A Guide to Effective Material Handling

Chemical, Manufacturing

Material handling is a central element in any logistics, warehousing or manufacturing context. Items have to 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 staff health in mind. While identifying new and more effective workflows is always a challenge, there is no need to compromise on either efficiency or ergonomics.

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.

In other words, material handling has a fundamental part to play in almost every industry. Your choices of equipment and processes has the potential to greatly affect costs, capacity, safety and efficiency.

Material Handling Options to Consider

The two main types of material handling alternatives 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 staff move items manually, by lifting, lowering, carrying, pulling, pushing or holding. When handling heavy materials, some drawbacks are fairly obvious, such as longer cycle times as well as fatigue and an increased risk of injuries for workers. There may also be hidden risks such as ergonomically awkward positions that lead to health issues in the longer term. The key benefits are that manual handling requires no training and 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, for example, robots, mechanical equipment and sets of different devices for lifting, moving, loading, unloading, sorting and so on. Human operators are still needed to use and service the equipment, which requires training. The equipment also requires an often-significant upfront investment, although it may reduce long-term costs. The risk of injuries is reduced, and it’s possible to employ a smaller and more flexible workforce.

With a methodical approach to material handling, the amount of lost or damaged good will decrease while the workforce is both more productive and less strained.

Objectives of Material Handling Systems

Any investment in material handling systems should be preceded by a cost/benefit analysis and establishing the objectives of the investment. The two primary objectives are typically:

  • Improved efficiency and productivity – Improving overall productivity and efficiency is one of the main objectives when implementing a material handling system. With the right equipment, it should be possible to reduce cycle times and get more work done with a more compact workforce. Thus, labor costs can be reduced, while overall productivity increases.
  • Increased safety and ergonomics – Manual handling of heavy loads and problematic 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 eliminated, leading to considerable improvements in overall working conditions and staff well-being.


Types of Material Handling Equipment

Many considerations go into selecting the optimal material handling solutions and there is an endless amount of equipment combinations and customization options. Here, we take a closer look at some of the different types of equipment from TAWI’s wide product range within material handling.

Vacuum Lifters

TAWI VacuMove bag liftingA vacuum lifter uses vacuum power to handle materials safely and efficiently, with a minimal risk of damage to the goods. Lifters can be adapted and customized to suit any working environment and will lift loads of up to 600 lbs.


  • High frequency lifter: A fast lifter is an ideal material handling solution for logistics centers and other facilities where speed is an essential factor. It will lift boxes, food products, drums and more weighing up to 140 lbs. 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 a wide range of loads weighing as much as 600 lbs. It can be customized to a great extent, with e.g. specially designed suction feet for paper and plastic bags, or custom tooling for woven and jute bags. In addition, it can handle practically any material including food, kegs, boxes, or sheets.


  • Stainless steel lifter: When sanitation is essential, for example in facilities producing and handling food or pharmaceuticals, a stainless-steel lifter will meet these requirements. Anything from unwrapped meat or cheese blocks to sensitive chemical products can be handled safely and efficiently.


  • Explosion proof lifter: Vacuum lifting and handling equipment is particularly suitable 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

picking order with forklift attached vacuum lifterTAWI’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 for workers and greatly increases productivity. This vacuum lifter lets you to grip a load of up to 88 lbs. and turn it as required. It is paired with a telescopic conveyor.


  • Mobile Order Picker: This unique and fully mobile vacuum material handling solution is ideal for order picking or any other tasks where mobility is essential. It is compatible with any forklift or pallet jack. The lifting capacity is 175 lbs. 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 75 lbs. 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.


Lifting Trolleys

Powered lifting trolleys are suitable for ergonomic lifting of containers, drums, rolls and many other types of heavy materials. The worker may easily rotate, turn and transport and release goods with little to no effort. For facilities with strict sanitary requirements, such as food, chemical or pharmaceutical manufacturing, stainless steel lifters will guarantee hygienic and efficient material handling.


Crane Systems

Crane systems, often highly customized for the individual facility, are fundamental parts of an efficient material handling solution. A crane system can be adapted for vacuum lifters or hoists and built using steel or aluminum profiles mounted onto floor pillars, into the ceiling or wall. The end result is a system capable of handling a wide range of loads.


  • 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 aluminum profiles or steel profiles with a lifting capacity of up to 3,300 lbs. For added reach, telescopic cranes that extend outside the girder system are also available. In the common 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 cumbersome goods.


  • Wire hoists: The TAWI wire hoist is one of the fastest available and ideal for rapid and precise lifting that gives the operator full control using only one hand. This hoist has a lifting capacity of either 130 lbs. or 265 lbs. 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 3,500 lbs. and an IP65 rating that makes them suitable for outdoor use. There are tooling options for 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 cumbersome sheets in any material with an airtight or semi-airtight surface. The TAWI Grip will let any operator handle sheets that weigh up to 1,100 lbs. effortlessly, which allows for flexibility 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 considerable improvements in both productivity and staff satisfaction. With a methodical approach to material handling, the amount of lost or damaged good 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.


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