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8 overlooked benefits of material handling totes & containers

8 overlooked benefits of material handling totes & containers

Surprising ways in which plastic tote containers can aid the productivity of your manufacturing operation

Material handling totes. Probably one of the last things that gets considered when talking about improving productivity and efficiency in manufacturing.

Yet their importance to your business can often be underplayed.

Every organisation, no matter how well established, how innovative, big or small, will always (or should always) be looking for how to improve productivity, processes and – ultimately – profitability.

And although on the face of it material handling totes do little more than move parts, components or raw materials around your production facility, factory or warehouse, they can have a surprisingly significant impact on all of the above mentioned performance indicators.

What are totes?

So what exactly are totes?

Well, for starters, you may not actually be calling your totes. They are frequently referred to as line-side containers, attached lid containers (ALCs), handling trays and even heavy duty plastic boxes.

In fact, the word tote is used to describe a broad range of differing containers.

The actual definition of a tote, as set out by the Oxford English dictionary is a verb meaning “(to) carry, wield, or convey (something heavy or substantial)”. It can also be applied as a noun: “A tote bag”

material handling tote trays

So whilst a “tote” may be a fashion item to some, in industry a tote is effectively used to transport parts or finished products around a factory or even between sites.

This could be automotive parts to a specific part of a production line, or consumer goods being transported from a factory to a retail outlet. It could even be food produce being gathered during a harvest period.

So in essence, a tote is a plastic container or box used for the movement of products or components.

Why they are important

OK, so far this is reasonably straightforward. But how can totes actually have an impact on a business?

The answer lies in the efficiency and productivity of your staff.

If a number of components need to be supplied to a specific point in a production line, a suitable tote allows this to be done in the most efficient manner (either manually or using an automated system such as a conveyor etc.).

By helping to minimise (or eliminating) the amount of time spent walking around a production facility retrieving parts and delivering them to where they are needed, it can reduce the associated labour costs and maximise productivity.

Ultimately, any small improvements made in productivity can reduce the costs of the goods that you produce, making your business more competitive and allowing for improved profitability.

Free Guide: A 21 point checklist for successfully sourcing totes

The 8 often overlooked benefits of handling totes

So whilst totes are critical in the efficient movement of products or components within a factory or manufacturing environment, there are a number of other ways that they can directly impact productivity and reduce costs to your business.

These are as follows:


Please continue reading for further information on each of these benefits, and how they can directly impact your operations.

Management of stock levels

When you think of managing stock levels you typically think of software and systems, warehouse logistics and items such as picking bins.

So where do totes come in?

The answer is the constant, manual stock checking that each of your line-side operatives will be constantly carrying out throughout the day.

It is common for totes loaded with components to be placed on the side of the manufacturing line in easy reach of the employees working in that area. The number of items in the tote can be easily “checked by eye” ensuring that the staff member can gauge how many are left before they need some more.

If totes are not used (and in many cases the original corrugated packaging with the items in may be what the parts or items are left in), it is much harder for this ongoing, at a glance stock checking to take place.

This is particularly true if tote divisions are also used, as they clearly indicate how much of the tote is empty and how many items are left (rather than when items are simply left “loose” in the container).

The potential result?

The employee working on that part of the line running out of items, and the associated drop in productivity whilst more are gathered. Worst case scenario is the production line stops completely.

materials handling totes

Better use of floor-space

As mentioned above, as well as using totes to move the parts or components around your production facility, they are also used to store the items near to where they will be used.

Whilst obviously important, this can have a knock-on effect with regards to effective – and safe – use of floor space.

For example, if cardboard boxes (potentially the original packaging for the parts) are left in these areas, they can quickly clutter the area. It may not be possible to stack them safely. It can be hard to tell which are empty and which have some items left in.

Suitable plastic totes can help with this however.

For example, if multiple totes are placed in an area, they can usually be stacked safely to make better use of the floor space. This is usually also safer for employees, minimising trip hazards and giving them increased space to move freely.

