The Complete Guide to Manual Handling Equipment (PDF)

Managing a warehouse is challenging, but there is a variety of material-handling equipment that can simplify the process. This type of equipment includes tools designed to move, lift, protect and store items and materials used in warehouses and commercial or industrial facilities. As such, it’s vital for businesses that need to handle and store vast quantities of bulk material. 

Material handling equipment can be manual or automated, and both types can feature on the same premises. Automated systems are more expensive and used almost exclusively in more complex facilities. On the other hand, you can purchase manual handling equipment for more affordable prices, which you can use in various settings and for many different applications. 

While there is a wealth of cutting-edge, automated equipment that may catch your eye, don’t overlook the fundamentals while trying to develop an effective material handling system. Just as crucial as any automated device, manual equipment is the starting point for most businesses. That said, here are the basics you should know about it. 

What Is Manual Material Handling Equipment? 

Manual material handling equipment encompasses all tools, vehicles, storage units, appliances, and accessories used for moving things that require human effort. Manual handling is the old-fashioned and proven way of sorting, retrieving, locating, and shelving goods, albeit with some elbow grease involved.   

What Are the Benefits of Using This Kind of Equipment? 

Compared to the automated alternatives, manual equipment has low up-front costs, is easily adaptable to workplace surroundings and conditions, and can save space since it usually has a small footprint. 

This equipment is easy to maintain and doesn’t require the additional cost of electricity or compressed air to operate. As it’s light, small, and mobile, you can use manual equipment in various spaces without special training. On a related note, employees using the equipment do need to follow strict workplace health and safety guidelines to avoid injury or material damage. This is virtually non-existent with automated systems.  

The Most Common Types of Manual Material Handling Equipment 

Choosing equipment for your business will be based on what, where, and how often you’ll need to move goods around. But in general, most rely on the following types of manual material handling equipment.

Trolleys and Carts 

You can rely on trolleys and carts to safely load, transport, and unload any goods within a defined setting. Though designs differ, almost all consist of a loading platform or shelf, sturdy plastic or metal frame, and four wheels or castors.

Platform trolleys have a larger, lower-sitting platform to accommodate bulkier items. They also have loading capacities, heavy-duty industrial castors, and often, a metal frame incorporating the handle. Shelf trolleys consist of two or more shelves and can have a more compact and lightweight design. 

Carts are lighter than trolleys. They are usually made of durable plastics, and come with optional features like drawers, bins, or cages.  

The choice of design and materials should reflect the surroundings where you plan to use these pieces of manual handling equipment. Utility carts, for instance, should be lightweight yet durable, made of reinforced plastic frames and shelving, and sitting on swiveling rubber castors. You’ll see these in offices, schools, and hospitals. 

Heavy-duty and industrial trolleys and trucks, on the other hand, go for outright durability and tend to be made of bolted or metal stainless steel frames, with loads sitting on non-slip metal checkered surfaces and running on polyurethane castors. The latter will also have battery-powered variants where larger loads and distances are concerned. Warehouses, loading depots, and manufacturing facilities are where these call home.  

Pallet Trucks 

These are the man-powered equivalent of forklifts and do the same job. Although on a smaller scale. They load, unload, and transport pallets and are a great solution for small and tight spaces where forklifts can’t go.

Pallet trucks (or pallet jacks) consist of a pair of forks that fit under the pallet like forklifts, a rotating handle to lift, lower, or hold the pallet in place, and wheels or castors for movement. There’s a lot of variation in the forks as to the weight they can carry, the heights they can lift to, and the type of pallets (Euro or standard). 

The pros of (manual) pallet jacks are the low cost, mobility, ease of use, heightened safety, and long-term durability. They are versatile pieces of handling equipment used for other heavy loads besides pallets and are a safe, simple, and cost-effective alternative to forklifts. Similar items, but capable of reaching greater heights, are pallet lifters, scissor lifts, and scissor tables.  

Shelving Units 

The storage side of material handling boils down to heavy-duty shelving and cabinets. The most common is steel shelving, either in an open or closed-back design, capable of carrying extremely high loads and with the option of being mobile or fixed in place. Similar in use is rivet or bulk shelving that’s easy to assemble and fit within smaller spaces. Light to medium loads are handled with wire shelving units and are also good for wet or dusty environments.

Shelves can also come with numerous accessories. Parts bins and trays are essential in automotive workshops and where there’s a need to store and better organize multiple items. If storing items of different sizes, look to adjustable shelves.  

Other Material Handling Options 

These are just some of the more common manual material handling products. Other items include rigid or flexible expanding skate and roller conveyors, spill containment cages and cabinets, heavy-duty access ramps, and more. 

Where safety is a concern, look to bollards, barriers, expandable fencing, and other items that meet specific workplace health and safety regulations.  

What Are the Main Things to Consider When Buying? 

Manual material handling equipment must be safe to use. Products need to be built to a standard, with quality materials and workmanship, and be able to handle designated loads without issue. Look for rated loading capacities and safety features like braked castors. 

Sizes need to be appropriate for the goods, materials, and surroundings. Additional features and a wide range of attachments make moving and storing goods a lot easier and safer.

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Anup Kumar Dey

A Mechanical Engineer with 19 years of working experience in various renowned MNCs.

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