After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Definition of Materials Handling 2. Objectives of Materials Handling 3. Functions 4. Costs Included 5. Systems Concept 6. Steps in Analysing Materials Handling Problems 7. Activity Areas 8. Relationship with Other Departments 9. Basic Materials Handling Systems 10. Principles 11. Limitations.


  1. Definition of Materials Handling
  2. Objectives of Materials Handling
  3. Functions of Materials Handling
  4. Costs Included in Materials Handling
  5. Systems Concept of Materials Handling
  6. Steps in Analysing Materials Handling Problems
  7. Activity Areas of Materials Handling
  8. Relationship of Materials Handling with Other Departments
  9. Basic Materials Handling Systems
  10. Principles of Materials Handling
  11. Limitations of Materials Handling

1. Definition of Materials Handling:

There is no hard and fast definition of materials handling, however attempts have been made to define this term. Materials handling is the science and art both involving the moving, packing and storing of substance in any form, and includes the preparation, placing and posi­tioning the material to facilitate their movement or storage.

Materials handling occurs whenever a material is moved may be in a manufacturing, dis­tribution (warehouse), or office environment. Materials handling also occur during prepara­tion for shipment, transportation may be by sea, air or land, and moving material in and out of carriers.


International Material Management Society has defined the Materials Handling as “Mate­rials handling is an art and science involving the movements, packaging and storing of sub­stances in any form”.

2. Objectives of Materials Handling:

As we know that with the rise of factory system, men continued to develop handling equip­ment to perform jobs where human or animal muscles were insufficient in either capacity or speed. Later on it becomes important to reduce materials handling labour in order to reduce production cost.

Therefore main objective of materials handling engineer is to reduce product cost the one overall goal. Materials handling equipment is not production machinery, but is auxiliary equipment that improves the flow of material which in turn reduces stoppages in production machines and thus increases their production.

Objectives of a proper materials handling system are:


1. Reduced costs,

2. Increased capacity,

3. Improved working conditions,

4. Improved customer service, and 


5. Improved productivity.

1. Reduction in Cost:

Reduction in total cost of production can be achieved by either reducing materials handling or by improved handling procedure or both.

The objective of reduc­tion in cost of production through improved materials handling can be achieved by:

(a) Reducing material handling labour.


(b) Material handling work should not be assigned to skilled or semi-skilled labour.

(c) Reducing indirect labour expenses on activities connected with storage, inspection, quality control, repair, tool room, shipping etc.

(d) Reducing damage of materials during handling.

(e) Better utilisation of space.


(f) Reducing in process storage.

(g) Increasing productivity.

(h) Reducing expenditure on packaging and other protective devices.

(i) Decreasing inventory.

2. Increase in Capacity:


Improved materials handling system results in increase of ca­pacity by better utilisation of space.

Improved handling system can increase the capacity in the following ways:

(a) By better utilisation of space:

Racks or containers that stacks item upon each other making full use of air space should be preferred. From this point of view use of over­head cranes, conveyors, lift trucks etc., are very suitable.


(b) By reducing travel space or excessive wastage of space:

For this purpose a study of flow of materials between operations should be done considering the flow paths, volume of material, timing etc. This study may help in reducing travel time and space require­ments.

(c) By improving equipment utilisation:

This can be achieved by ensuring regular supply and distribution of material. This will reduce the idling of machine.

(d) By faster loading or unloading:

This can be achieved by employing conveyor system, cranes, loaders, rail road cars, tipping trucks etc.

3. Improvement in Working Conditions:


(a) Safety aspects:

Safety of men, material and associated equipment not only prevents loss of money but also enhances the moral of workers.

(b) Easy working:

By using proper handling equipment heavy jobs can be handled with ease, faster speed and at a constant rate throughout the period of production. This enables high morale and lower workers turnover.

(c) Foolproof operation:

Due to absence of manual handling, there are no chances of con­fusion resulting in placing of material at wrong location or disruption of production.

4. Improved Customer Service:


Customer’s service will be improved by following proper and improved materials handling system which will enable regular and timely market supply by avoiding disruption in production schedule. These are the main sources of good customer service.

3. Functions of Materials Handling:

The basic function of material handling-the movement of material- is as old as man, but the need of materials handling developed from the development of factory system, which started from the industrial revolution which took place in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centu­ries.

The industries, supermarket, offices, construction projects and the banks—all are engaged in moving things. In early days man was physically handling the material, however over a period of years he has started applying mechanical principles like lever, wheel, pulley etc.

