What is Material Handling?
It seems like a simple subject, material handling. Someone in the warehouse gets a product, puts it on a truck, and then it’s delivered to the customer. It may have been that way a few decades ago. But with advancing technology, “what is material handling” isn’t as cut and dried as that.
How is the warehouse configured? What equipment is used? Even the floor plan of the warehouse plays a part in material handling. Are items handled manually, is the process semi-automated, and the loading/unloading of materials before or after even reaching the warehouse all play a part.
It’s more than just moving the materials from one place to the other. Tracking inventory through supply chain management helps the warehouse communicate information to distribution hubs, retail stores, and other interested parties. This way decision can be made about what products need to be ordered, increased, or even discontinued.
No matter the industry, being able to keep tabs on how much inventory you have is a major concern. Whether products are misplaced, the warehousing distribution is handled poorly, or “walk away” on their own, lost inventory is a big blow to the financial bottom line.
It’s an important aspect of material handling. After all, if you don’t know how much you have – or you don’t know where it is – your workers and customers will be similarly frustrated. If you don’t make good on delivering that outdoor equipment, you won’t be in business for long.
This is where fully automated inventory tracking software and hardware greatly reduces material handling losses. With the scan of a barcode, workers, management, and clients alike will be able to track a single item from the warehouse to the truck to the final destination. And materials don’t mysteriously disappear as often, either.
This is the whole point of a warehouse: storing materials until they are needed. For the most part, it’s a pretty simple operation: materials are stored in a specific area until they are needed to be shipped out, or even picked up by a client.
While consumer goods like furniture and construction materials like 2×6 framing lumber don’t need too much attention, other items may need more attention. Frozen or refrigerated materials need to be stored in coolers, chemicals need special care, and protected storage and control of materials may be necessary for medical supplies.
The types of materials being handled play a part in deciding retrieval systems in a warehouse. Cases of pop can be moved by forklifts. Extremely heavy loads may need a gantry crane. Delicate medical instruments need a lighter touch. Whatever the unit load is, there’s material handling equipment to move from point A to point B.
Some equipment has to be manually operated, such as a pallet jack, while others are fully automated. Advances in automated equipment are slowly turning these distribution centers into “smart” warehouses, where machines are programmed to fetch products. While fully-automated warehouses are still decades away, that’s where we’re headed.
The last step of material handling occurs when the pieces are delivered. Getting the materials to their final destination (or second-to-last destination if being sent to another distribution center). Handling costs here are usually associated with the labor of taking the materials off the industrial truck, supply train, or ocean-going boat.
In an effort to save some of those costs, as well as reducing delivery times, many companies are considering building warehouses closer to population centers. Usually located in the middle of nowhere or on the docks – and further away from customers, warehouses are now being positioned closer to the action.
Obviously, delivering materials over a short distance will cost less than a long distance. There’s less time to pay a driver to be on the road, less gas used, and so on. But there’s also the efficiency factor in getting those materials to the people that need them. Fast turnarounds mean happy customers and clients.
More than just putting a box and a shelf or using a hand-truck to wheel a few cases of parts in the storeroom of an auto part store, the act of material handling encompasses every step along the way. Because time is money, cutting down on the amount of handling via the warehouse floor plan, retrieval system, and loading and unloading is paramount.
While Storee Construction can’t help with delivery drivers, we can upgrade your warehouse to improve the speed in which your workers do their jobs. We also build warehouses from the ground up and install conveyor belts. We implement protocols to improve efficiencies as well as safety.
Need to improve the way your warehouse operates? Expand operations? Move to a brand new facility? Give us a call. We’ve been working to help midwest companies such as yours grow their business and improve operations. Give us a call – we look forward to hearing from you.