2024 Insights & Trends: Embracing Ergonomics for Growth in Material Handling

Guest blog by MHI member company Caster Concepts, Inc.

There is a notable shift in the material handling industry towards onshoring, automation, and ergonomic focus. This transformation is vividly seen in the USA, where companies have historically adhered to ‘Made in USA’ (MUSA) standards for both components and final assembly. With more factory expansions and retrofits on the horizon, the use of new technologies and advanced automation techniques will be critical to both safety and productivity improvements.

One of the primary catalysts for this shift is the ongoing worker shortage, which has necessitated an increased focus on productivity. As MUSA volumes grow, cost pressure continues and the labor pool remains constrained, the industry is moving from manual to motorized and automated processes. This transition is not just a necessity but a strategic move to enhance safety and productivity.

Furthermore, the industry’s focus on ergonomics is revolutionizing the industry and emphasizing the need for new technology. By prioritizing ergonomic best practices, companies aim to eliminate injuries, including those resulting from material handling stress. This emphasis on worker safety and comfort is not just a moral imperative but a business strategy, as it leads to increased efficiency and reduced downtime.

One practical example is the implementation of engineered caster solutions. Designed properly, advanced caster technology – developed specifically for the cart they are installed on – can reduce push force by more than 70%, addressing a major ergonomic challenge. Heavy and hard-to-push carts have historically been a source of overexertion injuries, including strains to elbows, shoulders, and upper back. With optimized casters, operators are not only under reduced physical strain but can also improve overall safety and productivity of the work environment. For larger material handling loads, motorized casters and AGV (Autonomous Guided Vehicles) are increasingly being used to help optimize operating costs.

Lastly, there is a noticeable shift in procurement strategies. Companies are moving away from sourcing the lowest cost parts towards investing in parts and machinery that offer the best performance and return on investment.  In addition to initial purchase price, factors such as replacement cost, downtime, cost of processing a purchase order, and maximum material loads contribute to the ROI equation. By focusing all all areas of cost, companies are improving their bottom line. This approach signifies a long-term vision, where quality and efficiency are paramount.

The materials handling industry is at a pivotal point, marked by significant shifts towards onshoring, increased automation, ergonomic and safety improvements, and a strategic approach to procurement. These trends are setting the stage for a more productive, efficient, and safe materials handling environment, driving the industry forward.

About the Author:

Doug Backinger, Senior VP, Solutions Engineering & Innovation, Caster Concepts

Doug Backinger, Senior VP, Solutions Engineering & Innovation, brings a well-rounded background of outstanding leadership and engineering expertise to the Caster Concepts team. Under his direction, the company has grown and become a valuable material-handling resource to customers globally. With the ability to integrate a lean Six Sigma methodology combined with his intuitive knowledge of solving material handling challenges, Doug ensures Caster Concepts’ quality products meet the specific needs of a wide range of applications and industries.

Doug started at Caster Concepts as a college intern and continued on to become an indispensable and hard-working full-time member of the company’s engineering team. He accomplished all this while completing both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in engineering and manufacturing.

Doug was instrumental in leading advanced processes as head of the quality department at Caster Concepts. He also led the team to secure ISO 9001 and AS 9100 certifications for Aerol, the company’s latest acquisition of precision casters and ground support equipment for the military and other industries. He also co-authored an award-winning article entitled: Predictive Product Failure Models for Polyurethane Trends. Doug’s leadership and insights have been instrumental in the growth of Caster Concepts and its future success.