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  Manufacturing Insights   |   January, 2012
Distribution 2012: Hand Truck Efficiency Drives Supply Chain Solutions
by Thomas R. Cutler
 

The North American distribution and logistics industry is valued at more than $300 billion and will experience even more growth in 2012. The value chain for the production, distribution, and sale of food, beverage and other merchandise indicate that production and warehouse facilities still handle products in bulk on pallets; pallets are moved using forklifts and pallet jacks.

While retail storefront employee occasionally use hand trucks to move merchandise in the backroom or on the sales floor, these hand trucks are not used frequently and employees do not consider the hand trucks to be a primary tool in their work.

Small format delivery handles delivery from manufacturers or warehouses to the point of sale. This segment includes the largest customer base within the distribution industry and provides the best fit for companies such as Kraft, Nestle, and Frito-Lay. The cold storage, beer, wine and spirits and other beverage distributors all purchase commercial grade hand trucks.

Current research indicates that customers in these delivery segments have pain points that are not sufficiently addressed by the hand trucks currently used at the distribution center, warehouse, and delivery sites in the supply chain.

Stackable Merchandise Drive Material Handling Automation Requirements

Productivity and process improvements of the delivery component are driving most supply chain and automation changes across all business industries. Delivery is a vital step in the value chain is vital because the merchandise is handled in a packaging format that requires the use of hand trucks.

Firms offering solutions to better meet and automate delivery business requirements address stackable merchandise will see dramatic sales improvements in 2012.. A tall, heavy load magnifies the force placed on the frame, axles, wheels and bearings of the hand truck which leads to breakdowns and repairs. Of equal or greater concern is the fact that the hand truck status quo requires the hand truck operator to exert significant effort in pulling back, supporting and maneuvering the load.

David Dosier, Product Manager of Rotacaster for Magnus Mobility Systems, outlined some of the specific challenges in these types of material handling situations. Dosier said, "Uneven surfaces, long distances, and physical obstacles are real issues impacting the delivery supply chain. The amount of uneven surface area covered magnifies the impact of stress on the operators' body and on the hand truck. Uneven surfaces also eliminate the ability to use larger delivery trucks that can also fully support the load."

The typical range of distance traveled from the ramp of the truck to the delivery area of the retail storefront is 10ft to 100ft. When the distance traveled is significantly increased, such as 100 to 400 yards for mall and casino deliveries, company tends to use a different type of hand truck.

"Negotiating curbs, changing levels or thresholds, traversing doorways and lift entrances all require additional activity and exertion to ascend, turn, reverse and continually park," Dosier noted.

Bottom-line impacts in the Delivery process

Many food and beverage companies are self-insured; therefore any injury directly impacts bottom-line profits. Purchasing new technologies that reduce injuries is easier to justify. Recent data indicates that delivery drivers are a primary influencer for hand truck purchasing decisions. Dosier identified the following concerns (pain points) best addressed by Australian based Rotacaster. Pain Point Perspective Description Transportation managers recently interviewed said that they would purchase a new line or type of hand truck if the driver feedback from a hand truck product trial was sufficiently positive. In most companies, distribution centers purchase materials handling equipment directly from materials handling equipment vendors or resellers. Within larger companies, the corporate organization may have a preferred vendor from which regional distribution centers can choose. Research data indicates that equipment purchasing is not always centralized across a national company, but distributed to regional offices.

Material Handling Purchasing Influencers

Distribution Centers' General Manager/Buyer is a central material handling equipment influencer .
  • If the company is self-insured for workers compensation, then this individual is responsible for the bottom-line.
  • Interested if the hand trucks help to reduce injuries and/or are more durable providing lower total cost of ownership. Both directly affect the bottom line
  • Distribution Center GM may be the buyer in certain locations without a transportation manager
Facilities Managers have less direct purchasing impact because purchase orders are submitted to the facilities manager for processing and purchase
  • This group has the relationship with the equipment resellers and negotiate pricing
  • This group is also responsible for maintenance of materials handling equipment
Transportation Manager/Buyer
  • Delivery drivers report into this organization
  • Hand trucks used by the drivers falls under this functional responsibility
Delivery Drivers are a direct and primary decision influencer.
  • Delivery drivers use the hand trucks every day and its use is a primary part of his daily activities
  • Transportation Managers rely on driver feedback when making or changing hand truck purchases
  • Truck drivers often customize their hand trucks to suit their own needs, but do so with their supervisor's approval
Safety Director Buyer also has significant purchasing Influence
  • Report into a different organization outside the direct company value chain
  • Can drive hand truck purchases via pilot demonstrations as part of the company's overall loss control and safety program
  • Requires more quantitative evidence to support improved safety
The Alternative to Swivel Casters Improving Productivity

Rotacaster is a patented multi-directional wheel quickly becoming the alternative to the swivel caster. This sturdy, robust wheel is adaptable to a vast array of applications and it overcomes many of the limitations associated with the traditional swivel caster wheel. The productivity benefits are significant and demonstrate the automation efficacy. While fixed in a primary orientation, this solution facilitates movement in any direction without the need of a traditional swivel mount. Omni-wheels have been used in conveyor and light-duty robotics applications for years, yet the Rotacaster multi-directional wheel is engineered to provide additional robustness, durability, and ride quality necessary as an industrial floor wheel.

Manufactured from engineering polymers, the injection-molded, weblike structure and over-molded rollers, ensure a durable and robust wheel with no pins, inserts or seams, making it ideal for tough environments. The fixed orientation of the wheel facilitates both simple and stable mounting alternatives that improve load stability and are less prone to impact damage.

Dosier commented that, "The benefits of Rotacaster are also significant including 360 degree movement and rotation, greater load stability, and easier directional control and tracking. It allows for greater control on inclines via primary axis tracking as well as precision placement - no offset movement. Users enjoy minimal space or housing requirements and non-marking polyurethane rollers. Each wheel acts independently and is not limited to a four point wheel configuration; allowing for numerous combinations to achieve load sharing and required maneuverability."

The small format segment primarily uses professional grade component aluminum hand trucks; research data suggests customers are changing to solutions such as the Rotatruck, based in part on the hand truck refresh cycle. 2012 augurs a need for immediate solutions as part of lean best-practices. A kaizen event for distribution must start with the hand truck in the delivery cycle; it represents the obvious place for continuous process improvement, yet consistently overlooked.


Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 4000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com or at 888-902-0300. See More Details.

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