable for container lifting.
Powered lifting trolleys are suitable for ergonomic lifting of containers, drums, rolls and many other types of heavy materials. It allows the operator to easily rotate, turn, transport and release goods with little to no effort. For facilities with strict sanitary requirements, such as food, chemical or pharmaceutical manufacturing, our stainless steel trolleys are an ideal solution which meet the strict environmental criteria.
Crane systems, which are often customised for the individual needs of the customer and space available in the workspace, are fundamental parts of an efficient material handling solution. A crane system can be adapted for vacuum lifters or hoists and is built using steel or aluminium profiles mounted onto floor pillars, into the ceiling or wall. The end result is a system capable of handling and effortlessly manoeuvring a wide range of goods.
- Jib cranes: For material handling within a specific radius, jib cranes are often the most practical choice. The jib can be fitted with any lifting system and assembled in a variety of configurations. For example, it may use an articulating arm for operation in restricted spaces or be constructed using stainless steel to meet sanitary requirements.
- Overhead bridge cranes: Overhead bridge cranes are ideal in many warehouse and manufacturing facilities where flexible material handling over a wide but clearly defined area is required. TAWI crane systems may consist of single or double girders, curves, and monorails, using cost-effective aluminium profiles or steel profiles with a lifting capacity of up to 1500kg. For added reach, telescopic cranes that extend outside the girder system are also available. If there is a situation where a facility’s ceiling is too high or not durable enough, cranes can also be floor mounted. The wide variety of configurations make overhead bridge cranes a highly flexible alternative.
Hoists & Gripping tools
Hoist lifts are among the most frequently used material handling tools and suitable for any situation that requires stability, control and safe handling of awkward goods.
- Wire hoists: The TAWI wire hoist is one of the fastest hoists available and is ideal for rapid and precise lifting that gives the operator full control using just one hand. This hoist has a lifting capacity of either 60kg or 120kg depending on the weight requirements, a lifting speed of up to 0.75 m/s, and custom tool options for various types of components.
- Chain hoist: For many of the more demanding material handling projects, a chain hoist is the most powerful and durable alternative. TAWI chain hoists have a maximum lifting capacity of 1590kg and an IP65 rating that makes them suitable for outdoor use. There are tooling options to allow you to lift any type of goods, and thanks to a quick coupling mechanism, changing tools is a quick and effortless process.
- Gripping tools: A vacuum sheet gripper is exceptionally useful for handling large and awkward sheets in any material with an airtight or semi-airtight surface. The TAWI Grip allows any operator to lift sheets weighing up to 500kg effortlessly, which allows for increased flexibility and improved efficiency in the workforce. It is also very secure due to its twin-chamber vacuum unit.
In summary, implementing the right material handling equipment in your facility can easily lead to massive improvements in both productivity and staff satisfaction. With a methodical approach to material handling, the amount of lost or damaged goods will decrease while the workforce is both more productive and less strained. Although there is an up-front cost involved, vacuum lifting systems and similar equipment are investments in the long-term success of a handling facility, and one that will reduce costs in the long term.
The manufacture of the food we eat and the beverages we drink entails a wide range of manual operations, from lifting and moving raw ingredients to sealing or shipping finished products. The heavy lifting needed can pose substantial risks to worker safety, process efficiency, product quality, and sanitation.
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