Efficiency is key in workshops, factories and distribution centres. These sectors tend to be hyper-competitive, and often run on particularly small margins, so the most minor improvements in efficiency and productivity can go a long way to ensuring business success.
There can be a temptation to think of material handling as the simple act of moving stuff around. But the truth is that it’s a science, and one that, when done well, can greatly improve a business’s bottom line.
Here’s how you can employ and capitalise on high end material handling.
What is material handling?
Material handling is simply the movement, storage and general management of physical goods within an organisation. It is a key piece of the manufacturing and distribution puzzle, and an aspect of your business that may be primed for enhancement.
With the help of automated technologies and process improvements, a focus on material handling can deliver the sort of efficiency and productivity wins that can push your business ahead of its competitors.
How to create efficient material handling processes
A key way to obtain material handling efficiency is by creating bespoke, streamlined processes that your entire team can follow. By identifying the most efficient, effective and productive ways to do things, and by outlining these processes in a way that is easy to understand and follow, you can be confident of turning material handling into a competitive advantage for your business.
Every factory, workshop and distribution centre is unique, which means material handling processes within these businesses will be unique. But there is a somewhat universal eight-step formula for creating these bespoke processes.
- Understand the ‘why’: When creating a material handling process, always consider how it will help you to achieve your business goals. Involve your team, as the perspectives of the people on the ground can be invaluable.
- Be consistent: Aim for standardisation across all aspects of material handling, from the bins, shelves and material handling equipment you use, to the systems and processes you implement.
- Formalise systems and processes: Formalise your newly developed systems and processes in documentation and get your workers to sign off on the completion of every step to ensure the process is followed.
- Streamline: Aim for all goods to move the minimum amount necessary, reducing or eliminating as much movement as possible. Ask yourself: can any stations in your workflow be removed or combined?
- Declutter: A clean and organised workspace is an efficient workspace, as time isn’t wasted dodging obstacles or wondering where items are. Ensure your thoroughfares are always clear, and that items are always where they are supposed to be.
- Reduce manual handling: Use lifting equipment, from gantry cranes to forklift attachments, wherever possible, as this increases both efficiency and worker safety. It’s also wise to concentrate the movement of goods – try to move in bulk quantities, such as full pallets, where possible.
- Automate: Beyond lifting equipment, the automation offered by technologies like conveyor systems and order picking robots can quickly deliver a return, both in terms of productivity and accuracy, on what can be a significant investment.
- Choose reusable: Minimise consumables by choosing reusable picking and packing items, such as buckets over plastic-wrapped pallets. This is good for both your budget and the earth.
Using lifting equipment to improve material handling
As noted above, one of the keys – if not the key – to efficient and productive material handling is to invest in the right equipment. By handing the task of lifting and shifting over to a purpose-built machine, you can save a huge amount of time and significantly increase productivity, all while making your workers safer.
Lifting equipment is highly specialised, and the machinery you choose will depend on your situation and needs. That said, some lifting solutions are more common than others, and the following types of equipment are common sights in modern factories and workshops.
- Overhead cranes: Systems designed to be hung from ceilings, overhead cranes are a popular choice for factories, workshops, warehouses and other indoor operations, as they are ideal for handling heavy materials safely and increasing workflow. A monorail system is particularly useful for moving loads along predefined paths.
- Gantry cranes: A freestanding material handling crane that can be installed indoors or outdoors, a gantry crane can be used to move heavy loads anywhere within the footprint of the supporting columns.
- Jib cranes: An ideal material lifting crane when space is at a premium, jib cranes feature an arm that extends from a single supporting column. The combination of a trolley that moves along the arm and the ability to pivot means a jib crane can move goods anywhere within its radial reach.
- Vacuum lifters: Quick, safe and particularly gentle, vacuum lifters are often used in manufacturing to move materials such as glass, steel, timber, cartons and bags. They can form a clever solution to many of the most difficult material handling challenges.
- Forklift attachments: While a forklift is already a highly effective piece of material handling equipment, you can make yours even more so with the right attachments. Hooks, jibs, bag lifters, drum handlers; attachment options are more diverse (and useful) than you might think.
When shopping for material handling equipment, always consider the costs that lay beyond the upfront investment, as this can form a surprisingly small part of the overall outlay across the lifetime of the machine. It’s important to remember that these upfront and ongoing costs are generally dwarfed by the return you’ll see on your equipment investment, in terms of both direct revenue raising through increased productivity, and reduced liability by making the workplace far safer for your team.
The cost of installation, setup, training, consumables, maintenance and repair, and the expected working life of the equipment, should also be considered. Often a larger upfront investment in a high-quality solution can result in real savings in the long run.
Enabling New Zealand businesses to work smarter, quicker and safer
At Stratalign we’ve built a reputation for helping workshops, factories, distribution centres and other Kiwi businesses to find the material handling equipment that will drive business growth.
No matter your material handling needs, we’ll have a lifting solution that will streamline your operations, enhance your productivity, and keep your workers safe.
Get in touch with our expert team today for a no-obligation consultation and quote.