What does material handling mean?

Material handling involves transportation and movement of materials (inventory) within the storehouse or warehouse. The process also involves efficient inventory management, which forms an essential part of any manufacturing or fabrication company.

The process involves the use of sophisticated machinery, automated, semi-automated vehicles, lifts, mini carrier trucks, forklift trucks, which are used to transport heavy objects (materials) from one place to another. For the management of a number of materials, a large number of inventory management systems, and transportation vehicles would be required. With added vehicles and materials, the concerns about the safety of equipment, workers, and inventory lie at the top-most priority. A certain level of risk and hazard is associated with the material handling systems, which must be judiciously handled.

Safety procedures to maintain inside the workshop

There are a few safety procedures or habits, which are to be followed inside the workshop to establish a safe working environment. Some of them are outlined below,

  • Mostly all the material handling equipment is manufactured based on some design specifications. These specifications must be followed while installing all the equipments.
  • To reduce the risks and hazards, preventive and periodic maintenance of the machinery should be undertaken.
  • For safe operation, it is mandatory to test run the machinery after every repair, and maintenance schedule.
  • Load tests on the machinery should be undertaken periodically to ensure the machine performs well during the actual loading conditions. The loads provided to the machine must be strictly according to the manufacturer's guidelines.
  • The duty factor of the equipment must be kept in mind for which the equipment is operated.
  • All the workers inside the job site must use all safety gears provided for specific work-related purposes.
  • The workers inside the job site must acquire thorough training and knowledge of any new material handling equipment.

Different types of material handling equipment

The types of material handling equipment can be broadly classified into three categories. They are,

  • Manual material handling
  • Semi-automatic handling
  • Automated handling

Manual material handling

The term manual material handling is used if the materials of the warehouse or the workshop store are managed without the use of sophisticated equipment. The workers of the workshop usually do the transportation here, such as hand carry (manual lifting), using trolleys, or other aids that require the majority of human inputs to perform the material handling task.

Semi-automatic handling

Semi-automated systems are those systems that require minimum human intervention and no human effort for the movement and handling of heavy objects. The equipment can carry multiple numbers of heavy-duty materials and can transport them with ease. Conveyor belts are one such example.

Automated systems

Automated systems are those systems that require zero-intervention of human beings. This machinery can perform the task on its own, provided some inputs, and constraints are encoded in them. For instance, an industrial robot, robot performs the task of material handling by processing a set of commands or codes given as an input to it.

An image showing a material handling equipment.
CC BY-SA 3.0 DE | Image Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org | Fa. Bleichert

Potential hazards at the workplace

Back injuries are the foremost accidental injuries suffered by most manual workers at the workplace. Most of the back injuries are due to manual lifting of loads, which are heavy and bulky. It has been extensively noticed that turning, bending, and upper body twisting are three of the most common movements that lead to back injuries. In such situations when the material to be lifted exceeds the capacity of a worker, such materials have to be lifted by mechanical aid. Prolonged working in such situations may lead to a permanent musculoskeletal disorder.

Other risk factors include falling of improperly stacked materials from the storage racks, loosened over hanged components, loose mechanical components/machinery, and improperly placed objects on the floor that leads to an accidental fall of the worker.

Building a hazard-free workplace

For the safety of the workers and the machinery, a few of the steps and guidelines must be undertaken along with certain standard protocols. These are outlined below,

  • The work place must be properly illuminated: An adequate number of lights must be installed so that the entire workplace is clearly visible. This will lead to the minimization of accidents and ensure safety.
  • Standardized signboards must be used inside the workplace: The idea is to make every working person cautious inside the workplace about any potential risk hazards. For instance, the usage of proper sign boards near the conveyor belts indicates not to place hands over the belt once the equipment is in operating condition.
  • Use of illuminated guide strips: Illuminated guide strips must be laid on the floor of the workplace to indicate the path of movement of any transport materials. The workers can then avoid using such paths to minimize accidents, which ultimately leads to safety.
  • Mandatory employee health scheme (EHS) for all workers: The company owners must provide all the workers with EHS.

Context and Applications

The topic finds its extensive involvement in

  • Bachelors in Technology
  • Bachelor in Science (manufacturing sectors and inventory management sectors)

Practice Problems

  1. What is meant by the term inventory?
  1. The stock of raw materials which is used in the industries
  2. Stock of machinery
  3. Stock of material handling equipment
  4. None of these

Answer- a

Explanation: Inventory is known as the materials which are kept as a stock in the industrial warehouses.

2. Which of the following is automatic material handling equipment?

  1. Forklift trucks
  2. Industrial robots
  3. Conveyor belts
  4. Lifting trolleys

Answer- b

Explanation: Industrial robots are fully automated systems that require zero human intervention. They operate based on codes encoded in them. A microcontroller processes these codes.

3. Which of the following is a safety gear that must be used by a worker?

  1. Personal protective equipment (PPE) kits
  2. Gloves and eye shields
  3. Safety boots and helmets
  4. All of these

Answer- d

Explanation: A works person must wear safety gear inside the workshop premise for the concern of safety. PPE kits are protective suits, which are worn by the workers for protection from harmful radiations and extreme temperatures. These kits are similar to the PPE kits worn by doctors to protect themselves from Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Other equipment such as gloves, eye shields, helmets, and safety boots must be in checklists while entering the work area.

4. Which of the following is the most common health risk factor for manual material handling (lifting) workers?

  1. Head injury
  2. Back injury
  3. Injury from scratches and cuts
  4. Injury from burns

Answer- b

Explanation: The majority of manual material handling workers suffer from back injuries due to lifting heavy and bulky weights.

5. Which of the following is a necessary measure to be practiced in the workshop?

  1. Use of illuminated floor strips
  2. Use of lights so as to properly illuminated the work area
  3. Use of proper sign boards
  4. All of these

Answer- d

Explanation The floor of the work area must be provided with illuminated strips to warn the worker about the pathway of transporter vehicles. Illumination of the entire worker area must be done with proper lights along with the use of signboards indicating potential risk factors.

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