This principle also applies if numerous differing parts or components are needed at a specific point of the line, allowing them to be well organised and stacked in an appropriate manner to allow the most efficient retrieval as needed.

stackable containers

Protection from dust / moisture

Manufacturing can often be quite dusty and dirty, with dust being particularly likely to cause damage to products that have electronics within them.

Even if your production facility is immaculate, it is difficult to completely eradicate all dust and fibres from your production line.

So here lies the issue – if components are being placed on the floor near where they are needed, they may be particularly susceptible to dust and dirt that naturally settles there and is brought in from outside by employees shoes and so on.

This is where totes can help.

The majority of corrugated plastic totes and their moulded equivalents will protect the items within from dust as well as any spillages and moisture that may be present too.

Material handling totes can usually be specified with various different lid types, which can create a sealed storage container to ensure parts or components are not damaged whilst they are waiting to be assembled / used.

Protection from damage / surface imperfections

Besides dust, moisture and fibres potentially causing damage to parts or products being stored in and around your production line, there is another form of damage that can be equally costly.

Surface scratches, blemishes and imperfections.

This is particularly true for consumer goods, meaning the items will be rejected or returned, in turn leading to lost sales and written off stock (or at best just the components themselves being discarded).

The inside of a cardboard box (and indeed a tote) can be surprisingly abrasive, but often the damage is caused by the contents of the container colliding with each other.

Whilst totes on their own cannot resolve this, the use of divider sets or even foam divider inserts can minimise / eliminate this movement, thereby protecting the surface finishes of the parts or components.

In fact, this benefit can be further enhanced using specialist dividers such as those manufactured from fabric covered Correx, or even Bicell (a plastic material coated with either fabric or a thin layer of foam).

This ultimately leads to fewer components being discarded as damaged, less finished products being rejected, less customer returns and an improved reputation for quality.

handling totes with dividers

Minimises production breaks

Virtually all of the above reasons can combine and lead to another benefit being realised – that of minimising production breaks.

If there is an efficient flow of parts and components to the specific points of your production line then the chances of production being slowed or even stopped is minimised.

This is also true with regards to individual sections running out of parts. Or finding that the parts they do have cannot be used as they are too dusty, dirty, clearly damaged or simply display surface imperfections that will lead to rejection.

It is obviously critical to avoid any delays to production, with lost time still costing your business in terms of wages and overall productivity, potentially harming your competitiveness and, at worst, even leading to missed deadlines and delays in fulfilling orders.

Safety of staff

Put simply, totes make manual handling as easy and safe and possible.

And this is important.

Over a third of all reportable injuries in the UK are as a result of manual handling, with ten per cent of serious injuries also being put down to poor or unsafe handling.

As a result, over one million people reported suffering from musculoskeletal disorders as a result of poor workplace handling practices.

This risk is apparent across virtually all manufacturing industries (and indeed numerous others), and any employees involved in the moving and handling of goods is potentially at risk. There are even risks in handling light loads if a repetitive task is being carried out in poor conditions.

As a result, totes that are the correct size and / or feature dividers so that they cannot be overloaded, plus have appropriate handles and grips, can play an important role in reducing these types of injuries.

When coupled with suitable training, this can make a significant impact on productivity and reduce absenteeism as well.

hand held totes

Minimises packaging waste / environment

Finally, totes can play a surprising role in helping to reduce packaging waste.

Due to their durable nature, they offer longevity and as a result prove cost-effective in the long run.

But they can also be used in multiple parts of your production process. Critically, they can also be used for transporting items between production facilities, rather than having to use single trip packaging (such as corrugated) which will simply be discarded by the recipient.

These two factors when coupled together means that totes are seen as a capital investment rather than simply a cost (as single trip packaging is).

Plus, of course, it also helps to minimise your business’ levels of waste and reduce your carbon footprint.

Free Guide: A 21 point checklist for successfully sourcing totes

In Summary

So whilst totes are, in effect, used to efficiently move parts, components and finished products around your factory and production facility, they do in fact boost productivity in a number of ways, whilst also driving cost savings and environmental benefits too.

For further information on how materials handling totes and containers could improve your in-plant logistics, and how to choose the right one for your business, please view the guides section of this website.



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