Warehouse Material Handling: The Complete Guide

Warehouse material handling literally determines how safe your employees are, how productive they remain, and how motivated they are to keep working. Are you concerned about how effective your warehouse material handling processes are? You’re in the right place! Let’s get you started with the basics.

Do you want additional control and protection of your products? How is the movement of products and materials in your business? If you want a solution that will work perfectly in your business, you should consider warehouse material handling. It encompasses different components to keep the supply chain running. The different equipment types will either be manual, semi-automated, or automated.

The structuring of your warehouse material handling system will necessitate high-level efficiency. This will entail efficient logistics for warehouse and customer requirements. Both inbound and outbound processes will be crucial to material handling.

Warehouse Material Handling Dimensions

The material handling process consists of four dimensions: movement, quantity, time, and space. These dimensions will impact the systematic product flow within the warehouse.

  • Movement – It entails the movement of materials from the receiving to the outgoing end of the warehouse. For a small business, it might entail the use of trucks to move the inventory from the warehouse onto a shipment truck. Larger businesses, on the other hand, can appropriate a conveyor system. It’s more efficient than fork trucks since it can handle more mass or products. Packaging the materials in pallets and loading them onto shipment trucks will be simpler and more efficient.
  • Quantity – You have to know how much storage you have for the products and materials.
  • Time – Here, you’ll know about how long the products live in storage. Also, you can factor in the time frame it takes to receive inventory from shipment.
  • Space – This indicates the size of the warehouse and the space to store your inventory

Material handling enables the logistics team to respond effectively and quickly to customer and plant requirements. The efficient movement of products in a warehouse and preparation for shipping to customers requires preparing for orders, filing orders, and locating stock.

When creating material handling objectives, they must:

  • Reduce manufacturing time.
  • Determine the distance to be covered.
  • Improve material flow control.
  • Reduce material damage and improve quality.
  • Utilize time and equipment.
  • Create a hazard-free and safe work environment.

Warehouse Material Handling Principles

Appropriating the material handling principles can boost the work improvement process. The principles can allow in knowing the significant risks that can be available with manual material handling processes. These are all the principles to consider when boosting the warehouse material handling process. 

1. Work Principle

To minimize the material handling work, it’s advisable to know the service level to offer and ensure that you won’t sacrifice productivity. Measuring the work in material handling will entail the count per unit of time, weight, and volume, multiplied by the total distance covered. 

Simplifying your team’s work will entail eliminating, shortening, combining, or reducing any unnecessary moves. Check all the materials that require additional movement like set-down and pickup, to know where you can reduce the distance. 

If possible, your team can take advantage of gravity to reduce the effort spent when moving materials. However, there should be safety measures to negate any injuries during movement.

2. Planning Principle

All material handling plans should be deliberate according to the functional specifications, performance objectives, and needs. These methods or plans ought to be available at the outset. Also, any plan should involve the planners and anyone who will benefit from these plans. 

A team approach is essential for success in planning extensive material handling projects. That is, involve consultants, suppliers, and end-user specialists. Their input ensures that the plan can reflect the immediate needs and the organization’s strategic objectives. 

The best material handling plans should also indicate the available problems, the workaround, the goals, and future requirements. Furthermore, it has to promote the process design, product engineering, material handling methods, and process layout. 

3. System Principle

There has to be full integration of storage activities and material movement in the warehouse. The coordinated system should handle the assembly, storage, inspection, production, unitizing, packaging, transportation, shipping, handling of returns, and order selection. 

More so, system integration should factor into the supply chain by involving reverse logistics. It’s advisable to factor in the manufacturers, customers, suppliers, and distributors. They can impact inventory levels and assist in minimizing the stages of distribution and production. 

Any system integration method should help identify products and materials by determining their status and location in the supply chain. System integration should factor in customer requirements by ensuring on-time delivery, good quality, and quantity. 

4. Automation Principle

Automation of material handling operations will increase responsiveness, predictability, consistency, and operational efficiency. Before automating any operations, re-engineering and simplifying the existing processes is necessary. It ensures the resolution of all interface issues, be it equipment to operator, equipment to load, or equipment to equipment. 

Simplifying the existing processes will require all the items to have features that accommodate the automation. It eliminates the risk and damage of materials in the warehouse.

5. Standardization Principle

Standardization of the material handling processes allows easy achievement of objectives and additional flexibility. The planner has to know the different tasks that the equipment can handle to improve the operating conditions. 

Standardization will impact the choice of equipment and operating procedures. In return, it can boost the modularity and flexibility of the material handling processes. 

6. Space Utilization Principle

Unorganized spaces and clutter have to be eliminated in the warehouse. For the storage areas, there has to be a balance between selectivity and accessibility. Even when maximizing the storage density, all the materials ought to be readily accessible.

Warehouse Material Handling Equipment

Besides appropriating the different material handling principles, you must check the equipment that can contribute to the principles’ success. There are both simple and complex types of equipment. However, they’ll fall under four types: bulk material handling equipment, storage and handling equipment, engineered systems, and industrial trucks. 

1. Bulk Material Handling Equipment

 This type of equipment is essential for handling lots of loose bulk materials. The equipment will facilitate the control, transportation, and storage of materials. Bulk material handling equipment is applicable in both small and large businesses. 