The material handling, though does not add value to a product, it generally adds significant element of cost. Material handling generally costs between 20 to 35% of the cost of the product, with certain exceptions. Earlier, it was a general belief that most of this cost is inevitable and cannot be easily avoided, but now-a-days need for reduction in materials handling costs through systems approach is being realised.

Not only cost, majority of production time is also consumed in handling materials before, during and after the manufacture. The materials handling time and cost can be reduced by proper selection, operation, maintenance and layout of these han­dling devices.

The materials handling problem must be studied at the time of planning of various ma­chines and tools to be required and before the erection of factory building. Materials handling is a prime consideration in designing new plants, and existing plants can also be modify by the application of modern materials handling devices. These devices increase output, improve qual­ity, speed up the deliveries and therefore, reduces the production cost.

4. Costs Included in Material Handling :

Materials handling includes following costs:


Materials handling cost = cost of handling + cost of transportation + cost of pack­aging + cost of space + cost of handling equipment including operation, maintenance and depreciation etc.

In any industry materials handling is of following 3 types:

1. Handling of individual part or unit by men,

2. Handling in room, department, or plant

3. Handling of materials during the entire process of production and distribution, start­ing from raw material source, going through the factory and distribution network to the ultimate customer and beyond, to waste disposal and recycling.


This can be shown as below:

Raw material → Supplier → Transportation → Receiving → Storing → Issue → Manufacturing or fabrication → Packaging → Shipping → Dealer or Distribu­tors warehouse → Retailers → Customer → Disposal → Recycling.

Since materials handling is concerned with the movement of materials, every movement has following elements:

1. Picking up the load,

2. Transporting the load, and

3. Setting the load down.

5. Systems Concept for Materials Handling:

Systems concept for materials handling means, adopting a materials handling system from overall optimisation point of view. This means that it is not necessary to buy the latest materi­als handling equipment, materials handling engineer must put all the elements of the system together to see whether it is profitable for the enterprise.


He must analyse to ensure the objec­tive of least total cost of handling. Materials handling engineer must have basic criteria for selecting a handling system of adequate monetary pay back, if all other things are equal.

Systems approach for materials handling demands that all elements of problem, its cause and effect be analysed so as to accomplish to desired objectives.

Systematic analysis should lead to solutions which satisfy the following important conditions:

1. There should not be any other problem created by the new system proposed to be implemented.

2. Amount of return on investment must justify the proposed handling system.

3. The system must take care for reasonably long period of time, and that it must permit expansion or modification without much cost and difficulty.

4. The new system must be simple to implement so that it is easily acceptable by man­agement as well as by operators.

In short the new handling system must have technique and method which can easily fit the existing system and has least total cost of the system and meets the ultimate objective of the materials handling.

By following the systems approach, materials handling engineer must achieve the follow­ing:

1. Increase the production effectiveness by having right quantity of material, at right places at the right time, by avoiding delays and following the orderly flow of material or item. This helps in improving the productivity.

2. Minimise unnecessary labour and make the enterprise more profitable.

3. Reduce damage due to materials handling and thus saves expenditure due to scrap and rework. This can be achieved only if we have sufficient data related to the dam­ages e.g., identification of product or item, whether in transportation, storing, picking or setting down, packaging material or method, type of container etc.

4. Reduce accident rates.

5. Effective utilisation of space by proper layout planning.

6. Steps in Analysing Materials Handling Problems:

Following factors should be studied to analyse the materials handling problems:

1. Establish the scope of the study.

2. Pinpoint the areas of plant layout to be covered by the study.

3. Determine volume expected to be handled per unit time by the new system.

4. Nature and type of the materials to be handled.

5. Determine the handling cost of the items being handled by the present system.

6. Determine details of distance to be moved, with details of curves, slopes etc.

7. Determine, how to move the material i.e., in tray, bundles, pallets etc.

8. Determine the details of the equipment used viz., capacity, speed, flexibility etc.

9. Determine the time taken for the movement.

10. A thorough survey should then be made considering the systems approach.

11. Alternative systems should then be evaluated from all angles including financial, physical, safety, acceptance by the management and operators, and its effects on working, safety and overall environment.

