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Material Handling Equipment: Why Steel Containers

By Jillian Burrow, Contributor

Steel containers tend to be the most flexible for material handling. They are durable and long-lasting; many have a welded, one-piece construction and come with available options. (photo courtesy Topper Industrial)

As you can imagine, there are several ways to move, stack, carry, store and prep material when deciding upon the correct material handling equipment. This may seem a bit more simplistic than it is but, in general, it takes a lot of consideration when creating the specific product material flow. Additionally, there are a lot of choices when it comes to equipment used to move material, store it and potentially assemble it.

Material handling equipment can be any apparatus that helps move, store, protect and even control material. The options seem limitless.

Categories of Material Handling Equipment

There are four generalized categories of material handling equipment. The first is bulk material handling. Bulk material handling is simply the material movement of bulk items. Generally, it refers to the transport of bulk goods before shipment or that of a specific sale.

The next category of material handling equipment are any engineered systems. An engineered system is the incorporation of multiple components that work together as a system to perform an end-function. An example of an engineered system could be an automated storage and retrieval system. It incorporates an automation system with a storage system.

The third category of material handling equipment consists of industrial vehicles. Industrial vehicles are specialized motorized vehicles that carry, push or pull material and can utilize complimentary material handling equipment. In the world of material handling, examples of this are fork trucks, automated guide vehicles, lifts and specialized carts.

The last material handling equipment category is storage/handling equipment. This category includes any storage equipment that is used to hold or contain material while its being handled. Equipment like this includes, but is not limited to, industrial carts, dollies, racks, shelving, mezzanines, and bins or containers.

The Container

One key component that is often overlooked for its virtue is the material handling container. This is simply because the use of containers spans throughout all spectrums of life and is so beneficial that we sometimes overlook how often we use it. Containers provide a plethora of solutions, from storage to inventory to organization and collection. Its virtue is in its vast construction and multiple sizes.

Determining the Right Container for Material Handling

When companies purchase containers for material handling, they tend to shop based on container type, size and availability. The size of the container depends on required holding capacity and the footprint of shop storage space. This is generally the starting point for many purchasing departments who receive specifications from their shop personnel for container use.

Plastic vs. Steel Containers

Steel containers can be stacked at greater capacities than most non-metallic containers, in order to maximize shop/floor space. (photo courtesy Topper Industrial)

In most work environments, choosing the type of container is the most important aspect to negotiate. After acknowledging what the containers’ basic purpose will be, pros and cons must be considered.

Plastic containers are lightweight, inexpensive and usually intended for lower weight capacity. With that said, plastic degrades over time—making surfaces porous and scratched. Plastic containers can be the cheap option upfront but might need to be replaced quite often. Also, considering the environmental conditions for some types of material handling, it is key to note that plastic can also leach toxic compounds when heated to high degrees. Always be aware of safety standards when opting to implement plastic containers.

Most material handling processes are not the same. Therefore, handlers may need custom applications. Having custom plastic containers developed can be costly, from the standpoint that minimum purchase quantities are often required.

Steel containers tend to be the most flexible for material handling. They are durable and long-lasting. They are a welded, one-piece construction and come with a lot of optimal options, like drop gate, fork tubes and lifting lugs. The durability of a steel-made container proves resistant to both impact and puncture, as well.

Most companies want to maximize shop space and may need a stackable container, as well. Steel containers can be stacked at greater capacities than most non-metallic containers. Though the price-point might seem higher at purchase, it pays to invest in quality products initially—instead of having to replace low-quality products, repeatedly, over time.

Steel containers provide a lot of protection. They are seemingly weatherproof and heat-resistant. Generally, the environmental elements will not affect the integrity of a steel container, and the fire rating of steel is very high. When heated on purpose or by accident, there is no risk of toxic fumes being expelled. Steel, by nature, is not porous; therefore, steel becomes a good option for holding liquid over other types of material that are prone to leak.

Lastly, steel is quite versatile, due to its ability to be fixed, modified and re-used. When a steel container is damaged or needs to be modified for other uses, any maintenance department or local weld shop can complete the task 95% of the time. And, you do not necessarily have to scrap and replace them. However, if you did need to scrap a steel container, they are completely recyclable.

Steel containers are more prevalent in the material handling world, because specialized tooling is not required; nor do you have to purchase in huge quantities to get what you need.   WMHS

About the Author

Jillian Burrow is the Marketing Manager at Topper Industrial. Topper Industrial specializes in the design, construction and implementation of material handling carts and all line-side equipment, including steel containers ( With Topper since 2006, Burrow oversees all marketing and public relations for the company and manages the company editorial and blog site,

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