Materials handling equipment is designed to improve productivity and safety in a work environment by reducing the need for people to manhandle products.
Hand truck or sack barrow
A hand truck, hand trolley or sack barrow is a two-wheeled trolley capable of carrying several boxes weighing up to a couple of hundred kilograms. They have no brakes or power (although there are battery variants for specific requirements).
Pallet jacks, trolleys and cages
At the basic level, a pallet jack or pallet truck will lift up to around 2000kg on a forked trolley, travelling a few centimeters from the ground. The forks slide under the pallet and the operator pumps the hydraulic handle to raise the forks to give some ground clearance. These are not powered and require the operator to push or pull the pallet jack to move the goods around.
They are best suited for perfectly flat warehouses with smooth floors, lifting palletised freight rather than odd-shaped loads. They are not good for ramps.
Pallet jacks are light enough to be lifted and carried in a truck (as long as they are strapped securely for transit).
Trolleys and mobile cages can also be used to transport goods where the floor is reasonably smooth and flat.
Powered pallet jacks and electric tugs
The next step up is a pallet jack with a small motor. These function the same as a manual pallet jack, but have an electric motor to provide some drive. This reduces the stress on the operator in jobs where the pallet jack will be used extensively. Powered pallet jacks are too heavy to lift with one person.
Electric tugs can pull a series of cages or trolleys and are mostly ride-on models. These make it safer to move trolleys on ramps.
A walkie stacker is a powered industrial lift truck which can lift palletised loads higher than a pallet jack, which is simply for moving things around at floor level. A walkie stacker is sometimes called an electric pallet jack, pedestrian-operated forklift or jiffy. The operator walks behind the machine, although some machines do have a small platform the operator can ride on. Walkie stackers are battery-powered.
Forklifts are a diverse group of powered lift trucks with capabilities with lifting capacities ranging from around a tonne through to 80 tonnes or more. They require a forklift licence to drive. They are powered by either LPG, diesel, petrol, battery or hydrogen. Forklifts are ride-on (either seated or standing).
Included in this category are order pickers, where the operator rides on the platform and is lifted up to pick stock off the shelves, counterbalance forklifts where the operator remains seated or standing uses the forks to stack and destack goods on pallets onto racking or vehicles, reach stackers which reach into racking to get the pallets and forklifts with any number of attachments such as rotators, barrel clamps, gib lifters and bale clamps.
If the loads are longer, then a side-loader forklift is a better option.
Container handlers and oversized loads
If you are taking delivery of containers then you may need to move them around. Some large forklifts will lift containers, but the issue is the balance point of the container – they’re better for handling when they are empty otherwise it can tip the forklift. Other options include reach stackers and large straddle carriers which are mostly used at ports, or small straddle carriers designed for one container at a time. Hydraulic side-loader units will lift a container onto a skeletal trailer using two folding cranes on the trailer.
Mobile gantries such as those made by Combilift, can act as a mobile crane to carry all kinds and sizes of load.
Operation of these types of machines usually requires some kind of qualification plus detailed on-site training and induction.