What is Material Handling? Principles, Systems, Definition, Types, Selection

  • Post last modified:2 May 2021
  • Reading time:9 mins read

What is Material Handling?

Haynes defines “Material handling embraces the basic operations in connection with the movement of bulk, packaged and individual products in a semi-solid or solid state by means of gravity manually or power-actuated equipment and within the limits of individual producing, fabricating, processing or service establishment”.

Material handling does not add any value to the product but adds to the cost of the product and hence it will cost the customer more. So the handling should be kept at minimum. Material handling in Indian industries accounts for nearly 40% of the cost of production.

Out of the total time spent for manufacturing a product, 20% of the time is utilized for actual processing on them while the remaining 80% of the time is spent in moving from one place to another, waiting for the processing. Poor material handling may result in delays leading to the idling of equipment.


Definition of Material Handling

Materials handling defines the function dealing with the preparation, placing and positioning of materials to facilitate their movement or storage

Principles of Material Handling

These are principles of material handling:

  1. Planning Principle
  2. Standardization Principle
  3. Work Principle
  4. Ergonomic Principle
  5. Unit Load Principle
  6. Space Utilization Principle
  7. System Principle
  8. Automation Principle
  9. Environmental Principle
  10. Life Cycle Cost Principle

Planning Principle

All MH should be the result of a deliberate plan where the needs, performance objectives, and functional specification of the proposed methods are completely defined at the outset.

Standardization Principle

MH methods, equipment, controls and software should be standardized within the limits of achieving overall performance objectives and without sacrificing needed flexibility, modularity, and throughput.

Work Principle

MH work (defined as material flow multiplied by the distance moved) should be minimized without sacrificing productivity or the level of service required of the operation.

Ergonomic Principle

Human capabilities and limitations must be recognized and respected in the design of MH tasks and equipment to ensure safe and effective operations.

Unit Load Principle

Unit loads shall be appropriately sized and configured in a way that achieves the material flow and inventory objectives at each stage in the supply chain.

Space Utilization Principle

Effective and efficient use must be made of all available (cubic) space.

System Principle

Material movement and storage activities should be fully integrated to form a coordinated, operational system which spans receiving, inspection, storage, production, assembly, packaging, unitizing, order selection, shipping, and transportation, and the handling of returns.

Automation Principle

MH operations should be mechanized and/or automated where feasible to improve operational efficiency, increase responsiveness, improve consistency and predictability, decrease operating costs, and to eliminate repetitive or potentially unsafe manual labor.

Environmental Principle

Environmental impact and energy consumption should be considered as criteria when designing or selecting alternative equipment and MHS.

Life Cycle Cost Principle.

A thorough economic analysis should account for the entire life cycle of all MHE and resulting systems.


Material Handling Systems

Material handling systems can be classified as:

  1. Manual System
  2. Mechanized System
  3. Semi-Automated System
  4. Automated System

Manual System

It is the cheapest and most commonly used method of material movement used within warehousing. Its limitations are low volume, slow speed, and physical characteristics of the product.

In mostly all developed countries where manual labour is scarce and cost of employment is very high, there is very less use of manual handling. Whereas in developing countries because of availability of cheap labour, manual systems with very limited mechanization such as usage of manual push-pull trolley with wheels are common.

Mechanized System

it is mechanized and more expensive mean of material handling than manual. It is most suitable for large scale operations and also has a capacity to carry huge loads. It leads to fast movement of materials resulting in time saving and increased accuracy in material handling as well as reduced need for human element.

Mechanized systems include a wide range of equipments such as conveyor belts, cranes, elevators, forklift trucks, towlines, tow tractor with trailers, etc.

Semi-Automated System

in semi-automatic systems, there is automation of specific material handling operations. It is used along with mechanized systems. Material handling in a semiautomatic warehouse is a combination of mechanized and automatic handling systems.

Generally, equipments used in a semi-automated warehouse are AGVS (Automated Guided Vehicle System), computerized sorting, robotics and various forms of live racks.

Automated System

ARS (Automated Storage and Retrieval) system facilitates the concept of high rise storage or vertical storage system and both the operations (i.e. storage and retrieval) are performed automatically and the concept is fully automated from receiving to shipping.

It is called high rise system because of the vertical storage rack made of steel which can be up to 120 feet high whereas the normal height of palletized cartons in mechanized system is only up to 20 feet.

Thus the form of cargo-handling equipment employed is basically determined by the nature of the actual cargo and the type of packing used. The subject of handling facilities raises the important question of mechanization.


