By Henry A. Parker

INTRODUCTION Material handling is the term applied to that aspect of manufacturing that involves storing, protecting, controlling and moving materials destined to be turned into marketable goods and merchandise. Materials handling applies to all stages of the manufacturing process, including cleaning, preparation, the actual putting together and the consumption of raw materials along the way. It also includes waste disposal. A variety of equipment types are used in the handling of materials, including storage systems, engineering systems and industrial trucks. Included under the umbrella of industrial trucks are things like cantilevered crane loading platforms, carts on rails and conveyor belts.

HANDLING AND STORAGE EQUIPMENT The apparatus covered under this description are non-automated. It covers racking, shelving, carts, cages and pallets. Collectively, handling and storage apparatus are called catalog items, because they are all made to a universal standard and may be ordered straight out of the catalog. Everybody knows what a pallet looks like, right?

PALLETIZATION The interesting thing is that nearly any type of product you could mention is palletized at some point in its history. This applies to bread, casks of beer, wide-screen television sets and toilet paper. The type of pallet that most people think of is made of wood, although steel and other materials have their applications.

ENGINEERED SYSTEMS Unlike catalog products, engineered systems are custom-designed and built. This category of manufacturing equipment includes conveyors, robots and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). Care must be taken when designing and handling engineered systems that are destined to handle edible products in order to avoid contamination.

INDUSTRIAL TRUCKS This includes vehicles like stock chasers, tow tractors and the ever-familiar forklift. There are dozens and dozens of different types of forklift, also referred to as powered industrial trucks. They differ in how they are powered (gas vs electricity), in the type of wheels they have (solid or inflatable), whether they are used indoors or outdoors, and the types of terrain and environment in which they are used. All industrial trucks may be fitted with a variety of different attachments, making them incredibly versatile pieces of equipment.

TRANSFER CARTS ON WHEELS Transfer cards are used to shift materials in bulk for heavy industry. They are widely used in mining, metallurgy and in heavy manufacturing. They are designed to be able to cope with weights in the realm of one ton or even heavier.

SAFETY It's all about safety in the manufacturing environment. A disturbing number of employees are injured and killed needlessly each year, especially when forklifts are concerned. OSHA is working constantly to put pressure on employers to maintain safe environments and make sure all of their employees are correctly trained.

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