By: Jacob Read
Material handling is sometimes an afterthought in facility planning. The consequences of this are losses to efficiency and productivity, which increases costs and drives down profitability. Although the major components of material handling are considered as non-value add activities (transporting, positioning, rearranging, storing, and controlling), there is much value to be gained from designing efficient material handling systems.
Material handling system designers have many factors to consider, and many decisions to make involving multiple objectives. The orientation of material affects how it is handled by an operator and loaded into a machine. Unit load sizes affect the weight and size requirements of material handling equipment, the amount of work-in-process (WIP), and the total distance traveled while transporting materials. Material handling tasks should adhere to human capabilities and limitations to provide safe and effective operations for operators. Repetitive or unsafe manual material handling operations should can be considered for automation to increase efficiency and safety. The entire facility system must be considered from receiving to shipping, as well as transportation and handling returns. Additionally, environmental impact, energy consumption, and life-cycle costs all affect the total operating cost and should be considered when designing the material handling system.
The main objective of a material handling system designer should be to minimize the total material handling costs without negatively impacting productivity or service level. Some ways to do this include improving order picking operations to reduce the distance traveled and time spent filling orders, improving storage methods to increase space utilization and optimize storage and retrieval operations, or implementing cross-docking to reduce inventory holding costs. Order picking operations can be improved by designating the type of picking strategies to be used (e.g. batch picking versus single order picking) and providing operators with the exact route to sequence their picks using heuristics (e.g. Traveling Salesmen Problem, TSP). Storage methods can be improved by using alternative storage equipment (e.g. bin shelving for small parts versus pallet rack) and organizing the materials in storage based on SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) velocity. Cross-docking allows for transfer of inbound shipments to outbound trucks without being processed through inventory and significantly reduces labor costs.
Material handling is a critical element in the design of a facility as it can have the most opportunity to obtain cost savings. That is why it is important to not only consider, but make a priority of material handling during the facility planning stages.