Material-handling Equipment Used in Logistics and Distribution

1. Types of Material-handling Equipment

Material-handling equipment is any hardware that is used to hold, position, weigh, transport, elevate, manipulate, or control the flow of raw materials, work in process, or finished goods.

This encompasses equipment that can range from the smallest manufacturing jig to the largest transfer truck used for transport.

The Material Handling and Management Society has divided material-handling equipment into the following categories:

The scope here is the discussion of material-handling equipment that applies to logistics and distribution. Therefore, we can narrow these categories down to the following:

2. Conveyors

Conveyors exist that can move a variety of items, from sand and gravel to cartons of finished goods, all the way to pallets of cartons of finished goods. There are two main categories of conveyors:

  1. Bulk material-handling conveyor—these include bucket, pneumatic, screw, trough, and vibratory designs. These move material such as loose sand and gravel.
  2. Unit load-handling conveyor—these include chute, wheel, roller, belt, live roller, and many others. This conveyor type is used for moving finished goods in bags, cartons, totes, drums, and so on.

Because in distribution we are almost always dealing with finished goods, the discussion here will be about unit load-handling conveyors. Unit load conveyors include roller, wheel, belt, live roller, chain, and others. Conveyors, of the required type, are used to move a unit load over a fixed path between two or more points. The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association defines a conveyor as

A horizontal, inclined or vertical device for moving or transporting bulk material or objects in a path, predetermined by the design of the device and having points of loading and discharge, fixed or selective . . .

Most conveyors found in distribution systems will fall into one of the following classifications:

2.1 Gravity conveyor


Types Applications
Chute conveyor Used to move goods by sliding them
Ball transfers Used to reposition loads manually
Gravity wheel Used to move cartons in portable applications
Gravity roller Used to move higher variety of loads, less portable
Chute conveyor

A chute conveyor is used to change the position and elevation of a load by having the load slide from top to bottom (entrance to exit).

Common applications: Short distances and for durable loads that can handle the sliding and bumping around.

Ball transfer

A ball transfer conveyor is an array of steel balls mounted in holders that are then mounted on a sheet metal bed or support.

Common applications: Scale operations such as parcel post / UPS / RPS. Another application is a packing station where a pop-up roller ball transfer can be used to assist movement of heavier loads.

Gravity wheel

Gravity wheel conveyors are most often referred to as skate wheel conveyors because the wheels look like old fashioned steel-wheeled roller skates. A common distribution application is in picking operations and in loading / unloading trailers.

Common applications: Picking operations and loading / unloading trailers.

2.2 Powered Conveyor

A powered conveyor is a conveyor that is motorized. Powered conveyors can be designed to convey just about anything.

Types Applications
Belt conveyor Used for inclines / declines and pure transportation
Flat belt conveyor Allows adjustable drive pressure
V belt conveyor Allows power to rollers through curves
Cable-driven Used in more demanding environments
Line shaft Very flexible drive allowing straights, curves, junctions, and right-angle transfers
Chain-driven Allows for better load control and heavier loads
Accumulation: Continuous Used for durable product in uniform sizes
Zero Pressure Used for fragile, less durable goods in various sizes