Material Handling Equipment Types: The Ultimate Guide


If you handle materials in a warehouse or other type of facility, you likely have to handle a lot of products and materials. One of your most important duties is to make sure these materials aren’t damaged during storage and that they quickly move through your various production processes. Without the proper equipment and systems in your corner, your company is more likely to damage products and fall behind on your productivity targets.

To remain competitive in your industry, you need material handling equipment (MHE) designed to handle your materials and built for greater speed. As you look to add material handling equipment and systems into your warehouse, learn more about the main categories of MHE and why it’s so important to have.

What Is Material Handling?

What Is Material Handling?

Material handling refers to the storage, control, protection and movement of products and material throughout warehousing, consumption, manufacturing, disposal and distribution. Many kinds of equipment and systems exist from manual to fully automated options to help conduct material handling. Using material handling equipment is crucial for making sure a supply chain runs well.

Types of Material Handling Equipment for Warehouses

To understand what material handling equipment is and how it’s used, you should know the four primary types of MHE:

  1. Storage and handling equipment
  2. Automated systems
  3. Industrial trucks and forklifts
  4. Bulk material handling

By knowing more about these four main categories, you’ll be more aware of the types of equipment that fit the needs of your company. The first step of building an effective material handling system is knowing your options. Below you can find out more about four different types of MHE used in warehouses:

Storage and Handling Equipment

1. Storage and Handling Equipment

Storage and handling equipment is designed to hold materials during times when the material isn’t being used. They also hold products at the beginning or end of a production process. This equipment may be used in the short-term or long-term, depending on the needs of the user.

It’s important to note this equipment is not usually automated. Automated storage and handling equipment are referred to as engineered systems or automated systems.

Common forms of storage equipment in material handling are racking, shelves and pallets. These items allow warehouses and other businesses to store material neatly. The material is often stored on the equipment when it’s about to enter the production cycle or waiting for transportation. Storage, handling and distribution are crucial for a company’s production cycle.

A major benefit to these pieces of equipment is that they allow a company to be more efficient. A warehouse’s production system relies on their equipment and staff’s ability to access and transport materials quickly. You don’t want bottlenecks to form in the production process. Storage and handling equipment makes it easy for other pieces of equipment to pick up large quantities of materials and transport them from place to place.

Some of the primary pieces of storage and handling equipment include:

  • Racks: There are multiple types of racks used in facilities, including sliding racks, pallet racks, push-back racks and drive-through or drive-in racks. These racks help to keep your material accessible and save floor space.
  • Shelves, bins and drawers:Shelves are one of the more basic types of storage items and are used commonly. Drawers and bins within the shelving help to store smaller material in an organized manner.
  • Stacking frames: Like their name suggests, stacking frames can be stacked on top of each other like blocks. Their main advantage is they allow fragile or crushable material stored in pallets to be stacked on top of each other. This method saves space and keeps the material organized.
  • Mezzanines: If you’re looking to clear more floor space in a facility, mezzanines can be a great choice. A mezzanine is an indoor platform raised above the floor, similar to a second level. Some of the main types of mezzanines include building supported, modular, movable, rack supported and free-standing.

Automated Systems

2. Automated Systems

Automated systems, or engineered systems, are completely automated. They’re used to assist with the storage and transportation of material. Rather than being a single piece of equipment, an automated system will generally be made out of several units.

One of the most common forms of these systems is an Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AR/RS). This type of system will typically be quite large. It features shelves, aisles and racks. A shuttle, a device much like a cherry picker, is used to pick up material and place it on the system. An operator will sometimes manually use the shuttle to pick up items and place them on it, but the picking process can also be entirely automated and computerized.

One major advantage of an AR/RS is that it can be connected to a facility’s computer network. This connection makes it easy for a company to keep an eye on their stock control. The AR/RS can also be integrated with other stages of a facility’s process to make everything more automated.

Other primary types of automated systems include:

  • Conveyor systems: Conveyor systems consist of mechanical assemblies or devices that help move materials around a facility with little manual effort. Usually, a conveyor system is made with a frame that also has wheels, belts and rollers to help move the materials in the warehouse. You can find multiple forms of conveyors like chain, vertical, overhead, apron and cleated.
  • Automated guided vehicles: Companies that want to take away the need for their staff to transport material turn to Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs). These machines are computer-operated trucks that can be entirely independent. AVGs can be set to move along predetermined pathways using detectors and sensors. They’ll transport materials throughout facilities without bumping into anything or breaking from preset pathways.
  • Robotic delivery systems: Robotic delivery systems transport goods and materials around a facility. They’re automated to make it easier for staff. These systems usually help move goods on an assembly line.

