Introduction to Sheet Handling

Automotive, Lumber, Manufacturing


Sheets is a broad category, and everyone might have something a little different that comes to mind because sheets can be made from a wide range of materials. Some of the sheets you may need to handle include:

  • Wood sheets, including plywood, particle board, MDF, melamine, and laminate boards – these are common in the woodworking industry as people need to lift doors or panels to make furniture or cabinets.
  • Plastic laminate sheets and composites used to make many different items, such as kitchen countertops.
  • Metal sheets made from different types of metal and have applications for facilities like machine shops.
  • Glass & windows, which can be challenging to manually handle and seen in the automotive industry.

If your facility handles a type of sheet not listed above and you would like more information on TAWI’s ability to lift it, you can contact us. We would be happy to talk about your application and potential solutions that could work.

Common Sheet Handling Challenges

When facilities try to lift sheets manually, they run into a variety of challenges that can slow down production.

Five sheet handling challenges include:

  • Sheets can be extremely heavy, and the nature of sheets means they can be very long. Their weight and size commonly require multiple people to lift it, which makes material handling less efficient.
  • Moving a sheet is a slow process because sheets can be long, bulky, and awkward to carry.
  • People can quickly become exhausted from carrying sheets a far distance and repeating the tasks many times during a long shift.
  • Manually lifting sheets can lead to injuries, such as wrists, back, and shoulders. This can result in lost work time and expensive insurance claims.
  • And finally, it can be difficult to hire employees when you must find candidates strong enough to lift heavy sheets during a long shift.

While the challenges might seem overwhelming, it’s important to identify them, so you can work toward finding a solution.

How a Vacuum Lifter Solves Sheet Handling Challenges

TAWI has lifting solutions that can make a huge difference for production speed, worker safety, and workplace flexibility.  Let’s explore how a vacuum lift can help overcome manual sheet handling challenges.

Team Lift

The weight of sheets can vary, but let’s use an example of a facility that needs to lift a 150-pound sheet. According to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (also known as NIOSH), it’s recommended that a person does not lift more than 50 pounds by themselves (DHHS 2013). That means lifting a 150 pound sheet will require several people to lift it the heavier the sheet is, the more people that will be required to lift it.

But TAWI’s multi-functional vacuum lift assists people in the lifting process. Now weight isn’t a concern because the machine will be doing the heavy lifting. A task that once took two or more people can be accomplished by one person.

People don’t need to exert energy to lift sheets anymore. All they have to do is be able to operate the handle and guide the sheet where they want it to go. With a vacuum lift, vertical movement is operated with our orange handle. Once people learn how to use the handle, they can operate the vacuum lifter. To  use it, you push the bar down to lower the item, and you squeeze the bar to raise the item.

Awkward Shape and Size to Grasp by Hand

Multiple people lifting a sheet can be a slow process. They can be bulky and awkward to carry as people try to reach around a long sheet and grab the edges. Depending on the thickness of the sheet, it can bend when people are trying to lift it, which makes the task even more difficult.

However, a vacuum lift doesn’t require people to directly touch a sheet –  TAWI has a spider yoke suction foot that’s designed to do the job. One suction foot available is an H-style with a four foot spreader bar and four suction cups that grip the sheet. This design allows the weight to be equally distributed between the suction cups, which creates a strong grip and protects the sheet from bending or deforming.

Another helpful part of the design is how one spider yoke foot can be modified to lift different size sheets. You can easily adjust the suction cups’ placement on the spreader bar by loosening the knobs, moving the suction feet bars closer together or wider apart, and then tightening the knob, locking them in their new position. We also offer another version of the suction foot with two suction cups for handling lighter, smaller sheets. With a spider yoke suction foot attached to a vacuum lifter, handling sheets can be a snap!

Exhaustion from Long Distance and Long Period of Time

Another consideration is speed and distance. The farther people have to carry a sheet, the more exhausted they will be. People won’t have the ability to work as quickly after lifting heavy sheets for several hours compared to when they first walked into work.

Consider this – a vacuum lifter doesn’t experience fatigue or injuries, so employees using a TAWI vacuum lifter can work at a consistent speed throughout the day safely instead of slowing down from exhaustion and putting themselves at risk for injury. An operator just places the suction foot on the sheet so it can get a good grip and then uses the handle to move the sheet up and down.

A great feature of the spider yoke suction foot is the quick release valve. When you’re ready to place a sheet down, you simply pull on the red valve, and the vacuum lifter automatically stops suction, causing a quick release. This ensures the handling sheets process of a task is quick and efficient.

