The Evolution Of Material Handling Equipment

Posted on: 23 January 2015

Material handling was once a much more labor-intensive effort, and was costly both financially and in terms of human suffering. Material goods were once loaded and unloaded from ships and rail cars on the backs of laborers. The cumulative effects of this hard labor on the bodies of these workers, both enslaved and free, created a constant need for replacement workers. The financial cost of using a massive number of laborers was also burdensome. 

The introduction of the hand truck helped in transporting goods from a train or ship to a storage area. This simple device, shaped like the letter "L " works as a lever. At the bend are two wheels, which act as a fulcrum for an small attached platform. Materials are placed on the platform and tilted back onto the wheels. From that position, the load can be moved in multiple directions with ease. However, the materials still need to be loaded onto the hand truck manually, and then unloaded at the storage area.

The wooden pallet and pallet jack were then designed to both move and store loads of material goods. The pallet is created with slats of wood that form a platform on which goods rest. This platform sits on side rails which elevate it slightly. A pallet jack works on hydraulic pressure as a car jack. Two forks enter the space under the pallet platform, and retracted wheels inside the forks are pumped by the handle by which the jack is pulled. When the pallet clears the floor, it can then be moved into a storage area and stored directly on the pallet, and moved as needed.

As trucks became the norm for transporting material goods, new machinery was needed to move pallets and heavy objects on and off the end of the trucks. Enter the forklift, a vast improvement on the pallet jack. A forklift works on the same principle, using a hydraulic piston for lifting, but it can remove a pallet from a truck whose end is several feet from the ground. A forklift can also lift and move thousands of pounds of materials at one time.

With the introduction of the forklift, storage no longer needed to be limited to floor level. Racking units were designed to hold pallets and other materials. These racks were further refined and can be purchased or leased from companies like Tri State Surplus Co with interchangeable components that can conform to different storage needs.