Picking and sorting inventory efficiently is a vital part of your warehouse’s workflow, and the material handling equipment you use can impact your business’s productivity and profitability. A range of material handling solutions are designed to promote faster, safer, and more efficient storage and order fulfillment.
Discover the importance of material handling and find the right equipment to optimize your workflows, keep employees safe, and improve your bottom line.
The Importance of Material Handling in Business Operations
Material handling is essential for moving goods throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing to distribution. It is widely applied across various sectors, particularly in warehousing, which requires secure storage, retrieval, and shipping of goods.
Material handling equipment, ranging from manual to semi-automated and fully automated systems, assists in efficiently moving and storing materials within a warehouse. The choice of equipment, processes, and systems for transporting, storing, and managing materials is critical for optimizing your business’s efficiency, safety, and overall performance.
Key motivations for adopting efficient material handling practices for your business include:
Efficient material handling cuts down on needless staff movements and transport, reducing excess handling, saving time, and lowering labor expenses. Adopting suitable equipment combined with a strategically designed warehouse layout can enhance storage capacity and speed up order fulfillment. This reduction in bottlenecks boosts productivity and leads to greater customer satisfaction.
For example, using automated guided vehicles in manufacturing instead of forklifts streamlines the transport of materials between workstations. With operators waiting less for deliveries, production can flow smoothly instead of moving intermittently.
Optimizing material flow also contributes to increased productivity. Moving materials faster from one point to another increases the output achievable in the same timeframe. Automation cuts down on wasted time and speeds up production.
Installing conveyor systems and storage and retrieval systems in warehouses improves put-away and order-picking rates, allowing workers to rapidly store and retrieve inventory to fulfill orders accurately. Increasing your productivity with smart material handling solutions helps your business meet higher demand without expanding staff.
Minimizing Damage and Waste
With 4.3% of inventory spoiling before it hits shelves and around $163 billion in inventory losses yearly, the right material handling solutions are essential to minimize product damage and waste and save money. When materials are handled correctly and efficiently at each stage of the supply chain, there is less risk of damaging the quality and integrity of your goods.
Automated sorting systems with built-in scanners can identify and separate defective items during inspection. This selective handling removes bad stock from the supply chain and ensures it does not proceed to later stages, resulting in fewer damaged goods, less waste, and mitigating financial losses.
The Impact of Effective Material Handling on Business Profitability
Material handling needs time, staffing, and money, adding to the cost of your goods and, subsequently, impacting your business’s profitability. With the right material handling gear, you can streamline your inventory’s journey from intake to order fulfillment and benefit from the following:
Reduced Operational Costs
Labor costs account for around 70% of your business’s overhead, and material handling is a highly labor-intensive process that can quickly cut into your company’s profits. Investing in the right material handling equipment and procedures can reduce operational costs, streamlining workflows to help cut down on staff and man-hours.
Efficient material handling can also help minimize downtime, which can cost manufacturing companies approximately $50 million a year. Poor equipment efficiency and work backlogs are often cited as primary reasons for downtime. So improving your material handling processes with high-quality equipment can help save your company money in the long term.
Boosting Revenue with Efficiency in Material Handling
Material handling systems can boost revenue by speeding up how quickly your warehouse can process and fulfill orders. More efficient materials handling procedures mean your company can keep up with growing customer demands and grow its revenue. These systems also ramp up productivity, allowing your business to increase output and capture more of the market.
And, with faster and smoother processes, you’ll see higher customer satisfaction thanks to shorter wait times.
Enhancing Customer Satisfaction
Customers value the quality of the goods they purchase; however, the overall shopping experience is also vital in managing customer satisfaction. With effective material handling, you impact your customers’ shopping experience by ensuring faster order processing and delivery.
Careful material handling reduces the risk of your customers receiving damaged goods, reducing the need for returns and limiting customer complaints. It also helps your warehouse maintain accurate inventory levels to prevent frustrating stock shortages while minimizing overstocking.
Different Types of Material Handling Equipment
Material handling equipment includes a broad range of tools, machinery, and vehicles designed to transport, control, protect, and store goods throughout the manufacturing and distribution process. Understanding the different types of material handling equipment is essential for selecting the right tools to improve efficiency, safety, and productivity in operations.
Transport gear is used to move goods and materials from one location to another within a facility or between locations. Some essential items include:
- Conveyors. Belt, roller, chain, and screw conveyors are used to move materials between loading points, processing areas, and storage locations.
- Forklifts. Motorized vehicles with a front-mounted fork for lifting and transporting materials over short distances.
- Stackers: Equipment used to create material piles and storage stacks by lowering and raising heavy loads quickly and easily.
- Trucks and trolleys. Narrow aisle reach trucks and pallet trucks are available in manual or motorized models and are used for transporting goods between racking and loading bays.
- Order pickers. These manual carts allow workers to transport inventory between the order picker platform and the cart deck without the risk of injury or inventory damage.
