Ergonomics in Material Handling

Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Courtesy: Wally Gobetz at
Brooklyn Navy Yard.
(Courtesy: Wally Gobetz at

Warehouse managers may be taking their employees fore granted, especially those who perform tasks involved with material handling. Sure they have access to such things as forklifts, pallet jacks, lift tables, hand trucks, carts, motorized hand trucks, hoists, etc., but there are times during the day when the worker himself must carry containers, put containers on shelves, distribute containers to other locations in the warehouse, etc.

Therefore, it is important for managers to make the manual lifting part of the job as easy as possible for workers to perform. Keep in mind that material handling is one of the largest cost components of a warehouse business. So you should want to avoid unnecessary handling of materials. Managers need to understand the importance of the workers’ relationship between his work environment and the activity they are expected to perform.

When considering the issue of ergonomics in the field of material handling one must take into account the load. It is important that this aspect of the job should be planned in such a manner as to avoid injuries to workers For example:

·      Smaller cartons are easier to handle than large ones. Odd-shaped or awkward loads present a number of problems for workers including stress and strain to the back.
·      Containers that are too tall obstruct vision or bump against the legs of the worker when being carried.
·      Loads should not be too light because workers could be encouraged to handle too much at one time. Loads should be heavy enough to discourage workers from lifting too much on their own.
·      Use containers that prevent the load from shifting. Loads that shift in a container may move the center of gravity away from the lifting handler causing stress on the lower back. Loads that shift into an uneven distribution will place torsion on the spine.

·      Box, totes and containers should have handles. Handholds near the bottom of the container permit the employee to carry them at the proper height to limit muscle problems in the upper extremities.

·      Recognize the material handling involves more than lifting. It also includes lowering, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, and transferring.
·      Rotate employees from less strenuous jobs to assist in handling. Split work between two or more employees and offer an appropriate work/rest schedule.
·      Encourage workers to use aids when performing lifting tasks. They should be using such things as pallet jacks, lift tables, two-wheeled hand trucks, lift and tilt tables, four-wheeled carts, winches, motorized hand trucks, manipulators, hosts, positioners, cranes, up enders, conveyors, dumpers, and chutes.
·      Train employees in proper body mechanics.

Managers should constantly review their material handling policies so that they can make appropriate changes. The review should be ongoing because new equipment is always being introduced that can assist in the process. Employees should be encouraged to become part of the process of improving material handling. Such involvement can be in the form of committees. Whenever considering changes in the process also consider how that change will impact on other jobs and how it may cause new problems.

Hiring Forklift Drivers – Part I: Targeting the Right Candidate

Oops! This wasn't the plan. (Courtesy: Polly Hutchinson)
Oops! This wasn’t the plan.
(Courtesy: Polly Hutchinson)

The most important, if not one of the most important jobs of a warehouse manager or human resources director is to hire forklift drivers. It is essential that people with the proper skills and appropriate experience is considered and ultimately selected for the job.

The process of finding a competent forklift driver involves three elements –-targeting the people who have the skills and experience to drive a forklift, getting more information about their skills during the interview process, and training the new driver so he can perform his job efficiently and safely.

Targeting Applicants

First, you need to be sure that the right people apply for the job.  So one thing you should look for in possible applicants is that they have some skills in driving a forklift and has some knowledge of how to maintain them.

One way to find out if a potential applicant has the skills is to seek out people who have experiences essential for a forklift driver. For example:

·      Does the applicant know what to expect in the workplace including how to drive a lift along different surfaces? How loads affect the stability of the lift? Is he a safe driver?
·      Does he know how to deal with pedestrian traffic that might be walking through his work area?
·      Is he aware of how the typical forklift works and does he understand the mechanical things that can go wrong with one?
·      Does he have knowledge of how to perform basic maintenance?
·      Does he have an understanding of physics and load mechanics?
·      Is he aware of OSHA safety standards?

It would also help if prospective drivers knew what OSHA requires from forklift drivers. This includes:

·      Employer certification that the driver has gone through a training course and knows that he is to be evaluated at least once every three years.
·      Re-training when the driver exhibits dangerous operation of a lift.

