The material handling industry is an expansive one, dealing with everything from logistics and distribution to warehousing, storage and on-site movement of goods and products. Across that broad horizon are a whole host of different businesses involved with an eclectic mix of operations. These include loading, unloading, packaging and storing goods throughout the entire manufacturing life cycle.
Involved in these operations are a variety of incredible machines and vehicles, from behemoth bulk handlers to industry work horses like the fork lift truck. Here we take a look at some of those vehicles and machines and how they are employed to move material around the world.
Bulk Handling Systems
Starting from the top, bulk handling systems are, as the name suggests, designed for moving high volumes of material or product such as coal and mining produce, waste products and wood, gravel or stone. They are installed in specific locations and transport goods between defined locations using a combination of conveyor belts, stack reclaimers and railcards.
The systems are typically used to transport a raw material or product from a source (for example a mine or a waste site) to one or more locations for processing (smelting or recycling for example) or loadingonto shipping containers.
Loading systems are also usually integrated into the engineering solutions, with more advanced systems integrating bulk storage and post processing facilities.
Bulk handling systems are also commonly found in shipyards, ports and flour mills.
Also found in shipyards and ports, as well as construction sites across the country, are industrial cranes. They range from minnows able to lift just a few kg over a shop floor to towering giants capable of carrying up to a mammoth 15,000 metric tons up to the dizzying heights of over 800m.
As their range is size suggests, there is a whole host of applications and no one size of crane fits all. Some of the most impressive require hundreds of operators, like the Thialf, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which has a staggering lifting capacity of 14,200 and was installed to help construct part of the Erasmus bridge. The crane is so large it requires its own vessel, not only to house its workers but simply to keep it in place!
The Shandong Province of Chine is home to perhaps the largest crane in the world in terms of lifting capacity. The beast can boast the Guinness World Book of Record’s title of biggest lift with its impressive 20,000 tons.
Rail and Cart Systems
Used in a similar fashion to bulk handling systems, rail and carts can be found in heavy manufacturing and the mining industry. The carts, typically electrically powered, transport heavy cargo and equipment across a range of distances making them ideal for transporting metal ores, automotive parts and machinery.
When compared to the giants of the material handling world, the telehandler may seem a modest entry into this list of machines but do not be fooled. This incredibly versatile piece of kit is essentially a fork lift truck – crane – digger hybrid able to transport materials across terrain that even the most able 4×4 would struggle with.
The operator sits in sturdy cabin sits which is mounted upon a manoeuvrable chassis and massive wheels. A telescopic boom is attached, upon which all manner of attachments can be used allowing for the movement of materials into hard to reach places on construction sites, agriculture and warehouses.
Their power, reliability and versatility mean they are a staple machine across many industries. Here in the UK, telehandlers can be hired or bought from companies such as UK Forks.
Fork Lift Trucks
This industrial work horse needs no introduction. Found in pallet yards, warehouses and factories across the country, forklift trucks are power, manoeuvrable and a firm industry favourite material handling machine.
Operated from within the cabin, a forklift boasts two large prongs (the fork) which can be moved in their vertical plane by powerful hydraulic systems. They come in a variety of sizes and lifting capacities, with a typical truck able to move between one and five metric tons.
Developed towards the end of the First World War, the forklift truck is still manufactured in huge numbers today, with global sales continually topping £20m.