Additionally, each facility has a different layout, so the distance someone needs to lift a sheet can vary. We offer jib cranes that can extend up to 16 feet. A great way to implement a jib crane is placing it by a CNC machine. Then, you can use the vacuum lifter to pick up sheets from a stack – then load and unload sheets from the machine.

We also offer overhead bridge cranes that can mount to the ceiling and can cover a larger area. With a vacuum lifter on a crane system, you can guide the sheet where it needs to go based on the track you have. Using a vacuum lifter to pick up and move sheets can speed up the process compared to manual lifting.

Potential for Serious Injuries

Man lifting window with vacuum yoke sheet gripper
Having employees manually lift sheets, even if there are multiple people assisting, can exhaust employees, and increases the chance for injury. NIOSH says that soft tissue injuries are common with manual material handling, and it can affect many areas, such as back, shoulders, neck, wrists, etc. (DHHS 2013). When handling sheets, employees might need to bend down to lift a sheet, which can put strain on their back. Or they might need to bring the sheet overhead, which puts strain on their shoulders.

Not only is it expensive to pay for work-related injuries, but it can lead to reduced productivity. The U.S. National Safety Council estimates that 99 million days were lost in 2020 from injuries that happened in 2020 and injuries from previous years (National Safety Council 2022).

So, instead of having employees manually lift a 50, 200, or even 600 pound sheet, use a vacuum lift. We offer 9 different models of vacuum lifters – with our highest capacity being 600 pounds. Because the vacuum lifter supports the weight of a sheet, there is less physical strain on the body, and less strain reduces the chance of work-related injuries from handling sheets.

Let’s look at an example application. A challenging task in the woodworking industry is when employees must lift sheets onto a vertical table saw. This requires tilting a large unwieldy sheet to load the saw, and then repeating that process to unload the sheet once it’s been cut – which puts significant strain on the body, especially on a person’s wrists.

How can a vacuum lift help here? You can use a vacuum lift with a 90-degree angle adapter. The operators grip the sheet near the top, and the angle adapter will tilt the sheet as it’s being lifted. The handle gives the operator additional control over the tilt. This holds the sheet at a good angle to place it on a vertical table saw or any instance where you require the sheet to be at an angle. The operator will have total control of tilting the sheet with little effort, and the vacuum lifter will still be supporting the weight of the load to keep employees safe.

Different to Hire New Employees or Temporarily Fill-In Positions

Let’s explore common challenges regarding workforce. When someone gets injured from lifting, they must take time off to recover. It can be difficult to temporarily fill-in an employee’s position while they are on leave. There might only be a few employees who are capable of lifting the sheets, so no one else is available to step-in. Also, manually handling sheets makes it harder to hire people when you need someone with a specific amount of strength to fulfill all the job responsibilities. This results in lost days, productivity, and money.

When people consider solving this problem, they may ask themselves a variety of questions.

  • Is the job market just too competitive?
  • Can we create a safe work environment to retain employees that are fatigued from the physical demands of the job?
  • Are lifting requirement for candidates to accomplish the job are too strenuous and limits the amount of candidates we can consider?

With TAWI, filling positions that were limited to a strong few can become a thing of the past. Now, positions can open to any candidate big or small. They just have to be strong enough to squeeze and operate the simple handle on the vacuum lift. Also, employees tend to stay in a role that requires lifting for much longer when they aren’t straining their body and risking serious injury every time they go to work. Retaining these hardworking employees, having workforce flexibility when it comes to hiring, and keeping employees injury free will in turn keep your production going, saving you time and money.

What to do if You Want a Solution for Your Sheet Handling Challenges

If you’re ready to solve your sheet handling challenges, we’re here to help. Please fill out the form located here, and you’ll be connected with an application expert from TAWI. We will help you identify, test, and commission the right solution for your application.

At TAWI, you know you have a team supporting you. We have sales reps that can visit your facility, collect measurements, and discuss solutions. For custom application, our team of engineers are committed to creating solutions that fit your specific lifting needs. And our service technicians can install the equipment in your facility and can come for preventative maintenance visits to ensure the equipment is working properly. Plus, our customer service team can help you purchase spare parts to keep your vacuum lifter stay in good shape. TAWI is here for you every step of the way.



DHHS (NIOSH). (Publication No. 2013-111). Simple Solutions for Home Building Workers: A Basic Guide for Preventing Manual Material Handling Injuries. Document.

National Safety Council. (2022). Work Injury Costs. NSC Injury Facts.

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