Extract from an article written by our MD Gerhard Potgieter a few years back but which is still very relevant today.

Comments made to me by people in industry prompted this article noting a few common misconceptions about materials handling.

"Materials handling costs are minor compared to those associated with actual manufacture."

This may be so in many industries. Is it so in yours? So few companies keep a true record of materials handling costs that they are unable to answer this question quantitatively.
Surely materials handling cannot account for a higher percentage of costs than "actual" manufacturing cost. Or can it? In a United Kingdom Department of Industry publication it was reported that industry as a whole handles an average of 50 kg of material for every kilogram of finished product.
This results in materials handling being responsible for 15 to 85% of the manufacturing costs in various industries. Do you know whether yours is closer to 15 or to 85%?

"To solve a materials handling problem all you need to do is choose the right equipment."

Whereas industry will readily investigate all aspects of a production process before deciding on the type of equipment to be use there is often a reluctance to do the same when materials handling problems are involved. In the same way a detailed analysis of the materials handling system should be done before the final equipment is selected.

During a critical analysis, questions such as:

- why is the material being moved?
- is the handling really necessary?
- is the handling necessary at the particular time?
- must the handling be done in the existing manner?

and so on, often lead to adaptations or complete changes in the handling system. Only after this stage should we start to consider choice of equipment.

"Materials handling systems require a higher degree of mechanisation."

This misconception is probably the most dangerous on of all. The economies that can be expected from improved materials handling are not necessarily related to the sophistication of the equipment selected.
Where mechanisation has been employed in order to solve a poorly defined problem the result could be increased cost with reduced productivity. There is a place for the highly automated handling system, but the less sophisticated, or even labour intensive systems also have economic applications.
In a project in which I was involved, a relatively unsophisticated handling system, costing about a tenth, in capital of a "sophisticated" alternative, was found to be suitable for the process involved. The capital intensive alternative was the only standard-equipment system available because the alternative was said to be too "labour-intensive" - interesting criticism when in fact it turned out that the total running cost of the less sophisticated system is only about one tenth of the standard system.
How often is an automated system motivated by an inability to control and motivate labour? The result of automation could be a less labour-intensive materials handling system but it does not necessarily solve the main labour problem. Expensive machinery requires skilled operators and maintenance personnel and a continued inability to control and motivate this smaller workforce could have greater economic consequences than was previously the case.

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