Industrial Trucks and Forklifts

3. Industrial Trucks and Forklifts

Industrial trucks and forklifts cover a broad category of equipment. The one thing they have in common is that all of the pieces of equipment help with transportation. Industrial trucks and forklifts are available in a range of sizes. For example, you can find something small enough to be hand-operated, and you can also find equipment large enough to be driven.

These industrial trucks come in two main types: stacking and non-stacking trucks. A non-stacking truck is only for transportation. A stacking truck can load products and stack them.

Usually, industrial trucks have attachments like insertable flat surfaces or forks to make the transportation process easier. These attachments to fit under pallets for quick and easy picking.

Industrial trucks lift materials through manual or powered means. Powered industrial trucks usually have a cab, making it easy for the operator to pick up heavy material. Some power-assisted industrial cabs have to be pushed into position but can still lift materials via controls. Additionally, some more advanced industrial trucks can be automated, using optical sensors and predefined pathways to move along the warehouse floor.

Some of the primary types of industrial trucks include:

  • Hand trucks: Sometimes referred to as a dolly, hand platform trucks are some of the most basic forms of industrial trucks. They usually feature a handle for leverage and a small platform to set heavy objects on that would be difficult to carry. The operator tips the equipment onto the handle and rolls the equipment to wherever the item needs to go.
  • Platform and pallet trucks: Platform trucks are a type of hand truck that have wider platforms and sit low to the ground. Pallet trucks, or forklifts, are designed to lift pallets. They’ll slip under a pallet, and then an operator will steer the pallet wherever it needs to go. These types of trucks come in both manual and electrical forms.
  • Sideloaders: Sideloaders are built to fit in narrow aisles. They pick up items from different directions, making them ideal when a warehouse is using more of their space by placing aisles close together.
  • Walking stackers: A walking stacker lifts and moves materials like a forklift. Though they don’t come with a cab for an operator, they can come in electric versions to assist with transportation.
  • Pallet jacks: One of the common types of warehouse equipment, pallet jacks are a very basic form of a forklift. They’re used to move materials around a warehouse and are often manually pushed, though there are powered options as well.
  • Order pickers: An order picker lifts operators high off of the ground and allow them to get to hard-to-reach materials on high shelves.

Bulk Material Handling

4. Bulk Material Handling

Bulk material handling equipment refers to the equipment that stores, controls and transports materials in bulk. Usually, the materials will be in a loose form. This type of equipment typically handles beverages, metal items, minerals, food and liquid.

An example of a bulk material handling system is the use of a conveyor belt to move materials from one area of the production floor to another. You’ll see hoppers and drums funnel loose items into areas where the items can be packaged or manipulated in some way.

Common examples of this type of material equipment include:

  • Stackers: These pieces of bulk material handling move items from one point to another. Stackers are automated and will place various items and products onto stockpiles.
  • Conveyor belts: One of the key parts of a conveyor system is a conveyor belt. They usually utilize pulleys or drums to rotate the belt and move material on it across a facility.
  • Reclaimers: A reclaimer is a large machine used to pick out materials from your stockpile.
  • Bucket and grain elevators: Bucket elevators are sometimes called grain legs. They help to transport bulk materials vertically. Grain elevators move materials along a production pathway, as well as store it.
  • Hoppers: Hoppers are shaped like funnels and are used to dump or pour materials into containers. They can close off their opening and hold onto the material until it needs to be released.
  • Silos: Common on farms, but useful in a variety of facilities, a silo is a tower that holds materials. Common materials stored in silos include grain, woodchips, coal, sawdust and food.

What Is the Importance of Material Handling Equipment?

MHE is crucial for the success of a company as it looks to handle material efficiently. Improper storage and handling can cause product loss, damaged material and inefficiency in your supply chain. To avoid these issues, you should invest in material handling equipment designed for the needs of your company and the materials you handle.

Below are some of the top ways a good material handling system can provide distinct advantages to a company:

Reduce Material and Product Waste

1. Reduce Material and Product Waste

A common issue warehouses and facilities face is the lack of proper storage systems and the presence of equipment that mishandles materials. These issues can lead to products becoming damaged or wasted during the storage or transportation process. This material waste can lead to higher costs for the company handling the material and dissatisfied clients who expect their products to be well cared for.

