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How to Minimize Operational Costs with Flexible Industrial Material Handling Options

Material handling systems in industrial manufacturing inherently come with operational costs. But you can optimize these costs, if you know where to look.

First, there’s the cost of over-handling materials. Each time you count, sort, stock, move or prepare materials for storage or shipment, you impact your margins.

Second, there’s the cost of workflow bottlenecks. If your machines sit idle, waiting for materials to be delivered using items such as cranes, carts, forklifts or conveyors, that effects your productivity. Material handling should follow the shortest and most optimal path.

Third, there’s the cost of operation and maintenance. Certain material handling systems are more resource intensive and cost more to operate than others. Forklift trucks, for example, are more costly to operate than overhead cranes because forklifts have tires and hydraulics that wear out, while cranes have electric motors and steel wheels that last for decades.

Finally, there’s the cost of inflexibility. Certain material handling systems are naturally less flexible than others. Overhead cranes, for instance, have a travel path that is static, defined and inflexible, while forklift trucks and carts offer unlimited manoeuvrability because they operate freely on the plant floor in 360°.

Material handling systems that offer superior flexibility

One way to reduce your operational costs is to replace inflexible material handling systems with flexible ones. Here are four systems that offer varying levels of flexibility.

Forklift trucks

Forklift trucks are powered industrial trucks with a pronged device in front (a “fork”) for lifting and carrying heavy loads short distances. They are powered by either liquified petroleum gas, batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Average forklifts move loads of up to 10 tons. Heavy-duty forklifts move loads of up to 50 tons.

Pros

  • Unlimited manoeuvrability because units operate in 360°
  • Easily accommodate changes to floorplans and processes
  • Eliminate first in, first out requirements.
  • Can reach anywhere the truck and the load can fit
  • Excellent at reaching loads that are high up on shelves, platforms or scaffolding
  • Self-loading

Cons

  • Need a wider turning radius than some other systems. Extra space is required because of the cantilevered load
  • Cannot rotate a load within their own footprint
  • High safety risk

Self-Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMTs)

Transfer carts are self-propelled modular transporters that move heavy loads at ground level. They are also known as wheeled transfer carts and transporters, typically run on wheels, are battery powered, steerable and operated by radio remote control. They can lift and move loads of up to 100 tons.

Pros

  • Easily accommodate changes to floorplans and processes
  • Eliminate first in, first out requirements.
  • Unlimited manoeuvrability because units can typically be steered in 360°
  • Typically rotate a load within their own footprint
  • Self-loading
  • Battery-powered transfer carts produce zero emissions

Cons

  • Have a lifting capacity of 100 tons unless customized
  • Typically lift their load off the floor by only a few inches

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

Automated Guided Vehicles are computer-controlled, wheeled transporters that operate on shop floors without a driver or operator. Battery-powered, they move loads of up to 125 tons. They navigate a facility by following magnetic strips or wires in the floor, by using vision cameras, radio waves or lasers for navigation, or by using a combination of in-floor transponder codes and inertial guidance.

Pros

  • Unlimited manoeuvrability because units operate in 360°
  • Typically rotate a load within their own footprint
  • Can reach anywhere the vehicle and the load can fit

Cons

  • Significant cost to modify if processes or workflows change
  • Present first in, first out requirement
  • Most AGVs need a forklift, crane or other device to place a load on the unit
  • Dramatically higher cost of installation than SPMT’s because of the common need to install guidance systems around the shop floor

Manually Guided Vehicles

Manually Guided Vehicles are self-propelled transporters used mainly on assembly lines. Battery powered, they move loads of up to five tons. Some units feature an integrated scissor-lift system that positions a load at the correct elevation for ergonomic working conditions. Manually Guided Vehicles are typically steered with a joystick that’s attached to the vehicle.

Pros

  • Unlimited manoeuvrability because units operate in 360°
  • Most units can rotate a load in place
  • Some units feature an integrated scissor-lift system that positions a load at the correct elevation for ergonomic working conditions

Cons

  • Significant cost to modify if processes or workflows change
  • Present first in, first out requirement
  • Limited lifting capacity (typically just five tons)
  • Most units need a forklift, crane or other device to place a load on the unit
  • High cost because units are typically custom-made to order

Material handling systems compared

 Self-Propelled Modular TransporterHeavy-Duty Forklift TruckAutomated Guided VehicleManually Guided Vehicle
Lifting Capacity
100 tons
50 tons125 tons5 tons
Travel Path
360°
360°360°360°
First in, First Out Inefficiencies
No
NoYesYes
Enable seamless and cost-effective changes to processes/workflows
Yes
YesNoNo
Rotates Load Within Footprint
Yes
NoYesYes
Self-Loading
Yes
YesNoNo
Cost of operation
Low
LowLowLow
Cost of maintenance
Low
ModerateLowLow

When process flexibility and manoeuvrability are important, SPMT’s/Heavy Duty Transfer Carts are an excellent choice

Material-handling systems have costs, naturally. Cost for initial purchase, cost to install and costs to operate and maintain. But material-handling systems also have other costs that affect your operation, and these expenses are tied directly to how flexible the systems are.

The most flexible material handling systems are wheeled, self-propelled and operate in 360° on your shop floor. They make it easy to accommodate changes to floorplans and processes and eliminate first in first out requirements.

If you need to minimize your operational costs, choose the material handling system that promises to be the best fit for your industrial operation.

Questions regarding a good next step? Give us a call. AeroGo is a proven world leader in the engineering, design, manufacturing and support of material transport systems. Learn more about our line of heavy-duty transfer carts.

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