7. Activity Areas of Materials Handling:

For effective materials handling, materials handling engineer must look after handling work in different areas, some of them are:

1. Packaging and packing of raw material for the industry.

2. Loading and transportation to the plant.

3. Unloading activities.

4. Receiving, storage and issue of material for production.

5. In-process handling.

6. In-process storage.

7. Work-place handling.

8. Infra-departmental handling.

9. Inter-departmental handling.

10. Intra plant handling.

11. Packaging.

12. Warehousing.

13. Packing.

14. Loading and transportation to customers/distributors/dealers place.

8. Relationship of Materials Handling with Other Departments:

In the past materials handling was neglected and due importance was not given to this function in the industries. This was simply due to lack of awareness on the part of management. But now a day this aspect is being given its due importance and materials handling engineers play a vital role in the industries.

In order to carry out the functions of materials handling, the personnel of this department work in close association with other departments of the enterprise, such as with the following:

1. Purchasing Department:

To facilitate in deciding the size of order, packaging, pack­ing and transportation system from suppliers place to the plant.

2. Stores Department:

Handling and storage of materials and supplies is determined by the characteristics of the items and the nature of storage methods.

3. Production Control Department:

Handling department must cooperate with produc­tion control department in following fields:

(a) Directing path of material movement.

(b) Moving material in lots or containers of predetermined sizes.

(c) Making optimum use of mechanical handling in picking, accumulation and loading.

(d) Meeting production requirement with the handling equipment.

(e) Materials handling system itself must incorporate features of production control, in­ventory control and accounting.

(f) Moving materials as per schedule and to avoid rush deliveries, partial loads or dupli­cate moves.

4. Industrial Engineering Department:

Since materials handling function is a division of the broad field of industrial engineering, materials handling engineer has to work in close cooperation with other industrial engineers dealing different functions, e.g.;

(a) With the process engineering in designing the manufacturing process to establish line balancing, in-process handling, and storage operations.

(b) With the methods engineering in designing the individual work places, the methods used in performing the operations.

(c) With the work standards personnel in establishing work standards for materials han­dling operations for using as the basis of incentive schemes for material handlers.

(d) With plant layout personnel in developing the overall flow pattern and the arrange­ment of the facilities in the plant.

Relation between Plant Layout and Materials Handling:

There exists a very close relation between plant layout and materials handling. The method of handling materials definitely influences the plant layout and the plant building. If all the devices required for a particular set of operations are determined but fail to arrange them properly then it is said that layout is not a good one. Effective layout means minimum handling operations.

In the plant:

(i) If materials are to be moved by hand operated or power trucks, passages are provided for their operation.

(ii) If materials are to be moved by overhead cranes, passages are almost missing but the overhead space is unobstructed.

(iii) If materials are to be moved by pipe lines, ducts such as paint in automobile body building plants and saw dust as in wood working plants, arrangement should be made for their methods of handling.

(iv) If the building is multi-storeyed, elevators, and conveyors of different types may be utilized. Gravity conveyor may be utilized in moving material in a multi-storeyed building or one built on a sloping grade.

Modern materials handling technique makes possible a continuous flow of materials and work in process between building and from one floor to another, thus removing restrictions of space and building construction, which was handicapped in the past. Today in advanced plants handling devices operated by electronic controls are used.

Position of Plant Layout and Materials Handling Departments in an Organisation:

Position of plant layout department and materials handling department vary from organisation to organisation and depends upon its size and type of product manufactured.

The functions of these departments are generally assigned to:

1. Plant engineer/manager

2. Plan layout engineer/manager

3. Industrial engineer/manager

4. Production engineer/manager

5. Process engineer

6. Materials handling engineer.

It has generally been observed that most of the organisations assigned the job of plant layout and materials handling to either ‘Plant Engineering’ departments or ‘Industrial Engi­neering’ along with other functions as illustrated hereunder:

1. Plant Engineering:

(a) Plant construction,

(b) House keeping,

(c) Repair and maintenance,

(d) Safety and security,

(e) Facility design, and 

(f) Utilities.

2. Industrial Engineering:

(a) Cost and economy studies,

(b) Work-study,

(c) Operation research,

(d) Systems engineering, and 

(e) Facilities designing.

9. Basic Materials Handling Systems:

1. Equipment Oriented Systems:

(a) Industrial Truck Systems: Platform trucks and skids, fork trucks and pallets, and tractor-trailers.

(b) Conveyor systems.

(c) Overhead systems: Overhead cranes, and monorails.

2. Material (Load) Oriented Systems:

(a) Unit handling system.

(b) Bulk handling systems: conveyors, power shovels, scoops, cranes, draglines, and con­struction equipment.

(c) Liquid material handling systems.

3. Method (Production) Oriented Systems:

These are described in terms of the types of production in which they are used:

(a) Manual system.