Proper warehouse storage equipment will ensure items in your warehouse are stored safely. For instance, stacking frames can help a company keep crushable materials stacked on top of each other without harming the items. Improved warehouse transportation equipment also helps to move materials more efficiently and safely, reducing the chances that materials get dropped or harmed.

Additionally, a material handling system can help companies keep a more accurate track of their inventory. For instance, proper shelving and organizational features help companies know exactly where to find products and keep track of them when they need to be moved. Computerized systems can automatically track your inventory and ensure you always have the correct amount of products.

2. Lower Material Handling Costs

One of the biggest concerns of those who use material handling equipment in their business is to lower their cost. Much of a company’s production process is built around material movement, procurement and storage. These aspects of the process can cost a significant amount of money, especially if your material handling system is inefficient. If your material handling system can’t handle the flow of materials efficiently, stoppages can occur, leading to new costs and lower profitability.

Proper material handling equipment and systems will keep the production process running smoothly. Fully automated systems can ensure there’s no guesswork in handling product and reduce the chance of user error. Even proper manual equipment can help a company better handle material, ensuring it gets to point A to point B efficiently.

The higher initial costs of more sophisticated equipment are well worth it, as they help a company handle more material with greater speed and efficiency. In the long-term, you’ll lower costs associated with errors, damaged equipment and work stoppages.

Greater Warehouse Capacity

3. Greater Warehouse Capacity

Optimizing your warehouse’s capacity to hold more goods is one of the most important things you can do to increase your profitability. With appropriate storage and handling equipment, you can use more of your warehouse’s space for increased storage capacity.

Sideloaders allow you to place your aisles closer together, as they can easily fit in between them and pick out equipment from either side. Another example of warehouse equipment opening up your floor space is the use of racks, stacking frames and mezzanines. With this storage and handling equipment, you can stack pallets and materials higher safely.

By increasing your warehouse’s capacity, you get to hold more goods without increasing your storage costs. Efficient storage means efficient production. As a result, you can raise your overall production ability and potentially raise your profitability.

4. Better Work Conditions and Worker Safety

Manually lifting materials and transporting them can be very time-consuming and strenuous for workers. Workers can get burnt out doing this kind of manual labor and run a higher risk of injuries. With equipment, you make their work much easier, freeing them up for more tasks and creating a more enjoyable workplace. You also reduce the chance that mistakes happen, which makes it so managers have much fewer headaches to manage during the workweek.

Additionally, when you automate much of the material handling process and give staff powerful equipment to handle heavy loads, you make your workforce much safer for employees. Lifting heavy materials can cause many chronic injuries, especially if workers aren’t properly trained. Improperly stored material could also fall on workers, hurting them a great deal. MHE in warehouses helps workers conduct these strenuous tasks, lowering their chance of injury.

5. Better Material Flow

Often, materials enter a facility in a raw form and exit in the form of completed products or goods. If your facility handles multiple steps of a production process, the material needs to flow smoothly. Not having the proper warehouse equipment can lead to stoppages in production. For instance, an improper material handling system could cause product damage or delay material from reaching the appropriate stage.

With an improved system and pieces of equipment, you improve your material’s circulation around the facility. The material will get to the needed stations and locations faster, ensuring your flow stays consistent. A positive side effect of the improved material flow is that it causes materials to stay in your facility for shorter periods of time and gets to consumers faster.

Improved Distribution

6. Improved Distribution

Your ability to deliver final goods to wholesalers and retailers is crucial to these clients’ satisfaction. Not having MHE and other warehouse equipment can cause you to get your products to clients much slower. Poor storage and packaging equipment and systems can lead to damaged products. Damaged products and slower distribution is a recipe for dissatisfied clients.

With the best material handling equipment in your corner, you can make sure your products are stored safely and distributed properly. A conveyor system, for example, can move products through different stages of the production process and get them in position for distribution.

Contact T.P. Supply Co for Material Handling Solutions

Contact T.P. Supply Co for Material Handling Solutions

Upgrade your warehouse or facility with material handling solutions from T.P. Supply Co. As a warehouse material handling retailer, we provide companies with shelving solutions, material handling products and racking systems. If you purchase from us, we can also help with installation services to get your facility up and running quickly. With both products and installation services, we can ensure you receive only the best service and are proud to help customers find products fitting their needs and budget.

Browse our selection of material handling equipment to see how we can take your facility to the next level. If you have any questions about warehouse material management, please feel free to contact us.