Material handling rage is a symptom of a much deeper problem

Updated: Apr 14


By Ryan Lawson

Follow him on LinkedIn


Material handling rage is a symptom of how much we expect from workers—and how little we support them in that work.


Get angry and mean it

Sometimes, we bang the pavement outside of work because it’s so simple, but no one takes the time to fix those material handling pain points that take a big bite out of our time, our team’s satisfaction levels, and at the end of the day – our money.


Many companies will ask workers to work faster but not think of the ergonomics of the movements on the floor. In fact, “overexertion and bodily reaction” was a top three reason in 2020 for work related injuries in manufacturing, according to Injury Facts. While we can customize based on your unique needs, we offer a variety of standard racking options.


With being a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and operations leader in the manufacturing industry, along with selling long runs of machined parts to the aerospace industry, nothing gets me more passionate than helping a guy move a little faster or take the pain off his back.


Let’s talk about some of the recent material handling customer challenges that we’ve come across and our recommendations.


“Ah! Yeah. It's just we're putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now,” – Office Space

Nobody wants their boss to be like Bill Lumbergh and have to ask people to offload it, and then go ahead – and offload it again…


Pictured below, existing dunnage with pain points


We had a window and door manufacturer come to us recently. They were using 3’ x 5’ x 7’ wooden work-in-process carts to move windows from the assembly line to inventory. There was a pocket on each side for the forklift that needed to pick up the racks.


Pain points

  • Once in the inventory area, they had to be offloaded onto different racks

  • The wooden racks had to be constantly repaired

  • Wasted time

  • Additional physical requirements for employees


Questions that we asked

  • What can we do to reduce the price?

  • Are they rolling in a linear fashion or 360 degrees? That impacts the type of caster used

  • Do the wheels need to lock?

  • What is the size of aisles that the cart is going down?

  • How narrow are the turns?

  • Do you have safety concerns about sharp corners?

  • How much weight will it be bearing?

  • Does there need to be wire mesh in case the glass breaks?

Creative solutions

We discussed a dunnage cart that could also act as storage in the inventory area. We had wheels on it along with pockets for the forklift to pick it up. The 360-degree casters allowed for employees to move the carts around tight corners where the forklift couldn’t reach. We chose cold rolled steel for more durability rather than the hot rolled steel, which they currently were using, because there was powder coating peeling off of it.


“Mr. Lippman: So, you just eat the tops. Elaine: Oh yeah. It's the best part. It's crunchy, it's explosive, it's where the muffin breaks free of the pan and sort of does it's own thing.” - Seinfeld

Everyone wants the top of the muffin, or in manufacturing, the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to material procurement.


Pictured below, final product

A manufacturer of plastic extrusions for product lines recently came to us. They were considering using 7’ x 4’ x 4’ stackable wood skids. After loading them onto a truck, they planned on pitching them. They came with a design to build stackable, metal dunnage.


Pain points

  • Not environmentally friendly

  • Wasted cost and time of purchasing new each time

  • Wood allows for splintering, a safety concern

  • More expensive request of angle iron and specialty material

  • Risks of product being damaged

  • Paint peeling off on to product

Questions that we asked

  • Instead of using angle iron and tubing, would formed sheet metal be acceptable?

  • How much money is used in purchasing new wood skids each time?

  • How many uses could one steel manufactured dunnage accept?

  • Could pins be used instead of bolts for the removable ends?

Creative solutions

They came to us with the design to replace this non-reusable dunnage. We were able to reduce the cost by 25% by looking at the materials and processes requested.


The material that was being requested was costly and not readily available. We found a commonly available material that was more economical. Rather than using angle iron with a drilling process, we chose a common gauge steel, cut the parts on our laser and formed them. People often use angle iron because of its good structural characteristics but it’s more costly than formed sheet metal. Angle iron can be a more expensive material because of the added manufacturing process.


With the new solution, the dunnage fit on a semi-truck to best utilize the space. It allowed for three racks stacked high and two rows wide, which reduced shipping cost.


Read about another stackable racking project recently completed.


“Hey, does this suit make me look fat?” – Tommy Boy

You don’t want to be like Tommy Callahan III and try to fit into a suit jacket that just doesn’t fit. You can only customize material handling so much with duct tape.


Pictured below, existing carts with pain points

A colleague of mine had a request to rework carts. The company specializes in the manufacturing and distribution of hydraulic and pneumatic products. They offer a full line of hydraulic hoses and fittings, as well as many other products for hydraulic and pneumatic services.


The employees were packaging products, weighing them in order to mail to customers. They had rigged the standard carts with quite a bit of duct tape to hook their scale, tape dispensers and documentation pad onto it. Overall, there was quite a bit of inefficiencies because of the lack of a linear work from one task to the next in processing packaging. The person would sit beside the cart facing it, bag parts, tape the bag with the red tape, put the box of bagged parts on the scale, tape it with the blue tape, weigh it again and do the paperwork.


Pain points

  • Boxes not secured

  • Drinks intermixed with materials

  • Tape stick not secured

  • Paperwork interspersed

  • Computer that shows weight in the middle of where moving boxes

  • Reduces overall efficiency to not process materials more linearly


Questions that we asked

  • What are the dimensions of the computerized scale screen? How is it mounted? This can often be a snafu when small mounting is being requested but engineer doesn’t identify how it is used on the floor

  • Sizing of red tape dispenser?


Creative solutions

  • Move scale so flat on top rung of cart. Cut hole in cart to place scale.

  • Grind cart so areas smooth. Mount computer screen behind scale so person can stand on wide side and see weight.

  • Mount paperwork back metal piece beside scale at an angle behind cart while facing on wide side so someone can lift their pen up above cart and write on it while reducing surface area used on cart.

  • Create holder for plastic bags on opposite side of handles – currently is box taped to cart. Add blue tape holder on left outside corner. Create holder for red tape dispenser on very right side.

  • Create extra wide drink holder on outside beside where operator drives the cart so not on work area.

See another work in process cart that allowed for a separation of parts in each of the openings while ensuring that the parts were conveniently placed close to one another. This allowed the worker to load part a, b and c in a segregated fashion but within reach, sequentially.


"This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather." -Groundhog Day

Who wants to be like Phil, and have to pick up fallen pieces off the production line over and over every day?


Pictured below, existing cart with pain points


At the same company, we received a request for a prototype of an 18” x 36” long cart.


Pain points

  • Hoses come off the edges

  • Poor efficiency with how they are stacking them

  • Safety risk with hoses stacked on top shelves

Questions that we asked

  • Can the cart be wider since hoses are hanging off?

  • Do the wheels need to be on 360 swiveling castors since they are only on 180 degrees today but it is difficult to maneuver?

Creative solutions

We proposed a wider cart that would go from 18” to 30” with two levels of bins for different sized hoses. There would be horizontal, angled nodules that long coils could be wrapped and hung from.


Want to get more ideas on how to reduce traffic while still maintaining ease of use with multi-functional carts? See a completed dolly project that reduced forklift traffic by 60% - mother-daughter cart combination, where the mother cart transported a variety of daughter work in process carts.

104 views