Moving light fixtures in bulk can be a significant material handling challenge. Fixtures are fragile. That’s why they often arrive at installation sites wrapped and boxed — packaging that adds considerable job-site waste. Fixtures are awkwardly shaped, and don’t fit neatly onto most of the carts electricians keep around. And for big projects, like a new construction or a total rehab, contractors have to handle them by the dozens, compounding material handling inefficiencies.<
These issues are not trivial. Research from the University of Michigan has shown that electrical contractors spend 40 to 50 percent of their time just moving material. That’s all time contractors could spend on the installation itself, if only there were a more efficient way to move electrical components throughout the job site.
However, efficiency may also come at a cost. Without careful handling, light fixtures and other electrical materials can break. Broken equipment at a lighting installation can get expensive. Ultimately, it eats into the contractor’s profit margins. And at a time of rising material costs and supply chain disruption, every fixture counts.
Rising Material Prices and Supply Chain Delays Make Breakage Even More Costly
In April 2021, the Associated General Contractors of America published an official Construction Inflation Alert, the first such alarm document since 2008. The input cost for construction projects — a measure of prices for both materials and services necessary for building — leaped by 12.8 percent over the first year of the COVID 19 pandemic. The price of steel mill products rose by 20 percent between April 2020 and February 2021 — and steel, both cold-rolled and stainless, is a common material for lighting products. By September 2021, aluminum prices were 73 percent higher than they were before the pandemic struck. Stamped lighting fixtures typically use this material.
Meanwhile, supply chain delays are creating longer lead times between ordering and receiving construction materials. Toward summer of 2021, a Chicago builder told ConstructionDive his materials were taking nine to 10 months to arrive. In Fort Worth, another contracting executive said materials that used to take six to 12 weeks for delivery were now running a four-to-six-month lead time.
These challenges only make the issue of material waste more alarming for electrical contractors. Distributors who sell wholesale light fixtures are also feeling the pressure. So when electricians are able to get the fixtures they need for a job, they must take steps to make sure they end up in the ceiling rather than the dumpster. Luckily, solutions are available.
Material Handling Equipment for Moving Light Fixtures
In order to improve workplace efficiency without material waste, electricians need a new type of tool. This ideal material handling solution for light fixtures must meet three qualifications:
- It must store fixtures in sufficient quantities to limit trips to and from storage areas.
- It must protect fixtures from damage, while loading, transporting, and unloading them.
- It must safely store fixtures unboxed and ready to go. This makes installation faster and keeps site waste to an absolute minimum.
What electricians need, then, is a large-scale cart that’s designed specifically for lighting: a heavy duty Light Fixture Cart designed for construction electricians. An electrical supplier began to offer fixture carts to its customers, and noticed the benefit right away. In a blog post, the supplier pointed to concrete advantages for electrical contractors who used the carts.
One USESI customer used 11 of these carts on an on-site installation with 131 lighting fixtures. Thanks to the added material handling efficiency, the contractor completed the job in just one work day. The supplier also provided fixture carts for a contractor who was installing 377 strip fixtures in a single job. Given the long, thin dimensions of these fixtures, that contractor was able to safely transport 33 fixtures on a single cart. That volume saved up to 20 minutes of work time for each fixture the contractor installed. The blog post doesn’t report any material breakage for either project.
How Light Fixture Carts Prevent Product Damage
Traditionally, contractors have moved light fixtures in one of two ways: by hand or stacked on a utility cart. The former method is labor- and time-intensive. Manual material handling can even contribute to workplace injuries; lifting and carrying leads to the sort of strain that, over time, can lead to a musculoskeletal disorder. Stacking fixtures several layers high increases the risk of product damage. Light fixtures don’t tend to stack well, but they do fall and break pretty easily, especially if fixtures arrive unboxed.
In fact, contractors often prefer unboxed fixtures. They want components to arrive as ready to go as possible. Many use off-site kitting and assembly for even faster installations. In these cases, you can’t rely on cardboard or plastic wrap to protect fragile components. Instead, use Light Fixture Carts built specifically for the job. These specialty carts store up to 1,000 pounds worth of fixtures within separated shelving units, enough for up to 48 standard 2’ by 2’ fixtures. These units prevent damage to fixtures with a range of features, including:
- One fixture per shelf. There’s no need for stacking and far less risk of product falling off the cart during transit.
- Lined shelving. This creates a level of cushioning and protects material as they slide in and out of the shelf.
- Removable locking bars. Light Fixture Carts ship with removable locking bars, which secure fixtures within the footprint of the cart. They’re great for security during storage, and they ensure that fixtures won’t tumble, even when travelling on ramps or rough surfaces.
- Lifting eye bolts for quick, safe hoisting. Need to move a floor’s worth of fixtures to the top of a high-rise? Welded steel lifting eye bolts allow contractors to lift loaded Light Fixture Carts with cranes. Along with the locking bars, this ensures a safe trip up, both for fixtures and workers below.
- Straight-tracking casters with reliable foot brakes. Heavy duty casters allow a single operator to move the loaded unit without too much strain. Two of the casters are fixed straight, while the other two swivel. That allows the unit to make tight turns and move in a reliable straight line. Foot brakes keep the unit complete still during loading and unloading. That way, users are less likely to drop a fixture.
All of the above should illustrate why Light Fixture Carts are helpful for construction electricians. Electrical distributors stand to gain similar benefits, though for slightly different reasons. Here’s why every supplier should invest in this specialized material handling equipment, too.
Material Handling Equipment for Electrical Wholesalers
Distributors are always looking for new ways to improve customer experiences. That boils down to making their electricians’ jobs easier, safer, or more profitable. As we’ve shown, Light Fixture Carts do all three. The real benefit of specialized material handling equipment, however, is that it allows distributors to ship orders fully loaded and ready to go — a powerful value-added service called a delivered solution.
With Light Fixture Carts, distributors can ship lighting orders unboxed, pre-inspected, and loaded onto a secure, travel-ready cart. Upon delivery, contractors just need to wheel the cart to the first installation point and get started. The electricians don’t have to spend half the day hauling fixtures back and forth, so they get the job done faster. That furthers the relationship between contractor and distributor, ensuring that the next time they have a lighting project, they’ll come back.
Of course, this concept of the delivered solution isn’t limited to light fixtures. Distributors can ship conduit orders loaded on Conduit Carrier Carts; they’re available with a variety of carrying capacities, from 1,500 to 6,000 pounds. Ship cable orders on Parallel Reel Payout Wagons, which transport multiple cable runs then lock into place for payout. Spool Winding Trolleys — including connected models for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications — improve efficiency while loading those cable orders.
In short, material handling equipment isn’t just crucial for moving light fixtures safely. It’s also the key to better distributor-client relationships. To learn more about Light Fixture Carts and other material handling solutions for electricians and distributors, contact the BHS Sales Team at 1.800.BHS.9500.