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What Is Material Handling? | Meaning, Types And Principles

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material handling
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What Is Material Handling?

Material handling, comprised of two words material and handling, is a process of transporting raw materials from their original location to the production units, moving them through the production line, and subsequently transferring the finished product from factories and distributing them to users or sales outlets.

An efficient material and handling process is a part of the company’s supply chain management, impacting the supply of material at different stages of production, manufacturing, and logistics. Further, it improves customer satisfaction by eliminating inventory bottlenecks, optimizing transportation time, and making products easily available. 

What Are the Different Types of Material Handling Systems?

After discussing the definition let us now look at what differentiates one type of handling method from the other. 

To begin with, the three most common methods to shift goods and materials used in warehouses include manual, mechanical, and automated.

1. Manual Handling

 As the name suggests, manual handling depends primarily on the human workforce. In comparison to automation, manual shifting is affordable, which is why many small businesses rely on the manual method.

Manual is the most common method used for lightweight materials in small quantities. Manual handling typically involves human labor and equipment, like trucks, forklifts, pallet jacks, etc. 

2. Mechanical Handling

Mechanical handling uses machines, like conveyor belts, cranes, and hoists for material shifting. The mechanical method is often used for shiting heavy material in bulk, significantly improving the efficiency of the entire process.  

However, setting up the infrastructure facilitating mechanical material movement involves significant investment in heavy machines like conveyor belts and is often time-consuming. 

3. Automated Handling

An Automated Storage & Retrieval System uses the most advanced technologies, such as robotics and guided vehicles. Using automation, businesses can move goods of different sizes and volumes faster. The automated handling method is highly customizable and can be tailored to the specific needs of the business. 

Companies can opt for any of these types or apply a combination depending on their project requirements, quantity, type of material, warehouse size, and time.

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What Is Material Handling Equipment?

Simply put, material handling equipment refers to any machine used in a commercial space to move, store, protect, and manage raw materials or finished goods for simplicity and smooth operation of the supply chain. Equipment helps automate the process and makes it faster, which otherwise would have required a lot of manual labor.

What Are the Types of Material Handling Equipment?

 Trucks, forklifts, and racks are some common types of material handling equipment. Because of the wide variety of tools and machines used for moving material in factories, they are categorized into four types for simplicity of understanding: storage and handling equipment, industrial trucks, bulk movement equipment, and engineered systems. 

Here is a table to explain the different categories of equipment used in warehouses.

Storage and handling Industrial trucks and machines Bulk Shifting Engineered systems
Purpose Used in warehouses for storage, organizing, and preparing These vehicles are used for shifting material to designated areas Involved in storing, transporting, and processing material in bulk These machines are used for packaging, shelving, and storing material
Types of tools Racks, stacking frames, shelves, mezzanine, bins and drawers Forklifts, walker stackers, order pickers, pallet jackets Conveyor belts, stackers, elevators, silos Automatic storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), conveyor, robotic delivery system, Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

Storage and Handling Equipment

Storage and handling equipment temporarily stores your inventory and materials when they are not in use. You can use this equipment in your warehouse for organization, space optimization, and to prevent product damages or losses. 

Common storage tools are:

  • Stacking frames
  • Pallet racks 
  • Mezzanines 

Industrial Trucks and Machines

Material shifting equipment such as industrial trucks facilitates transportation from one location to another. These can be manually operated trucks or motorized vehicles like forklifts. Industrial trucks usually carry material in bulk, ensuring speedy and safe transportation of material and inventories. 

Common examples of industrial types of material handling equipment are:

  • Forklifts
  • Pallet trucks
  • Hand trucks

Bulk Shifting Tools

Bulk material shifting equipment – the types of material handling equipment – is the best bet for moving material in large volumes. These are equipment designed to carry large volume and weight. You can use these machines within the warehouse space or outdoors, depending on your requirements. 

The bulk shiting equipment includes:  

  • Conveyer belts
  • Reclaimers
  • Stackers 
  • Bicket elevators 

Engineered System

Engineered systems use automated equipment and machines for moving material within or outside the factory. These machines include warehouse robots, Automatic storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs), palletizers, and others. Engineered systems significantly reduce manual involvement and improve the speed and accuracy of the process.

What Are the Key Principles of Material Handling? 

When setting a process, it is important to standardize it for the best outcome. These key principles are set by the industry exponents to make the process smooth. You must evaluate your requirements in advance and lay out a plan before starting. Making efforts to plan and standardize the process will contribute to long-term savings.  

The key principles of material shifting include the following. These form the basis of building a process to improve speed, accuracy, and efficiency. 

1. Strategy Planning for Material Movement

It requires determining the best way to move material to ensure the process is safe and efficient. The process focuses on analyzing requirements, evaluating the existing facilities, and designing the layout. Businesses can develop tailored processes to meet specific needs and challenges. 

Material planning as a part of an extended warehouse management system helps maximize labor and space utilization. 

2. Formulating Standard Procedure

Standardization ensures that the same process and equipment are followed for similar tasks. Setting standards enhances coordination among departments, minimizes errors, and improves overall productivity.   

To achieve the goal of standardization one must focus on identifying and grouping similar tasks and testing the viability of the process. 

3. Planning Work Process

A higher involvement of human labor in material shifting increases the chances of workplace injuries. Planning the work for the best combination of manual and automation processes aims to reduce the involvement of manual labor and optimize process automation. 