(b) Mechanised or automated systems,

(c) Mass production handling systems.

(d) Job shop handling systems.

4. Function Oriented Handling Systems:

(a) Transportation systems: For horizontal motion.

(b) Elevating systems: For vertical motion over vertical or steeply inclined routes.

(c) Conveying systems: Horizontal, vertical or combined motions.

(d) Transferring systems: Horizontal, inclined or declined motions through the air.

(e) Self-loading systems: Intermittent motion with machines that pick up, move and set down, i.e., unit load systems.

10. Principles of Materials Handling:

Since it is not possible to acquire experience by a materials handling engineer himself on all types of problems, he has to take advantage of others’ experience. On the basis of-experience gained by himself and also by others he should try to solve the handling problems.

On the basis of these experiences facts, systematic approach and other ideas, certain principles have been developed. These principles have been implemented, practiced and perfected during several years. These principles of material handling are useful in all the fields may it be engineering, office or elsewhere.

The word ‘principle’ can be defined as a prescribed guide to accepted procedures established through past practice and is accepted as authoritative by practitioners, and without which a system would be less effective. Therefore, when these principles of materials handling are applied by materials handling engineer, even if he is not much experienced, he can find correct solution faster.

These principles are general guides, and can be put to use by means of different activities. In the table below, principles of materials handling are given, and against each of them activi­ties necessary for implementing the principle are indicated.

Principles Related to Planning:

1. Planning Principle:

All material handling activities should be planned.

(i) Material should be placed on pallet or any other support and not on the floor directly.

(ii) One container should be used throughout and avoid frequent changes.

(iii) Utilise truss capacities and ceiling heights.

(iv) Provide sufficient storage space at the work-place.

(v) Each operator must be instructed/trained to follow correct method.

(vi) Plan for scrap removal means.

(vii) Efforts are made to combine operations like inspection during productive operation.

(viii) Minimise movement of men and material.

2. Systems Principle:

Handling activities be integrated and coordi­nated. Handling activities are receiving, storage, in-process handling, inspection, packaging, warehousing, shipping and trans­portation.

(i) Consider all the handling activities while giving a detailed consideration to an ac­tivity.

(ii) Material flow between work areas is planned.

(iii) Integrated activities into the handling sys­tem.

3. Simplification Principle:

Reduce, combine or eliminate unnecessary movements and/or equipment.

(i) Motion Economy principles by applied.

(ii) Reduce or eliminate, long and complicated movements.

(iii) Deliver the material at correct spot in first instance.

(iv) Eliminate rehandling.

(v) Reduce variety of equipment.

4. Material Flow Principle:

Material flow pattern must be determined by operation sequence and pattern of equipment arrangement.,

(i) Avoid overcrowding.

(ii) Eliminate obstacles in the flow.

(iii) Move in a direct path and avoid back track­ing.

(iv) Move greatest weight and/or bulk for least distance.

(v) Minimise movements between floors,, and buildings.

(vi) Plan proper locations of sub-assemblies.

(vii) Plan related work areas close together.

(viii) Avoid traffic jams and take necessary pre­cautions for cross traffic.

5. Gravity Principle:

Utilize gravity where possible.,

(i) Use slides, chutes, hoppers etc. where possible

6. Unit Size Principle:

Increase size, quantity, weight of the load handled. Since larger the load, lesser will be the cost per unit handled.

(i) Handle unit loads. Unit loads described separately.

(ii) Use containers.

(iii) Containers should be standardised.

(iv) Use standardised pallets.

(v) Optimise unit loads.

7. Space Utilisation Principle:

Optimum utilisation of building space. As space means money.

(i) Equipment or work area may be kept in reasonably close position.

(ii) Inventory at temporary stores must not be kept too much.

(iii) Utilise height of building and use rack to permit higher stocking.

(iv) Use concept of economic order quantities and economic lot sizes.

(v) Dispose obsolete or scrap items in time.

(vi) Use handling equipment requiring mini­mum aisles.

(vii) Use mobile or overhead equipment.

(viii) Use collapsible containers to save space required by empty ones.

8. Safety Principle:

Safe handling meth­ods and equipment for better working con­ditions and to avoid unsafe conditions.,

(i) Provide adequate guards and other safety devices.

(ii) Handling equipment is kept in good op­erating conditions.

(iii) Highlight handling hazards, moving ve­hicles or danger areas.

(iv) Make arrangement for removal of unde­sirable fire, dust, smoke etc.

(v) Emergency switches or controls be pro­vided.

