Material Handling is a necessary part of most manufacturing processes. It involves lifting, moving, and dumping products, ingredients or different components. Although a lot of material handling equipment is still powered by humans, such as carts and dollies, there is also a component that relies heavily on hydraulic-powered equipment. Hydraulics can improve safety, function and power in material handling equipment. In fact, hydraulics make much of the material handling machinery you currently know possible. Even the smallest production or distribution facilities use hydraulic power.
Pallet jacks are the perfect example. Shipments are strapped to pallets when they are too large for humans to lift and carry independently. The simplest pallet jack is able to lift and move the wooden skids around using a hydraulic bottle jack. Although it is often considered a human-powered cart, it can lift anywhere up to 5,000lbs or more due to the incredible power of the hydraulic system.
That isn’t the only part powered by hydraulics, however. The pallet jack employs a single-acting bottle jack mounted atop the pivoting steering wheels. A lever remotely operates the two-position valve within the handle, and when flipped forward allows pumping action to occur. The simple up and down reciprocating action of the handle sends fluid into the ram, lifting the pallet a few inches off the ground to facilitate easy transport. Many variations of the pallet jack provide a full selection balancing price with productivity. Some units employ electrically driven hydraulic pumps for easy and rapid lift, while others gain electric wheel drive to aid operators with heavy loads.
Oftentimes, a manufacturing or distribution center will have a storage system that towers over where a simple pallet jack could reach. When this is the case, it is inevitable that a fork truck is part of the equation. A small fork truck, called a stacker, is able to do higher lifting because they use hydraulic levers or electronic joysticks, and their short profile allows the stacker to fit into tight spaces. Stackers do tend to have more limitations in both height and weight capacity, when compared to the forklift, however.
Forklifts are where you see hydraulics begin to proliferate. Where a pallet jack has a single bottle jack, your forklift never runs with less than three hydraulic functions. What many people don’t realize is that a forklift that only allows for up and down motion would be a tremendous challenge. In order to make stacking pallets a little easier in the hard-to-see, hard-to-reach places, a forklift must also have a side-shift cylinder to move the lift laterally.
Bin tippers also use hydraulic cylinders to lift, tilt and dump the contents of bins using a fork truck. This means the hydraulics must be able to move the mast angle forward or backward to place pallets and remove them, as well as maintaining the center of gravity.
For those more fortunate, we can add another dimension to the forklift with a hydrostatic transmission. This provides both forward and reverse operation by tilting the control mechanism in one direction or the other. A pump powers the wheel motor in either direction in a smooth, controlled fashion. This is especially helpful when it comes to high capacity forklifts.
There are many more places you might find hydraulic power within your facility. When you take a moment to look around, I am sure you can place several. Hydraulic fluid power is the perfect partner in a material handling environment. Whether you are handling pallets or working with a custom manufactured product, every manufacturing, distribution and industrial environment can benefit from hydraulics.
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