Handling & warehouse ergonomics: A cart is just a cart, right?
Wickliffe, Ohio—“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
That famous phrase may or may not have been uttered by Sigmund Freud. Regardless of the author, over the years it’s come to mean that how a thing is used can have multiple interpretations. Or not.
So what does Freud have to do with materials handling you might wonder? Fair question. One of the things I’ve always found fascinating about the materials handling industry is how seemingly ordinary things can enable extraordinary gains in productivity.
I was reminded of this last week when I was writing an August feature on the technological advances in lift trucks, which today are every bit as sophisticated as a fully-loaded Benz. And, it was further reinforced the other day when I visited with Larry Tyler, a co-founder of Kinetic Technologies in Wickliffe, Ohio.
K-Tec makes carts that are used mostly by manufacturers to move product around a plant, although the company’s carts are used by some distributors as well. Now, you would think that a cart is just a cart, right? How complicated can a platform with wheels be?
While he knows better now, Tyler said that’s what he thought when he and his partner founded the company about 11 years ago. Tyler is an engineer and his partner had a fraternity brother who worked at GM. They were invited into a meeting, and after being presented with a materials handling problem, they assured the auto exec that they could build a cart to solve the problem. How hard could it be?
“Then we started engineering the thing and asked ourselves, how are we going to build it?” Tyler said.
You can probably guess the end of this story: a plucky upstart gets an order to build a prototype and the rest is history. From that experience, Tyler told me, he learned a couple of things. One is that manufacturers – first the automotive guys and now other manufacturers – are looking at carts or carts and tuggers as enablers of fork-free environments in lean applications. The second is that when you can custom-engineer a cart to integrate with other materials handling and manufacturing systems, the cart becomes a cog in the efficient flow of materials from the receiving dock to the finished goods warehouse.
As such, K-Tec does have a line of stock carts that are just carts – steel platforms with wheels that are sold in industrial catalogs and on Amazon. But most of the company’s output has been custom-designed with everything from conveyor beds to carts that interface with robotic work cells and about everything in between. “We have engineered over 300 unique designs,” Tyler said as he walked me through the work area in his plant. And, from a start in automotive, today the company is custom-designing carts that are used to move mattresses in a warehouse and huge commercial air conditioning units. “If you can move it with a cart, we’ve probably been asked to design it.”