Case study

A Guide to Material Handling Equipment

Apr 19, 2017 | Equipment

The day-to-day running of any warehouse relies heavily on the ability to manoeuvre product around the space safely– lifting pallets into place and removing pallets from racking as efficiently as possible. Because of this, Material Handling Equipment (MHE) is a vital aspect of warehouse life. There are a variety of different types of MHE and the type that a warehouse uses will dictate the height of its pallet racking as well as the width of its aisles. Therefore, the amount of product that you can store is based in part on the type of MHE that you are prepared to use.

When choosing MHE, there are many considerations to take into account, including the condition (strength, material and flatness) of your floor, the qualifications of your personnel and the amount you wish to spend on the equipment. Generally speaking, the higher the equipment can reach, the more expensive and complex it will be to run.

Manuel Pump Truck

A manual pump truck is the most basic type of MHE. It is capable of moving one pallet at a time around at floor level and can be ideal for picking and packing. They are inexpensive and require only the most basic of training to use safely.It can also be used on a mezzanine floor, as it is not an excessive weight, and it can be moved from floor to floor on a goods lift.

Manual pump and pull truck

Counterbalance Truck

As the name suggests, a counterbalance truck is weighted at the back to allow it to lift heavy pallets without the truck overbalancing. It is also known as a “Forklift” due to its fork-like bars that extend from the front and are used to lift and carry pallets. This is a common and versatile MHE with a reach of between around three metres and eight metres. Relatively speaking, it is inexpensive with low maintenance costs and uncomplicated training for staff. It requires wide aisles of four metres and more, to allow for turning circles with large pallets at the front of the vehicle. Very heavy due to the weighted balance, the excessive point pressure means that this MHE cannot be used on a mezzanine floor unless it is specially reinforced.

Reach Truck

The cab of the truck is much smaller than a Counterbalance truck, though it has wheeled legs that reach away from cab, below the lifting forks. The name is derived from the fact that the lifting mechanism can reach out away from the body of the truck, stabilised by the wheeled legs, making it more versatile. Pallets are lifted from the racking and brought in over the vehicle legs, carrying it into the body of the chassis. This makes the turning circle smaller, allowing narrower aisles of around 3.2 metres. The reach height is around 7 metres. Due to the height of the reach, the floor needs to be completely flat. Purchase costs and training are higher than for a Counterbalance Truck.

Articulated Truck

An articulated Truck can reach up to around 10 metres in height. This requires an extremely flat floor, as any slight variation in level at the floor will create a tilt of several degrees at a height of 10 metres, meaning that the arms of the truck will not be able to slide under the pallets; not to mention the potential destabilisation on the vehicle.

An articulated truck is counterbalanced by a huge weight at the rear. However, unlike with a cumbersome Counterbalance truck, an articulated truck has an articulated point in the middle, which, along with its very small cab size, gives it a reduced turning circle. In addition, the rotation of the lifting forks means that it can access the racks at either side of the aisle at once, removing the need to turn around and reducing the aisle width significantly. The cost of the vehicle and its maintenance is high and training is rigorous. However, it can work with a 2.3 aisle – which, along with the additional height that it can reach, means that the flexi truck can access a huge amount more product than a counterbalance or reach truck.

Very Narrow Aisle (VNA truck)

A VNA truck lifts the operator into the air, taking them to the level of the pallet that they are picking. This truck has the potential to reach a massive 18 metre height (more usually 14 metres). An extremely flat floor is vital, so a laser leveller is used to grind down the wheel tracks. The vehicle uses a wire guidance system, which removes the potential for human error through inaccurate steering. Because the vehicle then travels in an extremely straight line, the possible aisle width is reduced still further to a mere 1.8 metres. These vehicles have the highest costs and require intensive training for personnel, but they do allow warehouses to store huge amounts of product within a relatively small footprint.

Narrow aisle racking with fork lift truck

The type of MHE that you use is about finding the optimum balance for your warehouse; taking into account what product you want to store, your budget and specific requirements. Contact WSL today for experienced advice on the best solution for your business.

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