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22 May 2018

Material Handling Equipment: Types And Use Cases

material handling equipment

Material handling equipment is used to move and store goods and materials within a facility or to and from a site. It is instrumental in moving materials through various processes — from managing raw materials, through manufacturing, to warehousing and distribution of finished goods.

With the adoption of newer technology, automation, and changing consumer and market needs, the materials handling equipment industry is witnessing tremendous growth.

According to the Fortune Business Insights market report, the sector is projected to grow from $206.50 billion in 2021 to $300.21 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 5.5%.

The trend in the industry is towards enhancing efficiency, improving productivity, maximizing safety, and decreasing downtime. Investment in proper materials handling equipment is essential for a safe, efficient, and profitable unit.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at:

  • what are the main types of material handling equipment
  • how material handling equipment and systems are critical for any industry
  • what are the main differences between manual and automated material handling equipment
  • how to choose the right type of material handling equipment for your facility


Main types of materials handling equipment

Material handling equipment can be broadly divided into four categories:

  • bulk handling systems
  • engineered systems
  • storage
  • and transport.

Each category has a wide variety of tools and implements that are used to move large volumes of goods or heavy materials around in a safe and efficient manner.

01. Bulk handling systems

As the name suggests, bulk handling equipment aids in moving large volumes of material in bulk or loose form. This category is witnessing automation on a large scale and these are the main types:

​​Conveyors carts use the pulley system to rotate their belts and move materials in bulk. There are different types of conveyors such as vehicle, chain, overhead, cleated, and apron.

Stackers are similar to forklifts. They lift and stack heavy objects onto a dock or within a storage facility.

Reclaimers are designed to lift bulk materials from a stockpile.

Bucket/grain elevators haul bulk materials vertically.

Hoppers are funnel-shaped with openings at the bottom and are used to pour loose materials into containers.

Cranes are used to move heavy objects; for example, overhead cranes are used in shipyards and construction sites. There are jib cranes and workstations cranes that are stationary and operate in smaller areas.


02. Engineered systems

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS), Automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and Robotic delivery systems form this category:

The AS/AR systems need to be integrated with the other categories for efficient output. They can be connected to a company’s network, which makes it easier to monitor their load handling.

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): AGVs feature sensors and detectors, are autonomous, and can be programmed to move on preset pathways around a facility.

Robotic delivery systems: Useful on an assembly line, and to handle repetitive tasks like order picking.

AGV carts or Automated guided vehicles
AGVs can be programmed to follow specified pathways.

03. Storage and handling

This is the most basic material handling equipment. Storage and handling equipment are ideal for keeping warehouses organized, navigating, and accessing and transporting materials of all sizes more efficiently.

Flow Racks or Flow Carts come in different types. There are drive-in racks that can reach vertically stacked loads and create more floor space. There are also push-backs, sliding, pallet, and cantilever racks.

​​Drive-In Racking System or AR Drive-In is a densely packed storage solution designed to save space laterally and longitudinally. It helps reduce the space needed for forklifts to operate in aisles. Most are modular structures, which are easy to assemble or disassemble.

Sliding Pallet Racks are versatile racking systems that allow immediate access to any type of load. They mostly operate on wheeled carts fitted onto rails. They can be layered two to five deep, which allows for efficient space usage.

Bins and drawers are good for storing lightweight loose materials.

Stacking frames are one of the main types of storage equipment. They can be easily stacked one upon another to carry heavy loads and can be extended or dismantled according to needs. They come in various forms. Stackable racks have fork guides for easy handling, and there are racks used for storing large plates or panels, equipped with a swingable stop, stacking guides, and fork pockets.

Mezzanines are raised indoor platforms for creating additional storage above ground. They come in modular and rack forms. These are great flexible solutions.

04. Transport equipment

Transport equipment includes pallet holders, side loaders, and trucks. These can be manual or automatic (like automatic guided vehicles) and can be used for in-facility movement of goods or for long hauls.

They are all designed to assist with material transportation. Side loaders, pallet loaders, and forklifts aid in accessing and moving materials within a facility.

With that out of the way, let’s dive a little deeper into the difference between manual and automated material handling equipment.

Pros and cons of manual material handling equipment

Material handling incorporates a wide range of manual, semi-automated, and automated equipment and systems.