Sources that could help you get a leg up on your search for a competent driver include local training programs that hold sessions on driving lifts. Check your area for training companies and develop a relationship with them. They can help you identify good potential drivers in your locality and can assist in developing an on-site training course.

Key Forklift Driving Skills

As mentioned earlier, it would sure help if the potential driver already has skills in driving forklifts. This includes:

·      The ability to drive the style of forklifts you use.
·      The ability to calculate loads and whether or not he understands a bill of lading and freight quotes.
·      The ability to learn the process of inventory control.
·      Is the prospective applicant reliable? Remember, he is expected to be able to pick the right products and deliver them to the right place so that orders can be fulfilled efficiently and on time.

It might even be a good idea to ask a prospective driver to actually operate a forklift as you watch. A little thing like observing how he gets in and out of the lift can be extremely helpful in determining how important safety is to him in the performance of his job.

(Next time: Interviewing a prospective forklift driver)

Identifying Waste in Your Business

A few years ago, trying to emulate the Japanese style of business was all the rage. A lot of what was brought over from corporate folks going on trips to Japan has faded in and out, and not really taken hold. One thing that has taken hold, and is a recommended idea for any business that involves manufacturing, is the idea of waste identification. It is a process that can be adapted for nearly every business, from materials handling to offices.

Courtesy Kevin Krejci, via Flickr
Courtesy Kevin Krejci, via Flickr

What Types of Waste Can You Identify?

Looking around your facility, you can likely identify at least two or three different types of waste. The Japanese – specifically, Toyota – developed 7 different categories for waste.

  1. Transportation – The movement of a product has no added value, so extra movement is waste that doesn’t increase return.
  2. Inventory – Raw materials, works-in-progress, and finished goods sitting around represent a capital outlay that has not yet produced an income either by the producer or for the consumer.
  3. Motion – This refers to the damage that the production process inflicts on the entity that creates the product, either over time or during discrete events. It can include accidents and wear and tear.
  4. Waiting – Whenever goods are not in transport or being processed, they are waiting. This wastes time and money – in manufacturing, one of the best ways to cut waste is to cut waiting time in inventory.
  5. Over-processing – Over-processing occurs any time more work is done on a piece than is required by the customer. This also includes using components that are more precise, complex, higher quality or expensive than absolutely required. This may result in higher per-unit costs and greater labor costs that the client will be unwilling to pay for.
  6. Over-production – Over-production occurs when more product is produced than is required at that time by your customers.  Over-production leads to excess inventory, which then requires spending money to store the product.
  7. Defects – Fairly self-explanatory, these are errors in the product or processes that may require reworking the part or rescheduling production. This can result in increased labor costs and the need for more raw materials than originally specified. Defects can increase the cost of producing a product exponentially.

What is Value-Added?

The key to evaluating waste overall is determining what adds value, and what doesn’t. For instance, some of the points of waste identified in the Japanese theory could in fact be value-added, depending on your situation. Some customers may be willing to pay the premium for goods sitting around and taking up space in your warehouse instead of their – in which case, inventory may not be as much of a waste issue as it might appear. If you or your customers can place a beneficial monetary value on something, it is a value added feature.

Finding the Waste

Actually finding the waste in your process can be a large task, but it is something that can involve the entire company. There are two very good ways to go about unearthing waste – observation, and surveying.

Surveying will get the input of the members of your team. They can log actions that they deem wasteful, and can supply an evaluation of processes that management may not be entirely aware of. There may be some conflict though, as some members of the team may exaggerate waste. You may need to pick out a representative, trusted group instead of doing a blanket survey.

Observation with minor input from your employees may be the better route. This will allow management to tour through the plant and interact with the process and the employees. They can see exactly where the waste is occurring, instead of reading a second-hand account. They may even be able to come up with a temporary solution to reduce waste until a permanent solution can be developed.

It should be the goal of all companies to reduce waste in as many processes as possible. Aside from cutting waste and saving money in the present, waste reduction can lay the groundwork for efficient expansion at a later point. Consider trying to discover and remedy waste in your production as soon as possible.

