Material Handling Equipment Types and Their Uses


Material Handling Equipment types and their uses

Any piece of equipment which stores, transports, or controls materials from the shelves to HGVs can be called material handling equipment. With so many options available, it can be difficult to know what forms of MHE would be most efficient for your business. In this article, we look specifically at forklifts and other industrial trucks to help you decide which would be best suited to your operations.

The Four Types of Material Handling Equipment


There are four main types of material handling equipment:-

Storage Equipment

From shelving, warehouse racking, and mezzanine floors to non-automated equipment such as trolleys and other manual handling equipment, efficient storage solutions improve order fulfilment time and make space for more stock.

Engineered systems

Engineered systems equipment provides automation that speeds up processes, including AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), conveyor systems, and AS/RS (Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems).

Bulk Material Handling Equipment

The equipment that falls into the bulk material handling category are often containers or transporters for dry materials such as minerals and sand. This includes conveyor belts and silos, as well as packaging and processing equipment.

Industrial Trucks

The most commonly thought-of MHE are industrial trucks, which comprise of forklifts and other equipment that provide material transportation by powered or manual means.

Below is everything you need to know about the most common types of industrial trucks, their pros and cons and what they’re best used for.


Forklift Trucks

Alternative names: counterbalanced lift truck, industrial truck, fork truck, forklift

Forklifts are highly flexible machines which serve a multitude of operations. Many forklift trucks are capable of working over rough terrain and slopes which makes them ideal for all kinds of warehouses and yards.

There are sit-down and stand-on forklift models both offering benefits in a multitude of different operations. Sit-down machines give limited reach but are more comfortable for the operator during long use. Stand-on trucks are better for narrow aisles but don’t provide as much comfort for the operator.


The three fuel types available in forklifts are:

Diesel: Forklifts with diesel engines usually offer the greatest torque and power but these are likely to produce higher emissions so are better suited to outdoor use. However, some recent models use emission reduction technology to rectify this.

LP Gas: these forklifts use Liquid Petroleum gas canisters in an engine similar to a diesel engine but with lower emissions, and are suitable for indoor and outdoor use.

Electric: A clean source of energy providing quiet and efficient operation, powered by battery which makes them ideal for indoor use.

Forklifts are also known as counterbalanced lift trucks because the weight of the forklift combined with the weight of the operator counterbalances the load they are lifting. This is why heavier forklifts have higher load capacities. Therefore, combined with a wide choice of mast heights and various forklift attachments, the forklift is a highly versatile machine.

There are also alternatives to the traditional forklift design, including sideloaders and multidirectional forklifts which enable side or 360 degree pickups with a rotating cab. For limited aisle space, VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) trucks provide the perfect solution.

Factors to consider when purchasing a forklift: fuel type, lift height, load capacity, emissions, indoor and/or outdoor requirements.

Pallet Trucks

Alternative names: pallet jacks, manual lift trucks, hand pallet trucks

Pallet trucks are like a basic form of forklift. These trucks are specifically designed for palletised goods.

Pallet trucks have both manual and electric models; the motorised pallet trucks are ideal for pick and pack operations and can take some of the load off your operators.

Hand pallet trucks have a limited height so are unable to lift pallets much more than ground height. This may mean you require additional material handling equipment such as a forklift truck if you needs to raise your goods for transportation or storage.

Factors to consider when purchasing a pallet truck: manual or electric powered, load capacity, sit-on, stand-on or pedestrian model.

Reach Trucks

The compact design of the reach truck makes it perfect for working in narrow spaces with high vertical racking. These machines provide a specialised carriage that extends away from the mast so pallets can be picked and placed into areas where a standard forklift carriage can’t reach. Their tight turn radius also enables access to areas that a standard forklift might not be able to reach.

Factors to consider when purchasing a reach truck: aisle width, lift height requirements, load weight capacity.


Stackers come in various models including pedestrian, platform, sit-on, and stand-on options. Stackers are great for lifting and moving pallets and usually have counterbalance or straddle load supports to assist with heavy loads. Stackers are better for small-scale and lighter operations in comparison to forklifts as they are more limited in their movement.

Factors to consider when purchasing a stacker: load weight capacity, lift height, ergonomics, aisle width.

Order Pickers

Order pickers lift the operator alongside loads on a platform so that they can retrieve or store goods on high shelves. Usually, an order picker has forks for pallet stacking and to support pallets during picking operations. Order pickers have forward facing controls like a forklift and can reach as high as thirty feet.

Factors to consider when purchasing an order picker: load weight capacity, height requirements, whether your goods are suitable to be retrieved by hand.

Cherry Pickers

Alternative names: boom lift, man lift, basket crane, hydra ladder

Cherry pickers are a form of aerial work platform (AWP), elevating work platform (EWP), or mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) which provide access to usually inaccessible areas. Access platforms are mostly used for construction and maintenance work, however, they can also be used for certain material handling tasks.

Cherry pickers consist of a hydraulic crane with a railed platform. Unlike scissor lifts, cherry pickers can reach up and out to areas not accessible from directly below. However, cherry pickers should not take the place of equipment specially designed to lift high volumes of materials and therefore cannot take the place of machines that are specifically designed to do so.

Factors to consider when purchasing a cherry picker: load weight capacity, lift height, area in need of direct access.


Scissor Lifts

Another type of AWP, are scissor lifts which provide a platform that can only move vertically up and down. Raised on a criss-crossed pantograph, or scissor-like mechanism, scissor lifts offer a sturdy workspace which can carry more weight than a cherry picker.

Scissor lifts were made to move personnel and equipment at the same time to a height of up to sixty feet, although the average scissor lift extends twenty to forty feet. This is a lower height than other AWPs can reach. Its folding nature makes it easier for storing, however, the mechanism also makes it quite slow to operate and limits movement to up and down only.

Factors to consider when purchasing a scissor lift: load weight capacity, lift height, area in need of accessing.

Tow Trucks

Alternative names: Tow tractors

Not to be confused with car breakdown and rescue tow trucks, warehouse tow trucks are great for hauling heavy objects with ease. Many of these towing trucks enable trailers to be added to the back for transporting multiple loads.

Factors to consider when purchasing a reach truck: load weight capacity, ergonomics, aisle width.

What to consider when buying material handling equipment


The right material handling equipment depends on a number of variables. Before investing in an all-purpose forklift, consider the following:

  • What will the truck be used for? – Does it need to lift heavy items, transport full pallets, or does it need to pick single items?
  • How often will it be used? – This will affect the ergonomic requirements for your operators (for all day use you may want a sit-down machine) and durability of the equipment.
  • What weight do you need it to lift? – Double check with individual models to ensure your chosen truck can handle the weight required with some degree of contingency.
  • How high do you need to reach? – Standard forklifts can reach up to fifteen feet and some higher than that. If you need a higher reach, consider reach trucks or work platforms.
  • How does your warehouse space and storage affect your choice? – if you need more floor space you may want to invest in vertical racking, which means a reach truck is likely to best suit your requirements. If your aisles are narrow, you’ll want to consider a VNA truck.
  • What is your budget? If you’re working to a tight budget, you could consider hiring equipment or buying refurbished models at a fraction of the cost.

If you’re still not sure what material handling equipment would be right for your operation, please get in touch on 01623 794 094 and a member of our team will be happy to help you.

Share This Article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin