What is Material Handling? Objectives, Principles, Control

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What is Material Handling?

Material handling refers to the process of moving, controlling, storing, and protecting materials and products throughout the various stages of production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. It is a critical aspect of supply chain management and manufacturing processes, ensuring that materials and goods are efficiently and safely transported from one location to another within a facility or between different facilities.

Material Handling Definition

The process of material handling is defined by the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) as the movement, storage, control and protection of materials, goods, and products throughout the process of manufacturing, distribution, consumption and disposal. The focus is on the methods, mechanical equipment, systems and related controls used to achieve these functions.

According to Stock & Lambert, 2001, production flow is made possible through material handling as it drives the static elements of the production process, such as materials, products, equipment, layout and human resources. Effective management of material handling allows an organisation to enhance its operational performance (Chopra & Meindl, 2001). Efficiency in the material handling processes and system of an organisation allows it to reduce inventory, shorten delivery times, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce material handling costs overall.

Material handling equipment assists personnel in managing the flow of materials efficiently. Industrial trucks are used to flow materials over variable paths with no restrictions on the area covered by the movement. Proper material handling is important to reduce costs, increase operational efficiency and minimise accidents.

Objectives of Material Handling

The basic function of material handling is the movement of materials. The factory system that emerged during the industrial revolution shifted the handling of materials from simple physical handling to mechanical handling. The emergence of various technologies has completely changed the face of material handling to what it is today.

The objectives of material handling are discussed as follows:

To Improve Productivity

An efficient material handling system helps in increasing productivity per man hour. It also helps in reducing the machine downtime in order to increase the efficiency of the machine.

To Reduce Cost

Reducing and optimising material handling procedures help achieve a reduced total cost of production.

These can be done in the following manner:

  • Reducing the number of material handling labourer

  • Assigning simple material handling tasks to unskilled staff

  • Minimising indirect labour expenses on activities related to storage, quality control, repair, etc.

  • Preventing damage to materials during handling

  • Optimising space utilisation

  • Reducing packaging expenses

  • Maintaining the minimum level of inventory

  • Reducing storage between processes

To Enhance Capacity

An efficient material handling system helps to achieve an increase in capacity through better utilisation of space.

This can be done through the steps given as follows:

  • Using stacks or containers that allow the stacking of materials upon each other in order to utilise the space efficiently

  • Examining the flow of materials between operations while taking into account the flow paths, volumes, timings, etc., in order to identify ways by which travel time and space requirements can be reduced

  • Ensuring regular supply and allocation of materials results in better utilisation of equipment and prevents equipment from just sitting idle

  • Using material handling equipment, such as cranes and conveyors, that allows faster loading or unloading of materials

To Improve Working Conditions

Improvement of the working conditions in an organisation is one of the major objectives of material handling management.

This can be done in the following ways:

  • Improving the safety of the workforce, materials and equipment helps in preventing loss of money and enhancing the morale of employees

  • Using proper handling equipment during the course of production allows staff to perform heavy jobs faster, easier and at a steady rate

  • Ensuring reduction in the manual handling of materials minimises the risk of errors in operations

To Enhance Customer Service

Better material handling ensures timely deliveries to the end user by preventing disruptions to the production schedule. Thus, it helps improve customer service.

Principles of Material Handling

The principles of material handling act as a guide during the designing of a material handling system. When a material handling system is aligned with these principles, it means that all equipment and processes work together as a unified and coordinated system. This results in reduced inventory, shorter delivery times, better customer service, and reduced handling costs. However, these principles should not be used as a substitute for value judgement and experience.

The College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CIC-MHE) recognises the 10 principles of material handling, which are explained as follows:


Planning helps outline the requirements, desired performance goals and functional requirements of the intended material handling system. A material handling plan defines the materials to be handled, its movement and the method and technologies to be used for the smooth flow. Planning is to be done at the start of the design phase, taking into account the objectives of the organisation.


Standardisation means less variety and customisation in methods and technologies that are employed in the material handling processes.


It is calculated by multiplying the materials flow in terms of volume, weight or count per unit of time with the distance moved by the materials.


It refers to the science that tries to adapt work and the working conditions as per the suitability of workers.

Unit Load

Unit loads comprise many individual items. These can be stored, managed and moved with the help of pallets, containers and totes as a single entity at one time. These shouldbe preferred as they use less effort than the required effort to move various individual items.

Space Utilisation

In material handling, space is considered as three dimensional and, therefore, referred to as a cubic space. It is important to keep in mind the following points in order to allow the maximum space utilisation:

  • Organise work areas and keep them clutter-free

  • Maximise density in storage areas without affecting safety, flexibility and accessibility

  • Utilise overhead space


The movement and storage of materials should be coordinated during various processes, such as receiving materials, inspection, storage, allocation, production, assembly, packaging, shipping and returns.


At the time of designing the system, energy usage and potential environmental impact need to be taken into account. Reusable packing, returnable containers, recycling packing materials and alternative sources of energy should be given preference. Safe work practices also need to be defined for handling hazardous materials.


Automation refers to the use of electromechanical devices, electronics and computer-based systems that can be operated with the help of programmed instructions. Investing in automated material handling technologies should be given preference over manual ones, whenever possible, as they help increase operational efficiency, accuracy, responsiveness and reliability

Life Cycle Cost

Instead of looking only at the initial capital investment upfront, an analysis of life cycle costs needs to be undertaken for all equipment concentrating on the areas, such as installation and set-up, training, system operation, consumables, maintenance and repair, reuse value and disposal.

Material Control

Material control includes a set of managerial activities concerned with giving directions to ensure maintaining adequate quality and quantity of materials. The main aim of material control is to maintain uninterrupted production process; thereby minimising material cost per unit. Material control aims to eliminate the wastage of raw materials and supplies in course of purchase, storage, handling and use and reduces the risk of theft.

Apart from that, the following are some other objectives of material control:

  • To ensure the sufficient supply of materials as and when required for smooth production process

  • To avoid the situations of over stocking and under stocking of materials

  • To make prompt issue of materials

  • To minimise storage cost

The following are some requisites for an effective material control system:

  • There should be coordination among different departments especially the production department, purchasing department, inspection department, stores department and cost department.

  • There should be an appropriate system for classification, codification, and standardisation of materials.

  • There must be an arrangement for storing materials to avoid the possibility of deterioration of quality, theft and wastage.

  • Minimum and maximum stock levels must be fixed for each item of material in the stores.

  • There should be provision for the generation of regular reports on the quantity and value of materials received and issued as well as existing balance.

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