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Principles To An Effective Material Handling Process

January 19, 2023

In order for any business to succeed, there needs to be a tried and tested formula to follow, to avoid costly mistakes such as low productivity or wasteful practices.

Within material handling especially, such costs can be felt more acutely, since the likes of warehouses or distribution centres where material handling is most likely to be in use tend to be large-scale operations. Plus, the likes of maintaining safety as well as our responsibilities towards the environment need to be factored in too. 

In today’s post, we’re looking to channel inspiration from the Material Handling Institute in North Carolina, USA, who put together a well-respected guide entitled ‘Ten Principles Of Material Handling’. It covers everything you need to know about successful material handling.

Here is an overview of each principle for any business that uses material handling as part of its operations. 

1. Planning Principle

You can’t start a business without a plan, and indeed the first material handling process principle is to create a plan for the equipment you intend to use. This begins by ascertaining the needs of the business by factoring in suppliers, engineers, consultants, financial experts along with information technology such as AI. 


  • Document the needs of the business, including any existing hurdles that need to be overcome within the material handling solutions provided.
  • Promote concurrent engineering of the product within the overall design process, rather than independent and sequential design practices.

2. Standardisation Principle 

Instead of relying on customised methods of operating material handling or opting for variety, standardised practices need to be introduced. This will ensure costs can be managed, but also that tasks are completed efficiently as the whole team will be on the same page. 


  • Establish the limits of performance through standard practices, without compromising on the flexibility that is needed.
  • Ensure testing for a variety of conditions for all material handling processes to ensure compatibility within the standards that have been set. 

3. Work Principle

The term ‘work’ refers to the volume, weight or count per unit of time, which is then multiplied by the distance moved. 

In involves minimising material handling without sacrificing productivity or the basic level of service required to complete operations. 

This objective has been created to request that designers, engineers and managers look to create a system that does not require an excessive amount of material handling. 


  • Eliminate any unnecessary moves to improve efficiency. Consider moves in advance, as future steps may be required to move or rectify loads such as when bringing items in and out of storage.
  • Use gravity where possible to move materials or assist in their movement while continuing to factor in health and safety protocols. 

4. Ergonomic Principle

In short, ergonomics means matching the work to the worker. While material handling looks to reduce strain on human employees, human capabilities must still be respected within the wider operations. 

So that employees can be kept safe while at work, elements such as lift tables or tilt tables should be used so that the movement of materials can be kept to a minimum. 


  • Select material handling equipment that eliminates repetitive and strenuous manual labour, while effectively meeting the needs of the users.
  • Look to incorporate both mental and physical tasks within the solutions provided.

5. Unit Load Principle

The unit load principle involves matching the unit loads to capacity. In other words, ensuring that the likes of a pallet load or a carton are appropriately sized and configured so that they achieve their objectives at each stage of the supply chain. 


  • Reduce effort involved versus lots of individual inefficiency loads.
  • Accommodate possible load size changes as it moves through each stage of the distribution channels.

6. Space Utilisation Principle

Make the best use of the available space which is calculated as cubic space. As well as being one of the key principles of material handling, this also happens to be a hot topic for discussion across the Metreel blog in general. After all, the likes of warehouses and distribution centres are costly ventures, and this is especially the case when the layout, navigation and general activity has not been maximised with efficiency in mind. 


  • Eliminate cluttered areas or blocked aisles that are hampering operations.
  • When transporting goods, make use of overhead areas to maximise cubic space availability. 

7. System Principle

The movement of material handling processes should be fully integrated and needs to be fully coordinated. Some of the main aspects to consider include receiving, storage, packaging, shipping and transportation. In addition, for the likes of retail hubs, prior planning needs to take place to handle returns, which inevitably can cause a pile-up to occur unless enough space has been allocated in advance. 


  • Factor in the entire supply chain including reverse logistics to minimise disruption at all levels.
  • Come up with a solution that allows for the identification of materials and products, including determining their location so that their movement can be controlled.

8. Automation Principle

Wherever possible, material handling should be automated to improve operational efficiency and increase predictability within the business. This principle requires that any items that will be handled automatically have features that will accommodate both mechanised and automated handling procedures. 


  • Simplify pre-existing processes and methods that are not efficient.
  • Use computerised material handling systems where appropriate to allow for effective integration of material flow and information management.

9. Environmental Principle

Be environmentally conscious when selecting material handling equipment and material handling systems. For example, use recyclable pallets instead of disposable ones, and look to use biodegradable materials wherever possible.  


  • Minimise the impact on the environment and look to create positive change within the wider distribution and logistics network.
  • Ensure the longevity of the business in the longer term due to reduced consumption of natural resources.

10. Life Cycle Cost Principle

Establish the running costs of the material handling systems in terms of initial costs, staff training, insurance and ongoing maintenance. Pair these costs against the expected profit this will bring in for the business, to determine which type of systems will make the best financial sense. 


  • Identifying the running costs is essential so that the chosen applications have a positive benefit on the wider workflow, as well as the financial implications for the business. 

Handling Equipment UK

Metreel is a leading manufacturer of handling equipment in the UK, specialising in personal safety, powerfeed and mechanical handling solutions. 

We supply a wide range of products that are designed to make commercial environments safer and more productive. With an ethos based on safety, quality and innovation, we’re proud to have created solutions for some of the biggest and brightest companies in the UK and beyond. 

If you would like to find out more about our products, or if you’re interested in any other of the services we provide, please give us a call on 0115 932 7010, or drop us an email

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