Warehouse Management Courses – Worthless or Worthwhile?

Source: Michael Ocampo
Source: Michael Ocampo

Courses and stand-alone classes are all of the rage for post-college learning, especially when you hit the professional market. This can be a necessity in a number of cases, especially as technology has evolved so radically over the last few years and changed how we look at some of the processes we deal with in our daily work routines. These courses provide up-to-date ideas and methodologies aimed at making your warehouse a faster, more efficient place to work. So what are some possible pros and cons of attending a warehouse management course?


  • Update your education level: If you have experience but no degree, or you have an older supply chain management certificate or degree, a warehouse management course can provide you with information that you may not otherwise come across that you may be able to use in daily operation.
  • Networking: You will meet and interact with others who work in the same industry and who may face the same problems as you. This can create long-term relationships, and can be helpful down the line in getting ideas for new problems that may crop up. Networking is never a bad thing.
  • Employee growth: What one person learns in a course can be spread to the whole team, providing the employees with some growth in terms of what they know about processes. Having one person receive education can help increase the level of knowledge for the whole team.
  • Increase efficiency and growth potential of your business: At the end of the course, you or your employee should be able to implement ideas into your warehouse that ultimately makes it run more efficiently, and that should save money and increase profit over time.


  • Return on Investment: This is always a major question when it comes to putting out the thousands of dollars it may cost to send yourself or one of your team members to a course or seminar. You want to  make sure that you get a return on your investment. If you have a small warehouse, a warehouse that has a narrow scope of products, or a business that does not have a large volume of product, the expense of the course will likely not provide you with a return that will make it worth your while.
  • Repetition: If you have a newer supply chain management certificate or degree, it is likely much of the information in a course will simply be repetition of what you already know. You never want to pay for what you already know.
  • Employee retention: Helping an employee to increase their knowledge always comes with the worry that this new knowledge can also open up more opportunities for them outside of your company. Don’t let this be the sole deterrent if you otherwise feel that a course would be useful, but do take it into consideration when choosing the employee to send to the course.

If you decide that such a course is worthwhile, and not worthless to your company, the next step is to figure out what type of course is right for you or your employee. SAP, who makes much of the software used in warehouse management, offers courses, but at a premium price. The same goes for colleges – these courses are often part of a larger curriculum, usually under logistics engineering or supply chain management. You don’t have to be pursuing a degree, but you will pay quite a bit – courses such as Georgia Tech’s Engineering the Warehouse can run in the neighborhood of $4,000.

Another path that you can take for further education is through e-learning. As the internet has grown, plenty of learning sites have cropped up. Some of them will charge low fees, some are even free, and they can be worked on during down-time at work, or by the employee from their home computer. For those of you still on the fence about further warehouse management education, this may be your best bet – low risk, decent potential.

In the end, a course or certificate in Warehouse Management will be worthwhile for most businesses. Evaluate your needs and situation, and make the call yourself – it could be the best decision you ever make for your business.

How can a Pallet Inverter Help You and Your Business?

pallet inverterA pallet inverter can be a rather expensive piece of equipment, but it can be an incredibly helpful piece of equipment as well. These big machines are hard workers, and can be used in a surprising number of ways, for industries that may surprise you. Is a pallet inverter right for you and your business?

Do you find that pallets need to be replaced often?

Maybe you’ve got a clumsy forklift driver. Maybe you’re getting beat-up pallets or pallets that are suffering from rot. Maybe you just don’t like the pallet that has been used for packing and want to switch it our for something more stable before stowing it up high in the racks.

Instead of having to break down a pallet of goods and restack them on a new pallet, by hand, you can simply put the pallet in the inverter, flip the pallet on its side, pull the old pallet out and replace it.

Does your product need to be turned over on a regular basis?

What do cheese makers, printers, and wineries all have in common?

They all have products that may need to be rotated in large quantities either during or after production, and all of them can save time by doing it in large quantities, instead of rotating them one box at a time. Of course, artisan and small-batch companies will have no need for an inverter, but if you’re printing on both side of the paper for millions of brochures, this sure beats turning them over by hand.