4. Introducing Ergonomics

Ergonomic designs of the workplace make it safe for workers and reduce work-related injuries. As a part of material shifting, ergonomics promotes the utilization of machines and equipment to reduce workplace strain and fatigue.

5. Optimizing Space Utilization

If you are running a business you need to build or rent a warehouse to store your goods and material. These warehouse spaces charge a premium. Space optimization as a part of warehouse management, optimizes space utilization policy including maximizing the available space for storage.   

6. Process Automation 

Automation improves productivity, reduces labor costs, and makes the process more efficient. Process automation using robotics, conveyors, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) significantly increases the output of an existing system and lifts overall productivity. 

What Is The Importance of Effective Material Handling?

For any company, eliminating hiccups in the material transportation process is critical to attain higher efficiency levels, reduce losses from product damage and loss, and make products timely available in the market.

According to a research report by the Govt of Tamil Nadu, 80% of accidents in material handling are due to human failure or unsafe acts. This signifies the importance of effective material handling.

Efficient material handling ensures smooth distribution of material, supply chain optimization, warehouse management, and improved productivity.

1. Enhancing Efficiency

An under-optimized workplace has higher chances of workplace accidents. Implementing a material shifting process will help reduce workplace injuries and stress.

Methods like process automation reduce events of ergonomic stress-related injuries among workers. Moreover, automated machines make warehouse management more efficient.  

2. Cost Reduction

It helps minimize waste, reduces labor expenses, lowers the chances of product damage during transportation, and contributes to overall cost savings.     

3. Enhanced Workplace Safety

By improving the material shifting process, companies can reduce the risks of workplace injuries and accidents, improving employee safety. Material handling best practices, including implementing ergonomic design for lifting and transporting material, can reduce injuries among workers and improve efficiency. 

4. Inventory Management

When deployed with inventory management software, it reduces challenges related to inventory management by accurately tracking, storing, and transporting inventory. An inventory management system allows businesses to maintain an optimal inventory level and improve turnover rates.

5. Supply Chain Optimization

Efficient material shifting as a component of supply chain optimization ensures the smooth handling of raw materials for timely delivery to the production line and finished goods to customers. Supply chain optimization also contributes to waste management and reducing costs. 

An all-rounded ERP software like Sage X3 with integrated supply chain management allows businesses to simplify material movement and tracking. 

6. Improved Services

 A tailored material shifting process ensures that products are easily available to your customers when they want. It also guarantees that damages are minimal, accurate, and fast, resulting in improved customer loyalty and satisfaction.  

Advantages of Material Handling

Material shifting process can ensure quality assurance by minimizing damages and losses due to transportation. Supply chain automation and distribution speed up the quality control process and guarantee a shorter delivery period.

1. Quality Control

Material shifting process can ensure improved quality control by minimizing damages and losses due to transportation. Supply chain automation and distribution speed up the quality control process and guarantee a shorter delivery period. 

2. Increase Overall Productivity and Efficiency

By streamlining the process, organizations can improve overall productivity and efficiency. It allows your business to allocate resources more efficiently and frees workforce time. For example, by focusing on the bulk movement of products, you can reduce occurrences of damages and loss.  

3. Timely Handling

An integrated system makes the operation process more streamlined and well-timed. It ensures that materials are available at every stage of the production process at the right time and quantity. 

4. Reduces costs

A proper material movement strategy can improve a company’s financials by reducing labor costs and wastages by minimizing product damage or loss risks during handling, storage, and transportation. Regular cost audit enhances productivity and savings.

5. Competitive advantages 

Businesses enjoy improved efficiency, better tracking of inventories, and quick responses to market demand and deliver superior value to customers. Efficient material movement offers a competitive advantage in the market. 

Disadvantages of Material Handling

The downside of material handling includes higher installation costs, maintenance and operating costs, integration challenges, and others. 

1. Higher Installation Costs

Implementing material handling systems and equipment requires a significant upfront investment that increases your capital investments. This can prohibit some companies from implementing material movement infrastructure in their organizations. 

2. Maintenance and Operating Costs

The equipment would require regular maintenance and repair to function at optimum levels. The costs you incur in operating and maintaining equipment will increase your operating expenses and impact overall profitability. 

3. Integration Challenges

Integrating a new system with your existing system can be complex, resulting in downtime and temporary disruption to productivity. Before implementing a material handling strategy, considering all aspects, including the economy, is crucial. 


1. What Is Material Handling Meaning?

Material handling involves two things material and handling. The process includes shifting, protecting, controlling, and storing material throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distributing, consumption, and disposal, using equipment, systems, and processes.

2. How Does Automation Impact Material Handling Operations?

Automation of the process involves using automation software, robotics, and AI to optimize process efficiency, reduce labor expenses, and improve overall productivity. 

3. How Do You Determine the Right Material Handling Equipment for a Specific Application?

Factors impacting equipment selection include type, weight, size, and fragility of the material, warehouse size, and safety requirements.   

4. Why Is Efficient Material Handling Important?

The objective of material shifting is to ensure the supply of material and handling of those at different stages of production and distribution. Efficient material handling helps optimize productivity, reduces costs, minimizes risks, and enhances workplace safety. 

5. How is Material Handling a Part of the Supply Chain?

From manufacturing to distribution, efficient material transfer ensures materials and goods are safely transported from one stage to another in the supply chain. An integrated supply chain management in ERP simplifies material management by offering a unified platform to monitor and track material movement. 

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