Proper Materials Handling
Removing unnecessary complexity is always
While it’s safe to assume the famed com- puter programming professor and author Alan Perlis wasn’t contemplating how to handle materials and hazardous produc-
tion materials in today’s laboratory and manufac-
turing facilities, his words are worth noting. When
considering the myriad issues associated with this
challenge, it’s wise to pause, view the whole picture,
break it down into sub-categories that make sense,
and conquer — ensuring each decision fits nicely
into the whole. And, as in all things facilities related,
it’s always wise to follow the rule of KISS — “keep
it simple, stupid” — ensuring that your solution is
scaled to the operations requirements it needs to
meet, and that it is aligned with the goals of future
flexibility, the skill levels of personnel in your organi-
zation, efficiency, and your budget.
a worthy overarching goal, but it’s important to
remember that many of today’s materials are clas-
sified as hazardous production materials (HPMs).
The nine letters in the word “hazardous” immediately increase complexity, and risk. From Bhopal,
India, to Sherbrooke, Canada, and from Kaohsiung,
Taiwan, to Channelview, Texas, history — both
recent and distant — records industrial disasters
involving production materials. Often, the root
cause of large disasters can be a stunningly small
detail, simply overlooked. The end results include
death, injury, damaged company reputations,
financial loss, and dramatically impacted stock in
publicly traded companies. Failure to handle HPMs
correctly can, literally, bring a company to demise.
Hazardous production materials are defined by
• Process and applications drive the solution.
the International Code Council as, “A solid, liquid,
or gas that has a degree of hazard rating in health,
flammability, or reactivity of Class 3 or 4 as ranked
by NFPA 704 listed in Chapter 44, and which is uti-
lized directly in research, laboratory, or production
processes that have, as their end product, materials
that are not hazardous.”
What’s a facilities professional to do? While the
challenges of designing production materials sys-
tems and storage (including for HPMs) are larger
than this column, let’s touch on some guideposts:
• Materials handling decisions are not after-
thoughts. Whether you are charged with driving
the renovation of an existing facility or the con-
struction of a new manufacturing site, make sure
the topic is discussed early and kept in the mix of
initial planning. You need to make sure materials
handling is an integral driver of facility design.
Remember, form follows function.
There are multiple options to engineer the sys-
tem, but manufacturing processes and specific
applications are driving the car.
• Flexibility is an underpinning. Product lines,
processes, and companies change — quickly. As
you’re designing the production materials sys-
tems, future flexibility is key.
• Regulations (despite any political rhetoric)
rule, are complex, and vary widely by geography. But they are important safeguards. There’s
no such thing as a “uniform code” governing
HPMs, and the regulations not only vary by state,
but can be quite different between cities and
towns. Never assume that your facility is in compliance because it mirrors another recent project
somewhere else (or for that matter, a recent project in the same municipality). Regulations can
change often. Storage and handling requirements
can, literally, vary by floor within a facility —
particularly regarding storage quantities.
• The decisions about materials handling and
storage do impact operational efficiencies
Katherine M. Everett,
PE, LEED AP
SMRT Architects and
Q:Materials handling seems to be growing in complexity in today’s man- ufacturing world, especially hazardous production materials. Can you offer some thoughts about key things to consider in relation to handling, as well as facility design and renovations?
A:“Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.” Alan Perlis