Positioning equipment in warehouse material handling optimizes the placement of goods for processing, storage, or transportation. It can improve your company’s operational efficiency, reduce labor costs, and minimize the risk of inventory damage. Common positioning equipment used in warehouses and distribution centers includes:
- Hoists and cranes. Hoists and cranes are designed to safely lift and lower heavy materials, including construction materials like steel beams and concrete blocks, large machinery, and oversized industrial equipment.
- Turntables. Turntables are used to efficiently rotate goods for easy access, assembly, or inspection, for a smoother workflow and productivity.
- Balancers. Balancers maintain items in a specific position, ensuring stability and precision during assembly or processing tasks.
Unit Load Formation Equipment
Streamline the consolidation of goods into single, movable loads for more efficient handling with unit load formation equipment. This equipment can improve your warehouse’s space utilization and accelerate loading and unloading processes.
- Pallets and skids. Typically made from high-density injection molded plastic, these platforms allow goods to be stacked and moved as a single load.
- Strapping and wrapping machines. These machines are essential in logistics, securely fastening goods to pallets and each other, ensuring inventory remains stable and safe during transportation and storage.
Having the right storage equipment in your warehouse, such as shelving and pallet racks, optimizes space utilization and organizes inventory for easy access. This improves material handling efficiency for quicker order fulfillment.
- Shelving and racking. Shelving and racking, including standalone units and integrated systems like cantilever racking and industrial shelving, are essential for organizing goods in a warehouse and providing easy access to picking and storing equipment.
- Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). Automated systems like the Modula SLIM allow for the automated placement and retrieval of inventory from dense storage areas.
- Bins and drawers. Bins and drawers offer compact storage solutions, ideal for organizing and securing small parts and items in workshops, warehouses, and retail settings.
Identification and Control Equipment
Identification and control equipment tracks and manages material flow in your warehouse. Devices like RFID tags ensure accurate inventory tracking, faster order processing speeds, and minimal errors, improving overall supply chain efficiency.
- Barcodes and RFID tags. Barcodes and RFID tags store unique information, scanned and read by specialized devices, enabling real-time tracking of inventory and its location in your warehouse.
- Inventory management software. Inventory management software works by integrating data from purchasing, tracking, and selling goods. It automates stock-level monitoring and order processing and provides instantaneous insights into warehousing operations.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Material Handling Equipment
When selecting material handling equipment for your warehouse or manufacturing facility, it’s important to think about a few critical aspects. These considerations will help you pick the tools that best fit your needs, affecting how well your operations run, safety, expenses, and overall output.
Evaluate Your Business Needs
Start by examining how your operations run to figure out what you need and where the pain points are. Find where the process is lacking, and identify any errors, slowdowns, and bottlenecks. Ask your workers for their input to help you make the best choice.
Type of Materials
Consider the characteristics of the materials you need to handle, including size, weight, shape, and condition (solid, liquid, hazardous), and whether it is palletized or non-palletized. You need to buy specific equipment for different types of materials for maximum handling efficiency.
Volume of Materials
The quantity of materials that need to be moved, stored, or processed at any given time influences the type of equipment required. If you have a high-volume operation, you may benefit from automated solutions.
The physical layout of your facility, including aisle width, ceiling height, and floor loading capacity, can limit your equipment options. Make sure any equipment you consider can operate effectively within these constraints.
Movement and Storage Needs
Assess how materials need to move through your facility. Do they require long-distance transportation, vertical lifting, or complex routing? Also, consider storage needs, such as stacking height and access frequency.
Ergonomics and Safety
Equipment that enhances worker safety and reduces physical strain can lead to a more productive workforce and lower the risk of workplace injuries.
Flexibility and Scalability
Choose equipment like modular storage that can adapt to changing operations, such as seasonal fluctuations in volume or potential future expansion of your business.
Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impact
Consider the energy consumption and environmental impact of the equipment. More sustainable options can reduce operating costs and support corporate social responsibility goals.
Cost of Ownership
Consider the total cost of ownership, including installation, maintenance, and operational costs. Evaluate the return on investment (ROI) based on productivity gains and cost savings.
Maintenance and Reliability
Look into the maintenance requirements and reliability of the equipment. Frequent breakdowns can disrupt operations and lead to higher long-term costs.
Supplier Reputation and Support
Choose equipment from reputable suppliers that offer strong after-sales support, including training, parts availability, and service agreements.
Integration with Existing Systems
Ensure that new equipment can integrate seamlessly with your current systems, including warehouse management systems (WMS) and inventory control systems, to avoid compatibility issues.
Maximize Your Business Success Through Material Handling
Achieving your business objectives begins with understanding the importance of material handling equipment and choosing the right items for your warehouse. Don’t leave your productivity and bottom line to chance. Contact the team at Shelving + Rack Solutions today at (800) 589-7225 for advice on selecting equipment that will optimize your operational efficiency.