Types of Material Handling Equipment

The different types of material handling equipment can be classified into the following five major categories:

  1. Transport Equipment
  2. Positioning Equipment
  3. Unit Load Formation Equipment
  4. Storage Equipment
  5. Identification and Control Equipment

Transport Equipment

Equipment used to move material from one location to another (e.g., between workplaces, between a loading dock and a storage area, etc.). The major subcategories of transport equipment are conveyors, cranes, and industrial trucks. Material can also be transported manually using no equipment.

For example: Conveyors, Cranes, Industrial Trucks, Cargo Ship etc.

Positioning Equipment

Equipment used to handle material at a single location (e.g., to feed and/or manipulate materials so that are in the correct position for subsequent handling, machining, transport, or storage). Unlike transport equipment, positioning equipment is usually used for handling at a single workplace. Material can also be positioned manually using no equipment.

For example Manual (no equipment), Lift/tilt/turn table, Dock leveler, Ball transfer table, Rotary index table, Parts feeder, Air film device, Hoist, Balancer, Manipulator, Industrial robot.

Unit Load Formation Equipment

Equipment used to restrict materials so that they maintain their integrity when handled a single load during transport and for storage. If materials are self-restraining (e.g., a single part or interlocking parts), then they can be formed into a unit load with no equipment.

For example Self-restraining (no equipment), Pallets, Skids, Slipsheets, Tote pans, Pallet/skid boxes, Bins/baskets/racks, Cartons, Bags, Bulk load containers, Crates, Intermodal containers, Strapping/tape/glue, Shrink-wrap/ stretch-wrap, Palletizers.

Storage Equipment

Equipment used for holding or buffering materials over a period of time. Some storage equipment may include the transport of materials (e.g., the S/R machines of an AS/RS, or storage carousels). If materials are block stacked directly on the floor, then no storage equipment is required.

For example Block stacking (no equipment), Selective pallet rack, Drive-in rack, Drive-through rack, Push-back rack, Flow-through rack, Sliding rack, Cantilever rack, Stacking frame, Bin shelving, Storage drawers, Storage carousel, Vertical lift module, A-frame, Automatic storage/ retrieval system.

Identification and Control Equipment

Equipment used to collect and communicate the information that is used to coordinate the flow of materials within a facility and between a facility and its suppliers and customers. The identification of materials and associated control can be performed manually with no specialized equipment.

For example Manual (no equipment), Bar codes, Radio frequency identification tags, Voice recognition, Magnetic stripes, Machine vision, Portable data terminals.


Selection of Material Handling Equipment

The following factors are to be taken into account while selecting material handling equipment:

  1. Properties of the Material
  2. Layout and Characteristics of the Building
  3. Production Flow
  4. Cost Considerations
  5. Nature of Operations
  6. Engineering Factors
  7. Equipment Reliability

Properties of the Material

Whether it is solid, liquid or gas, and in what size, shape and weight it is to be moved, are important considerations and can already lead to a preliminary elimination from the range of available equipment under review. Similarly, if a material is fragile, corrosive or toxic this will imply that certain handling methods and containers will be preferable to others.

Layout and Characteristics of the Building

Another restricting factor is the availability of space for handling. Low-level ceiling may preclude the use of hoists or cranes, and the presence of supporting columns in awkward places can limit the size of the material-handling equipment.

If the building is multi-storeyed, chutes or ramps for industrial trucks may be used. Layout itself will indicate the type of production operation (continuous, intermittent, fixed position or group) and can indicate some items of equipment that will be more suitable than others. Floor capacity also helps in selecting the best material handling equipment.

Production Flow

If the flow is fairly constant between two fixed positions that are not likely to change, fixed equipment such as conveyors or chutes can be successfully used. If, on the other hand, the flow is not constant and the direction changes occasionally from one point to another because several products are being produced simultaneously, moving equipment such as trucks would be preferable.

Cost Considerations

This is one of the most important considerations. The above factors can help to narrow the range of suitable equipment, while costing can help in taking a final decision. Several cost elements need to be taken into consideration when comparisons are made between various items of equipment that are all capable of handling the same load.

Initial investment and operating and maintenance costs are the major cost to be considered. By calculating and comparing the total cost for each of the items of equipment under consideration, a more rational decision can be reached on the most appropriate choice.

Nature of Operations

Selection of equipment also depends on nature of operations like whether handling is temporary or permanent, whether the flow is continuous or intermittent and material flow pattern-vertical or horizontal.

Engineering Factors

Selection of equipment also depends on engineering factors like door and ceiling dimensions, floor space, floor conditions and structural strength.

Equipment Reliability

Reliability of the equipment and supplier reputation and the after-sale service also plays an important role in selecting material handling equipment.


Go On, Share & Help your Friend

Did we miss something in Supply Chain Tutorial or You want something More? Come on! Tell us what you think about our post on what is Material Handling? | [2021] in the comments section and Share this post with your friends.

Coursera Plus banner featuring three learners on a blue background.

Leave a Reply