Problem-Solving: The Right Equipment for Specialized Material Handling Needs

By Jillian Burrow, Contributor

Topper Cart
Rotate carts or rotate frames are able to rotate 360 degrees to work with various workstations. The rotation is often designed with ergonomics in mind. (photo courtesy Topper Industrial)

When a company takes on the task of analyzing their day-to-day operations to create better material handling processes to provide better material flow, they are inevitably looking for the correct equipment. Although most companies deal with similar material handling needs, no two companies process material the same.

It’s important to note that sometimes, another division of the same parent company can be making the exact same product but will not follow the same material handling policies and processes. This is a key component in realizing that material handling equipment cannot and is not always an easy, off-the-shelf standard item for specialized needs.

Every day, millions upon millions of different products are made across the world. All these products have pieces and parts that come together to create an end-product. From virtually weightless feathers to the extreme weight of a jet engine compressor, all these components must be handled and moved within their own manufacturing or construction. Each item has to be considered for its uniqueness and cannot be treated the same as a different item. That said, material handling equipment, such as tuggers, carts and casters, are needed to keep it all moving.

Material Flow

With regards to supply chain, material flow can be defined as the movement of raw materials, pre-fab components, finished parts, or any integrated objects and final products as they become part of the flow of all entities. Material handling is the transportation and treatment of material as it is moved, protected, stored, prepared and controlled throughout the manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, consumption and/or disposal process.

Take the time to consider how one piece of material comes into the plant and where it goes from there. Consider what steps are taken to move, assemble, change and eventually move it out of the plant as a part of a final product. Now, think about the second piece to that same configuration, and so on. There is a significant material handling planning process in creating a safe, flexible and fluid material flow for each company’s needs.

Assessing Variables

Topper Cart
Quad-steer carts have four-wheel steering; they’re designed to track well and handle tight radiuses. (photo courtesy Topper Industrial)

There are many ways to go about problem solving when a company is eager to transform its material handling processes and find what equipment is best suited to move its material. Initially, it is necessary to conduct a thorough evaluation of the material handling variables. It is important to identify any and all material handling issues up front. Some of the things that can be considered are:

  • Available space
  • Aisle size
  • Type of materials
  • Material size and weight
  • Material variables
  • Load size and load size variables
  • Load weight
  • Picking applications and heights
  • Assembly steps
  • When and where picked
  • When and where delivered

Additionally, current processes must be taken into consideration. Moreover, it’s important to decide what is already working and what is not working well. For instance, is there too much downtime? Are there safety concerns that need to be addressed? How is material being managed? And, is it a good method that needs improvement, or does it need to be completely revamped?

After issues are identified, it is important to understand how those issues affect everyone involved in the process. This is a critical step that is sometimes overlooked—but it is essential in creating the best solution for a particular operation. How does the current process affect a handler or even truck driver that brings material to the line? How would an equipment change add improvement to their day-to-day?

The next general step would be to list possible solutions and try to envision how the incorporation of new equipment would play out. Often, a material handling cart is used in this process to carry specific materials. There are various types of industrial carts and features to choose from in this process, each with its own benefits. For example:

  • A basic static cart can be towed in multiples and be used as a single push cart. This allows for more flexibility along a specified route.
  • Quad-steer carts have four-wheel steering. They are designed to track well and handle tight radiuses. This is beneficial for smaller aisle sizes and tight cornering if needed.
  • A tilt carts or tilt frame is equipped with a closed loop hydraulic cylinder that controls the energy of the load as it is tilted. The control speed is a unique safety feature.
  • Rotate carts or rotate frames are able to rotate 360 degrees to work with various workstations. The detents automatically lock out every 90 or 180 degrees. The rotation is often designed with ergonomics in mind.
  • Working in conjunction with a conveyor system, transfer carts top frame are a roller deck. This is an essential feature, if a company is already using conveyor systems to move material from one point to another.
  • Mother carts are gaining popularity, because they eliminate restrictive delivery and pick-up. Mother-daughter cart systems consist of one large mother cart and two or more, smaller daughter carts that are designed to fit within the mother cart’s framework. The incorporation of mother-daughter carts can prove to be very versatile to the efficiency of material flow.

Finally, with the inclusion of the customer, the different scenarios of equipment solutions will be evaluated as each option will have its own benefits. Collectively, an agreement will be made. Problem solving can take time. It is important to understand its value upfront when deciding to insight a change. Working through the process does not always follow a linear path; through brainstorming and consideration, it might be necessary to circle back to all things already taken into consideration.

About the author: Jillian Burrow has been working at Topper Industrial since 2006 as the Marketing Manager. She oversees all marketing and public relations for the company. Jillian also manages the company editorial and blog site, www.forktruckfree.com. Topper Industrial (www.topperindustrial.com) specializes in the design, building and implementation of material handling carts and equipment.