(vi) Proper instructions and training for safe operation to the operators.

(vii) Keep floor clean.

(viii) Provide good housekeeping.

(ix) Keep aisles clear.

(x) Do not overload handling equipment or devices.

(B) Principles Related to Equipment:

9. Mechanisation Principle:

For increas­ing efficiency use mechanised handling equipment but to the desired extent only.

(i) Mechanisation is useful for large quanti­ties, long, frequent, high effort or hazard­ous moves.

(ii) Replace excess manual handling or where large numbers of persons are engaged on handling jobs.

(iii) Moving heavy containers.

(iv) Design containers suitable for mechanical handling.

(v) Use mechanised communication where re­quired.

10. Flexibility Principle:

Equipment’s ca­pable of handling variety of tasks be used.,

(i) Buy versatile and flexible equipment.

(ii) Buy adjustable racks.

(iii) Utilise accessories and attachments.

11. Equipment Selection Principle:

Se­lect equipment very carefully considering all aspects of materials, movements, and the method.

(i) Select versatile equipment.

(ii) Cost per unit to be handled should be compared.

(iii) Consider standardization aspects.

(iv) Equipment should be economical on long term basis.

12. Standardisation Principle:

Standardise equipment as well as methods.

(i) Standardise the equipment, containers and pallets.

(ii) Standardise methods.

(iii) Train employees on standardised equip­ment and methods.

13. Light Weight Principle:

Reduce weight of equipment.

(i) Equipment should have less dead weight to pay load ratio.

(ii) Use light weight pallets, skids and contain­ers.

14. Motion Principle:

The handling equip­ment should be kept in motion i.e., minimum period for loading, unloading or other idle­ness.

(i) Reduce loading/unloading time.

(ii) Use mechanical means or other means for quick loading and unloading.

(iii) Use tractor trailers, so that tractor can be used for other work while the trailer is be­ing loaded/unloaded.

(iv) Minimise downtime.

15. Idle-time Principle:

Reduce idle and unproductive time.

(i) To avoid idle manpower, deliver material at a desired rate.

(ii) Do not use productive labour for handling.

(iii) In order to utilise manpower fully, more than one machine can also be allotted to one man.

(iv) Equipment should be fully utilised.

16. Obsolescence Principle:

Obsolete methods and equipment be replaced by ef­ficient methods and equipment.

(i) Obsolete equipment be identified and re­placed by new equipment.

(ii) Beware of new technological developments and remain in constant touch through books, journals, attending, conferences etc.

17. Maintenance Principle:

Preventive maintenance practices are adopted for han­dling equipment.

(i) Preventive maintenance is carried out to avoid breakdowns.

(ii) Carry out schedule maintenance and daily inspections and take remedial measures.

(iii) Set up regular maintenance schedule.

(iv) Train operators for proper operation and maintenance.

(v) Maintain adequate spare supplies.

Principles Related to Operation:

18. Control Principle:

Control produc­tion and inventory through materials han­dling equipment.

(i) Provide direct mechanical paths for mate­rials movement.

(ii) Materials be moved in lots, batches, con­tainers of a predetermine quantity or size.

(iii) Materials handling system should have built in features of controlling production, inventory, and accounting.

(iv) Material is moved as per schedule.

19. Capacity Principle:

Production ca­pacity should be fully achieved.

(i) Ensure uniform desired rate of flow.

(ii) Equipment is operated at optimum rate.

(iii) Plan to utilise forward as well as return runs of the equipment.

(iv) Vehicles, conveyors, containers etc. should be loaded to full capacity.

(v) Utilise overhead space.

(vi) Aisles should be obstacle free and wide enough for speedy movement.

(vii) Store items not affected by weather.

20. Performance Principle:

Performance of handling is measured in terms of cost per unit handled, safe working con­dition, and increase in production rate or re­duced manpower for handling.

This is the effect of all preceding activities.

11. Limitations of Material Handling:

While evaluating a material handling system its disadvantages must also be considered.

Some of the disadvantages are:

1. Additional capital investment.

2. Loss of flexibility:

A mechanical system is generally designed for a particular size, shape, volume and for a particular sequence of operation and hence it is difficult to change, and require additional cost for modification for likely range of changes in the product or production techniques.

3. Breakdown:

Being mechanical and electrical system, the handling system may break­down at times, and may take some time for repairs.

4. Every mechanical handling system requires timely maintenance, which means addi­tion of skilled maintenance manpower, maintenance spares, cost of maintenance time required for servicing and arrangement during this period to continue production.