Material handling system plays a vital role in managing the flow of materials within various industrial operations and facilities. Properly designed material handling equipment and automation can significantly improve productivity, efficiency, costs, and safety. This article provides an overview of material handling systems, their components, and their importance.
What is a material handling system?
A material handling system refers to the organization and management of the movement, storage, control, and protection of materials, goods, and products throughout the process of manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. The goal of an effective material handling system is to optimize material and information flow to minimize waste and costs while maximizing throughput, flexibility, and productivity.
Material handling systems typically involve the integration of various material handling equipment, automation technologies, control systems, and storage/retrieval solutions to transport, lift, protect, and track materials within operational environments such as warehouses, distribution centers, manufacturing plants, and more. They allow companies to smoothly transfer materials between different stages of production, assembly, packaging, inventory, and shipping.
Benefits of investing in material handling equipment :
There are several benefits for companies that invest in modern, automated material handling systems:
Increased Productivity: Automated equipment and streamlined workflows reduce idle time and unnecessary movements allowing more materials to be moved in less time.
Lower Operating Costs: Fewer required material handlers, reduced damage/waste, and energy-efficient solutions lower overall operating expenses in the long run.
Greater Safety: Automation eliminates risks from manual lifting/carrying of heavy loads and ergonomically unsafe motions. Safety features also reduce accident risks.
Improved Inventory Accuracy: Automated identification technologies and control systems provide real-time inventory visibility to prevent stock-outs and excess stock levels.
Enhanced Quality Control: Automated material traceability allows easy identification of defective components for fast corrective action improving final product quality.
Scalability: The modular design of material handling systems provides flexibility to accommodate future production requirement changes or capacity expansions.
Components of materials handling :
The key components that make material handling systems include:
Conveyors: Belt, roller, overhead, floor, and pallet conveyors transport materials between different workstations or processes.
Automated Guided Vehicles: AGVs and mobile robots autonomously move loads within facilities based on control software and built-in navigation.
Storage and Retrieval Systems: Automatic storage/retrieval systems including carousels, vertical lift modules, and AS/RS improve the storage density and accessibility of inventory.
Cranes and Hoists: Overhead cranes, jib cranes, gantry cranes, and hoists lift and move bulky or heavy loads over long distances.
Sortation Systems: Computer-controlled sorters, diverters, and scanners route item flow to designated destinations based on preset criteria.
Material Transport Vehicles: Forklifts, pallet jacks, tractor units, and carts manually transport loads over ground surfaces.
Software and Controls: Warehouse management systems, industrial PCs, and programmable logic controllers direct and monitor material flow activities.
Identification Technologies: Barcoding, RFID, and machine vision aid in tracing, tracking, and automated identification of materials within processes.
Proper selection, integration, and maintenance of these core components are important for optimal material handling system performance. Also, automation is increasingly used to reduce labor requirements and improve throughput.
What is an example of a material handling system:
Automated Assembly Line: Overhead conveyors deliver components to workstations and robotic arms selectively pick the components. The line then boxes and palletizes the finished products automatically for shipping.
Warehouse Distribution Center: AGVs retrieve pallets of inventory stored in vertical lift modules and convey them to picking stations. Workers then scan, pack, and route the goods to shipping docks via multidirectional sorters.
Package Sortation Hub: The system inducts loose packages onto tilting belts after they enter. Also, high-speed scanners sort the items based on zip code and divert them into chutes loading trailers bound for specific regions.
Automotive Paint Shop: A linear conveyor moves unpainted bodies through automated washing, spray painting, and curing stages. Computer vision then inspects the finished bodies before roll-off packaging packages them for long-distance transport.
Food Processing Plant: The plant weighs, washes, and delivers raw ingredients into vats via dedicated overhead lanes. Modular conveyors then send the prepared dough through proofing ovens and onwards to packaging lines
Parcel Fulfillment Center: Small warehouses utilize goods-to-person robots that retrieve inventory brought to picking stations by autonomous mobile robots. Orders are assembled at workstations then proceed down chutes to pack out the area.
Industries Adopting Material Handling Systems:
Some industries where effective material handling systems provide major operational benefits include:
Automotive Manufacturing: Just-in-time delivery of components between processes requires streamlined material flow.
E-commerce and Parcel Delivery: Fast order fulfillment relies on optimized warehouse material handling to pick, pack, and ship large order volumes.
also, food and Beverage Processing: Sanitary conveyance and traceable movement of products is important for safety and quality compliance.
Third-Party Logistics: Multi-client warehousing demands efficient space utilization and flexibility to handle varied customer order profiles.
Retail Distribution Centers: Seasonal inventory surges can overwhelm manual systems, necessitating warehouse automation scale-up.
Also, properly designed material handling solutions with the right equipment selection based on unique facility and productivity needs serve as the backbone of modern global supply chain operations across industries.
Equipment Selection – There is a wide range of material handling equipment available, from simple manual items to highly automated solutions. so, proper selection depends on factors like volume, size/weight of loads, required throughput, floor space, budget, and future growth plans.
Facility Design –
Engineers must carefully design the layout and internal logistics flow of a plant or warehouse to accommodate the material handling system. Conveyors and AGVs require dedicated aisles, storage areas need optimal setup, etc. Conveyors and AGVs require dedicated aisles, storage areas need optimal setup, etc.
System Integration – Individual pieces of equipment need programming and controls to operate as an integrated whole. So, they require networking with control/WMS software and any robots, sorters, or automated guided vehicles.
Software Management – Warehouse management systems handle inventory tracking, labor planning, equipment monitoring, and other tasks. Also, they provide visibility into material flows and opportunities for optimization.
Cost Modeling – Total costs including equipment, installation, Also, maintenance programming, and facility modifications need evaluation against productivity benefits over the lifecycle to evaluate the ROI potential of automation projects.
Change Management – Automation transforms roles and workflows. So, companies must retrain the workforce, establish new performance metrics, and implement culture change efforts to fully leverage technology investments.
Ongoing Upgrades – Technological improvements require companies to periodically upgrade systems to maintain competitiveness. Also, flexibility remains vital given uncertainties in demand patterns, products, and processes over the long run.
material handling systems play a vital role in efficiently managing material flow throughout the production and distribution processes. Automation continues transforming these systems to reduce costs while improving throughput, flexibility, traceability, and workplace safety. Proper due diligence ensures optimal solutions that deliver long-term value.