Manual handling is the traditional way of sorting, retrieving, locating, and shelving goods where manual labor is the driving force.

The advantages of manual handling equipment include:

Cost-saving: No heavy initial investment is needed and Return on Investment is quick too.

Easy adaptability: No advanced training is required to handle the equipment by the employees.

Space-saving: Not much heavy equipment is necessary for manual systems, hence storage space can be compact.

However, the disadvantages are hard to overlook:

  • It is a slow and less agile system
  • It is more error-prone and can lead to inaccuracies
  • It can lead to escalating labor costs

The case for automated material handling equipment

Automated material handling equipment uses computerized systems with built-in technology for doing all the tasks involved in material lifting, retrieving, and movement. Automated handling might still require some human input for picking, pushing, or dropping.

A Peerless Research Group’s annual survey says nearly 40% of businesses are expected to invest in conveyors and sortation equipment, 25% in robotics, and 14% in AGVs, all in the near future. A further 49% is likely to invest in warehouse and inventory management software.

The aerospace, agriculture, automotive, construction, manufacturing, e-commerce, retail pharmaceutical, and many other industries have all started to recognize the potential of next-generation, automated material handling equipment. Here are the main advantages.

01. Improves productivity

Automation leads to better resource utilization, improves data accuracy and analysis, and reduces the chances of human errors. There is a more favorable correlation between handling equipment and storage costs as well.

IKEA’s distribution centers use Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS), inventory automation systems, and equipment such as stackers and conveyor racks that have the capacity to automatically transfer 600 pallets an hour to dispatch areas.

Amazon is well-known for using GTP systems powered by automated guided vehicles (AGVS), Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs), and AS/RS.

It uses the autonomous robot fleets to load and transport mobile shelving units for inventory fulfillment to designated locations. It saves workers’ time and effort by relieving them from walking around locating inventory.

Such automation allows for better material flow and modern shelving.

02. Reduces material waste and increases safety

In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, a big concern is the hazardous material that needs to be handled and the non-contamination and cleanliness aspects.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) have the potential to increase order accuracy levels to above 99.99% and reduce workplace injuries by removing the human element from the more dangerous material handling processes.

automated material handling equipment

03. Facilitates smaller footprints and greater utilization of space

Automation is the answer to the compact and efficient flow of material. The global manufacturing industry has seen maximum adoption of advanced material handling equipment solutions.

Greater demand for quick and efficient order fulfillment has forced the industry to adapt to automation quickly.

Automated order-filling stations, electrical material carts, computerized order-picking aisles, overhead cranes, robotic pick and drop systems, and AGVs are some of the material handling equipment that helps reduce the footprint and maximize the utilization of available space.

04. Helps in budget forecasting and better resource utilization

Companies are using AI, machine learning, and automation to reduce business costs, improve customer experience and increase sales. The 3PL or third-party logistics industry is what keeps the global supply chains moving. It is a significant factor behind the success of the e-commerce sector worldwide.

05. Greater adherence to project milestones and deadlines

In 2020, 78% of organizations in a Deloitte survey had already implemented Robotics process automation (RPA), and 16% planned to do so in the ensuing three years. Autonomous dump truck systems and Automated Vertical Transport Systems (AVTS) are used for faster onsite movement of loads.

Steel, cement, and ancillary industries are all adopting automation for faster deliveries and cost-efficient delivery options.

Automated material handling does come with some challenges

01. The initial cost of automation is high, and smaller organizations might find the cost-prohibitive. The ongoing maintenance costs can be an added burden as well.

02. It is not suitable for a highly variable business where multiple tasks need to be carried out at once. It also reduces flexibility for scaling up in terms of space.

03. It requires a skilled labor force and could require ongoing reskilling and training.

The future of material handling

The material handling equipment industry is seeing renewed growth after a halt in revenue due to the Pandemic.

A promising future is leading the industry players to look for better and improved tools and equipment and innovative use of processes. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Custom material handling solutions are the need of the hour.

FlexQube, a leading material handling equipment company, with offices in both Europe and the US, offers a range of flexible systems with a few standardized components. Do get in touch for all your material handling needs.

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FlexQube CEO Anders Fogelberg

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