An operation like loading and unloading goods can be made much more efficient in various ways, like by using loading bays, or stand-on pallet trucks instead of pedestrian versions. Order picking, a repetive and expensive logistics process, offers even more possibilities for optimisation. But for the third main part of materials handling - the intake and retrieval of entire unit loads within the warehouse - what can you do increase efficiency and productivity?
Everyone could easily lift a package weighing a few kilograms, but what if you had to pick that same package hundreds of times a day, over the course of weeks and months, possibly from hard-to-reach places? You’d probably start feeling the strain quite quickly, and you’d end up hoping you had some equipment or solution to make the job easier.
This is what order pickers do, but unfortunately the strain and injury that can occur in this job over long periods is still not as well-known as it could be.
The warehouse floor certainly isn't the most exciting part of a materials handling operation, but it's the part on which everything else is built — and flooring-related problems can be a big safety hazard.
At the very least, the warehouse floor must be able to bear the load of the racking and goods and the truck traffic. When you consider that a single piece of racking may be placing many tons of pressure on a small point on the floor, the importance of quality becomes clear.
In most warehouses, concrete flooring will be standard. It’s capable of bearing at least twice as much weight as asphalt, and can be much smoother and flatter, which is important - even small bumps and hollows in the floor can affect truck driving, and even cause accidents in some circumstances.
Depending on the height of the racks, the neccessary flatness can be different. A normal floor, which may vary in height by 5mm across a length of two metres, would generally be good enough for material handling at heights up to three metres. However, for high bay warehouses, that tolerance may drop to only 1.5mm or less. When heavy loads are moved at such high heights, even the slightest variations may be hazardous, so careful construction of the concrete flooring is essential.
Cold stores are extreme environments, but they're an absolutely essential part of the modern supply chain. Without these specialised warehouses, where temperatures can go as low as tens of degrees below zero, it would be impossible to store and distribute frozen goods. Even chill warehouses, which operate at much warmer (but still cold) temperatures are essential for the supply of perishable goods.
The forklift’s steering wheel is a component that is often taken for granted, but it’s usually the most-used. Navigating a busy warehouse requires a lot of manoeuvring, and the driver has to make constant adjustments in order to drive safely. In fact, according to research we have conducted with Gothenburg’s Chalmers University of Technology, a reach truck driver makes around 2,000 arm movements in an hour, which adds up to roughly 16,000 movements over an average shift.
Operating a forklift is a demanding job, and the stresses of a busy materials handling operation can put strain on drivers. This doesn't only make them uncomfortable and prone to injury, but also makes them less efficient and productive, harming the operation's bottom line.
Fortunately, the physical challenges of logistics work can be made much easier with the help of ergonomic design — not only does it make the job much safer and more comfortable for drivers, but also increases overall productivity. Let's take a look at the main causes of strain and injury in the warehouse, and how they can be mitigated with ergonomics.
Making the most efficient use of the available floor space in your warehouse is always important. However, when the density of storage increases, placing and removing unit loads when you need to typically takes more time.
There’s a number of storage options available that offer high density, but they vary in how easily the pallets can be accessed - depending on your operation and individual needs, the best option will be different. With the help of the Materials Handling Guide, we can look at a few options.
Since they were first introduced as a material handling tool, forklifts have become ever more effective at lifting and transporting pallets. Standardisation has occurred across the world of logistics, meaning (with several major exceptions) that many goods are formed into unit loads and placed on pallets of a uniform size, allowing a wide range of goods to be transported and stored more easily.
But what happens the goods you handle don't fit neatly on a pallet? Items that are particularly large or long won't fit on a standard pallet, and they can be harder to handle with a standard forklift. One company that works with goods like this is Mac Messe- und Austellungscenter Service GmbH, a German designer and manufacturer of trade fair stands.
Cold stores are some of the most challenging environments that forklifts can operate in — temperatures as cold as -35°C are not unusual in these facilities, which are an absolutely vital part of the modern supply chain.
In these sub-zero conditions, steel can become more brittle, condensation can cause problems for a truck's mechanics, and operators must either wear insulating clothing or be protected inside heated cabins for their safety.
One of the biggest issues, however, is the cost involved with keeping the large area of the store colder than the North Pole. A lot of power can be needed to maintain the low temperature, and that's why it's important to maximise storage space as much as possible. This allows you to store more unit loads in a smaller space, and reduces the amount of energy needed to keep the store at these very low temperatures.
But what type of storage system allows for the densest storage?
Forklifts have existed for over 100 years — but it's only in more recent decades that ergonomic design has become a important question for manufacturers to answer.
That's unsurprising when you consider that today, the biggest cost you'll have to pay over your truck's lifetime isn't the service, or the financing costs — it's the cost of the driver. Therefore, making sure that they can do their jobs safely and efficiently is essential if you want to stay financially competitive.
But what does a truly ergonomic truck look like? Plenty of forklifts on the market claim to be ergonomically designed, but features such as these examples really make sense from an ergonomic perspective.