Throughout the economic crisis, beverage companies and distributors have looked for areas where they could trim, innovate or be more efficient to save money. Oftentimes those discussions have focused on big ideas and investments, overlooking simple solutions like having reliable carts and hand trucks, which can have a significant impact on operating efficiency.

Compared to many other pieces of equipment, carts and hand trucks are not a significant investment for distributors, but if that piece of equipment fails, a portion of the supply chain can grind to a halt, resulting in lost time and revenue, says Barry Monroe, vice president of research and development for Magliner Inc., Pinconning, Mich.

“With the recent economic impact on revenue, companies are deferring purchases of new equipment and stretching the life of existing equipment through maintenance and equipment repairs,” Monroe says. “The attractiveness of offshore products’ low cost of entry has historically been very tempting to customers. The resulting product life was a compromise they were willing to accept. Today, we are seeing a trend toward cost of ownership analysis and a return of customers who may have tried other brands. The overwhelming response we receive is: ‘It’s all about value.’”

Lockwood Manufacturing Co., Livonia, Mich., is dealing with a similar trend toward companies choosing products from international companies. Matthew Phillips, a sales associate at Lockwood, cites “fighting imports” as a major trend his company is addressing. “Foreign products have consumed our marketplace at the cost of quality and craftsmanship,” he says.

“A good hand truck can have a tremendous effect on a beverage company,” Phillips says. “If you have an inferior product that is constantly breaking down, this can translate to lost revenue and lower morale of the user, neither of which are good if your goal is to be profitable.”

Along with quality, distributors and warehouse operators list efficiency and safety as important factors in purchasing a cart or hand truck. One of those considerations is weight, which can be affected by the material from which the equipment is made, Monroe says. For example, Magliner hand trucks are made from aluminum, which can be up to 30 pounds lighter than a steel version, he says.

By using lighter equipment, drivers are less likely to sustain job-related back injuries, which have a 50 percent re-occurrence rate within two years, Monroe says.

“Most injuries don’t happen from one-time occurrences,” he says. “They happen from repetitive movements over time like lifting a hand truck on and off a truck multiple times per day.”

Choosing a tool
When choosing a cart or hand truck, a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist, manufacturers say. Instead, distributors and warehouse operators need to evaluate what they want the equipment to do.

“Choosing a hand truck has everything to do with what the intended use will be,” Lockwood’s Phillips says. “Capacity of the truck as well as the typical load that you will be transporting should be considered.” Lockwood offers several material and wheel options.

Size and construction of a hand cart are paramount to choosing the right tool for the job, Magliner’s Monroe says. Those factors can vary based on the number of SKUs a company intends to move, the operating space within a customer location, the size of a truck’s interior and average drop sizes, he says.

“The market seems to be requiring the availability of many options at minimal cost,” says Daria Dalager, marketing manager at Valley Craft, Lake City, Minn. Valley Craft manufactures specialized hand trucks, such as a Heavy Duty Vending Cart that is made from aluminum and can handle up to 1,200 pounds, Dalager says.

The shape of the cargo and the physical attributes of a driver also have an impact on choosing the right hand truck, Monroe says. Manufacturers make hand carts with varying handle designs, handle heights and frame style to accommodate different load sizes. Size and shape of tires can affect how easily a load can be carried over thresholds and rough terrain.

Magliner manufactures the second generation of the CooLift, a cart with a hydraulic lift for specialized pallets. The CooLift is part of a total warehouse solution that shifts a company to customer-built orders assembled on narrow pallets in a warehouse. The cart’s developer says that hand trucks are still important for certain situations.

“If you have steps or you have something you just can’t maneuver with a unit like CooLift, hand trucks still have a great place,” says Steve Golladay, president of Swiftwater Logistics, Charlotte, N.C. “What we have to do is start segregating our business and say ‘What’s the best method for this?’”

Material innovation
Advancements in polymers and synthetic rubbers and changes to thought processes around store merchandising have all contributed to changes in the development of carts and hand trucks, Monroe says.

Polymer advancements have led to the creation of new structural members, giving the cart or hand truck lower weight but improved strength. Wheels that roll easier and require less effort from drivers have come from new synthetic rubbers, enabling drivers to move larger loads with less strain, he says.

These innovations are necessary as beverage distributors look for ways to cut costs, which often results in drivers shouldering a heavier load of deliveries, Magliner’s Monroe says. Recent innovations have helped drivers become more productive with less physical effort, which can lead to fewer injuries and lower workman’s compensation costs, he says.

“If you have a quality hand truck that does not break down, you will have fewer interruptions in delivery and users will have a better attitude about completing their job,” Lockwood’s Phillips says.

Available options
Magliner engineers ergonomic hand grips to full-body carts, Monroe says. Although it has specialized in metals, it also offers hand trucks with molded nylon cross bars.

The Gemini Convertible Hand Truck by Magline is available in three varieties, which range in width from 21 inches to 22 ¾ inches, height from 51 inches to 62 ¾ inches and weight from 44 pounds to 54 pounds. The unit can handle up to 500 pounds as a hand truck and between 1,000 pounds and 1,250 pounds as a platform truck.

The Magliner CooLift has a hydraulic system to lift its specialized pallets, a six-wheel design that tilts on the center wheels to cross thresholds and features a lightweight aluminum frame. The system is 18.5 inches wide, 58 inches long and 62 inches tall. It weighs 190 pounds and carries up to 1,500 pounds.

Lockwood offers aluminum, steel and convertible hand trucks. The company’s aluminum convertible hand truck is 20 inches wide, 52 inches tall and weighs 45 pounds. It can handle up to 500 pounds as a hand truck and up to 1,000 pounds as a platform truck.

The Dura-Lite Triple-Truck hand truck offering from Valley Craft converts into three different trucks: a standard two-wheel hand truck, a two-wheeler with an extended shoe and a four-wheel platform truck. The unit’s frame is between 20 and 24 inches wide, 51 inches tall and ranges in weight from 43 pounds to 47 pounds. It can handle between 300- and 600-pound loads.

“If the truck is well-built and lasts a long time, companies don’t have to incur the cost of replacement as often,” Valley Craft’s Dalager says. “They also add to the safety of the employees handling large bulky loads.”BI

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