The different bulk material handling equipment to attain for the warehouse will include:

  • Conveyor belts – When stacked together, the conveyor belts will form a system that will move items from one end of the warehouse to the other.
  • Reclaimers – They work hand in hand with the conveyor belts to transport materials around a warehouse. The reclaimers will scoop loose items onto the conveyor belt and have them transported to their destination.
  • Stackers – Used for lifting items off the ground to the shelves. They can either be small motorized or hand-propelled trucks. If you have a stacking system in the warehouse, stackers will be the perfect solution. Unlike forklifts, they’re cheaper to run and ideal in medium and small applications.
  • Bucket elevators – They’re essential for the vertical transportation of small, loose items. Bucket elevators can be hand-cranked or motorized.
  • Hoppers – It’s another piece of equipment that’s perfect for small, loose items. They take advantage of gravity to transport materials down to their destination.
  • Grain elevators – Perfect for large-scale operations where grain can be scooped from the bottom levels and deposited in a storage facility. These towers can contain either a conveyor or a bucket elevator.
  • Silos – They are perfect for agricultural use. However, they can store cement, sawdust, wood chips, coal, and grains.

2. Storage and Handling Equipment

Storage equipment is essential for holding materials when they’re not in transit. The design of the storage equipment has to accommodate a buildup of stock before consumption or transportation. Proper design of the storage equipment can save space and handle your entire inventory. 

  • Shelves – They are a basic form of storage and are less open than racks. The shelves can accommodate drawers and bins to keep smaller, more difficult-to-manage materials in order. Some of the shelves to consider can either be revolving, tie-down, cantilever, or boltless.
  • Racks – These will entail push-back racks, drive-through or drive-in racks, sliding racks, and pallet racks. They keep the contents available in the warehouse while saving floor space.
  • Work assist tooling – They enable efficient and safe material handling across the warehouse. In a manufacturing and assembly operation, they will boost efficiency.
  • Mezzanines – It’s a platform that creates more space in a warehouse. They can either be movable, modular, free-standing, building-supported, or rack-supported.

3. Engineered Systems

These systems cover different warehouse units, and they aim to enable cohesive material transportation and storage. Most of the engineered systems are automated, and they’ll include both Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGV) and conveyor systems. 

Their automation will work in retrieving and delivering materials to and from their destination. Also, they can allow workers to locate storage items and retrieve them for the customers quickly. 

4. Industrial Trucks

These are transportation devices that move materials around the company. They can range from hand-operated to large automated trucks. Some of the essential industrial trucks to consider for your organization will include:

  • Pallet jacks or trucks – Their primary use is transporting products that are stacked on pallets. They can be either electric or manual. To lift and move the pallets, they will slide into the pallet.
  • Hand trucks – These can either be hand-operated trucks or trolleys. They are available in varieties that might entail toe plates and metallic frames. Their use is to transport small items around the warehouse.
  • Order picker – It’s a small forklift truck that can bear more weight than a walkie stalker. They can replace and retrieve stacked items from heights of 10 to 30 feet.
  • Walkie stalker – They share their design with the pallet jacks, but they’re better. They’re motorized and can move around by hand to lift items onto the shelves. It’s advisable to use them in small operations and on concrete floors.
  • Side loader – As the name suggests, they load and unload materials from the side. They are perfect for narrow doorways and aisles. However, they aren’t maneuverable like a forklift.
  • Platform truck – You can load material on a platform truck using another material handling equipment or by hand. They are a platform and frames on wheels. Platform trucks are ideal for small operations around a warehouse.

The Role of Warehouse Layout

For your material handling equipment to work efficiently, you need a revision of the layout. The layout will affect your material handling systems, and it can be the difference between a messy warehouse and an efficient warehouse.

Poor layout design increases the risk of injury, and motion waste, and introduces bottlenecks. Redesigning the layout can streamline the processes, improve the employees’ mental and physical health, and decrease worker movements. 

1. Warehouse Objectives

Before changing the layout of your warehouse, you ought to know your goals or priorities. Some of the goals might focus more on inventory management, while others might improve materials packing and picking. After zeroing in on your goals, you can thoughtfully structure the layout of the warehouse. 

2. Uninterrupted Flow

A good layout should not interfere with the flow of goods. All operations ought to keep on moving, and all the equipment should be functional. The storage of materials and products ought to be well thought out to boost their accessibility. 

3. Efficient Use of Space

Even with a small room as your warehouse, you can design the layout to meet all your needs. That is, get to know the different storage options without wasting any space. The equipment, too, ought to work hand in hand with the available space and layout. 

4. Inventory Storage

Never overload a facility. Calculate the available inventory to know whether it can fit in your warehouse. Poor inventory management and storage will affect material handling and increase injuries. It takes more time for the workers to move the products around the warehouse.

You must understand how long you’ll store the inventory and the amount available. It ensures that you’ll easily come up with smart decisions on the different storage options.

Why Bother with Warehouse Material Handling?

Mediocre material handling leads to delays and errors that can erode customer loyalty. To better the material handling plans, you ought to have a system where you can:

  • Boost employees’ mental and physical health.
  • Maintain the integrity of products and materials.
  • Boost the productivity of the manufacturing plant, distribution center, and warehouse.

With good material handling measures, you can negate spoilage, damage, and theft by limiting access. Also, following up with goods from the dock to the warehouse can assist in adequately controlling materials.

Mastering warehouse material handling ensures proper organization and storage of goods in a way that they can be picked and packed quickly. On the other hand, employees can take advantage of material handling systems to complete their work faster. 

Material handling processes can reduce the movement and work of employees by substituting with automated and semi-automated equipment. They can also increase their turnover and create a safe work environment.

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