Materials handling is defined as the organized movement of a specific material from one place to another, at the right time, and in the right quantity. It may involve lifting, moving horizontally or vertically, and storing materials. It is an important factor in the smooth operation of any food processing plant and can greatly affect the quality of the product and the cost and profitability of the operation.
From the time that a material enters the factory gate, cost is added every time it is handled. Each movement also carries the risk of damaging the material. Material handling is so commonplace that it is frequently overlooked in cost calculations. Everybody knows that shipping should be included as a cost. Material handling and flow should be seen as an internal shipping operation that has an associated monetary value. The cost of materials handling, storage, and movement must be added to the final product cost.
In many operations, production has been streamlined to be as efficient as possible, yet little or nothing has been done to make materials handling more efficient. It is no wonder that it costs can be as much as 50% of the total manufacturing cost. Improper handling of raw materials can be a major factor in waste and product damage. Every time a material is moved, there is danger of bumping, dropping, and crushing. Unsafe operation of industrial trucks, conveyors, and carts has been responsible for many serious plant accidents.
It affects the costs of manufacturing and distribution and the selling price of all food products. Modern handling methods are directed at accomplishing movement and distribution with a minimum of labor, waste, and cost, within the shortest time and with maximum safety.
In the food industry, materials handling is concerned with the movement of raw material from a warehouse, supplier, or the receiving bay to the bulk storage area or to a processing line. During processing, materials need to be moved from one process to another. After processing, materials need to be moved from packaging to a warehouse or to dispatch.
Setting up a materials handling plan requires a fair amount of effort, and the expectancy is that it will yield concomitant benefits. The objectives of materials handling include decrease the handling cost by better utilizing labor, machines, and space, decrease the operational cost, reduce production or processing time, increase efficient use of storage space, keep material moving, thereby reducing the space occupied by in-production material, prevent handling-related injuries and accidents, improve product quality, and reduce material waste.