Do you have to deal with switching from one type of pallet to another often?

With the use of hygenic plastic pallets becoming more common in warehouses, shipping pallets are often different from storage pallets. Sure, you could ship your goods on a plastic pallet, but they are much more expensive than a wood pallet, and there is no guarantee you’ll get it back. Also, some carriers require pallets with specific sizing, while you may use odd sizes or a variety of sizes in your warehouse.

If the answer to any of these questions was “yes”, then you should consider a pallet inverter as an investment for your business. There are a number of things you’ll need to consider before purchasing a unit, though.

  • Fiscal feasibility – Even the most basic pallet inverters will cost over $10,000 each, while the top-of-the-line models can hit $50,000 with installation costs. The harder you expect an inverter to work, the more expensive it will be – heavy duty or cold-storage inverters need to be built with high tolerances and stronger materials than the average unit. Maintenance costs will also add up over time. So ask yourself, will the man-hours saved justify the costs?
  • Space – These units are not small, and while some are mobile, those that can handle heavy loads have to be secured in place. Make sure you’ve got the room to spare before you commit, you’ll be losing over a hundred square feet of warehouse space.
  • Usability and Safety – They aren’t difficult to operate, but a new piece of equipment always needs a bit of training as well as new safety precautions for operators and other workers. Make sure you can commit the time to properly training multiple operators, and teaching your staff the right safety precautions.

When it comes down to it, pallet inverters are highly specialized pieces of warehouse equipment that serve one purpose, and serve that purpose well. However, if you do not properly evaluate your business and its needs properly, going headlong into buying an inverter for your warehouse could leave you with the warehouse equivalent of a bad closer in baseball – expensive and rarely useful.

Final Draft of “US Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics” Released

The final version of a report predicting the future of the US materials handling and logistics industry was recently issued. The “US Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics” examines the ten biggest trends that can be anticipated during the next decade. The report was developed over the course of the past year and is based on input from more than 100 industry leaders, as well as four public workshops held last summer in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago.

Modex Trade Expo Announces Three Keynote Speakers

Three of the the world’s leading experts on materials handling have been scheduled to address Modex 2014, North America’s biggest supply chain trade show. This year’s featured speakers are Edward G. Bastian, president of Delta Airlines, who will be give an addressed called “Shipping Trends for Global Supply Chains”; Lee Scott, former president and CEO of Walmart, who will discuss how to build a logistics and supply chain organization that is a market differentiator; and George Prest, CEO of MHI, who will present the key findings from the group’s annual industry report. Modex will be held March 17-20 at the Georgia World Conference Center, in Atlanta.

Suburban Library System Leaps into the Future

A suburban library system outside Dallas, Texas, has modernized the way it sorts the more than 250,000 items borrowed by patrons each year. Each of the Richardson Public Library’s books, CDs, DVDs and other material shave been equipped with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip when allows automated sorting equipment to identify the item and dispatch it to its proper location. The system allows patrons to use new self-checkout kiosks, reducing lines and cutting wait times.


Conference Held In Chicago This Week for Forklift Parts, Service Managers

The Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association is holding its annual conference in a convention center just outside Chicago this week. The event’s theme this year is “Delivering a Superior Customer  Service Experience for Your Parts and Service Customers.” The conference is scheduled to be held Wednesday and Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare hotel and conference center in Rosemont. Sessions during the conference will focus on best practices, metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs) and other topic related to the forklift parts industry, according to the association’s website. The cost for the conference is $699 for MHEDA members and $1,249 for non-members.

Retail Sales Up Again in July, Fed Says

Retail sales in the United States increased 0.5% during July compared to June, according to statistics released by the US Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation. It was the fourth consecutive month that retail sales went up, providing a sign of economic improvement. July’s retail sales of $424.5 billion were 4.0% higher than July 2012, the report stated. Total retail sales for Q2 2013 were up 4.0% annually. Still, analysts said the economy may still be stuck in neutral. “Even with modest employment gains and steady consumer confidence, Americans remain in a cautiously-positive spending pattern,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist.