Transforming materials handling with electric tugs

For businesses of any size, achieving maximum efficiency in a sustainable and safe way, is essential for success. A key element in this process is the movement of materials, parts, and equipment. Among the technological advancements propelling this sector forward, electric tugs stand out as a game-changer.

Almost every industry has its niche supplier; a provider who understands and meets a specific need. For the movement of heavy-wheeled loads, it’s MasterMover. As the name implies, they design and manufacture specialised equipment - electric tugs and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), to help improve safety and operational efficiency across industrial manufacturing, retail, and logistics sectors. An electric tug is a battery-powered machine known by many names such as ‘electric tows’, ‘electric tow tugs’, ‘pedestrian tugs’ and ‘powered tugs’. They offer compact solutions which allow a single operator to easily push, pull, and stop heavy and unconventional wheeled loads in a safe and efficient manner.

Industrial manufacturing as well as in sectors like retail, logistics, oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, and waste management use electric tugs widely. The MasterMover brand traces its roots back to 1997 when its late founder, Andrew Jones, began with a single machine designed initially for moving caravans and small goods.

With a background in retail and the textile industry, Andrew saw the broader potential of offering a safer and more efficient method of moving wheeled loads.

In the late 1990s, as supermarkets were expanding into large, out-of-town stores, it became clear that transporting roll cages over long distances from storage to shelves would be challenging. An electric tug from MasterMover was the answer. National contracts with major supermarket chains followed and, with an expanding product range, different sectors across industry also began to take an interest.

MasterMover’s exponential growth soon highlighted that the technology could travel.

In 2016, Andrew's son James Jones joined the business as a Partner, working with MasterMover Partner Andy Owen to continue advancing the company through sales growth and innovation.

Lucy Cresswell, Global Brand Manager at MasterMover, is passionate about the award-winning equipment that MasterMover make. She explained “Our electric tugs are used to move a diverse range of loads of up to 70,000kg and beyond. The compact designs make electric tugs perfect for moving large loads in confined spaces, ensuring complete manoeuvrability. We focus on innovation, research and development to provide the widest range of electric tug products on the market. At MasterMover, we’re known for quality and service, and we want to be the partner of choice for material handling solutions worldwide.

We are not simply an “off-the-shelf” provider, for our customers – who include anyone and everyone from aircraft manufacturers to vaccine researchers, ensuring the safe, controlled movement of loads is paramount. Our electric tugs are designed to meet the needs of a wide range of clients, and each situation and challenge is different. For some customers, we’ll be providing a solution to carefully position a space satellite with millimetre accuracy, for others, we’ll be taking the strain of moving heavy waste bins at a hospital.

When it comes to moving heavy loads, we take many factors into consideration, so we see ourselves as a solutions provider, delivering tailored projects for diverse applications around the world. For us it is all about service”.

MasterMover produce electric tugs that are operated by pedestrians, or via remote control or as fully automated AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicle). Having heavily invested in innovation, MasterMover’s range of electric tugs are poised to support the future requirements of its customer base.

Pedestrian operated electric tugs are the most common and traditional design of electric tugs on the market. A pedestrian operated design allows a single operator to easily handle loads of up to 20,000kg directly through the controls on the machine.

“Our electric tugs, as the name suggests, are all battery powered which means they’re ideal for working both indoors and outdoors. Our pedestrian operated electric tugs are a great alternative to reduce manual handling as they completely take the strain, so staff no longer have to struggle to move heavy loads” Lucy explained.

“They are also used to create more flexible workflows, offering a more efficient and on-demand alternative to traditional material handling equipment.”


Remote controlled

With a remote control electric tug, the user uses a wireless remote control to operate the machine. This provides all the same functionalities as the headset on the machine but with the added benefit of increased mobility and unmatched visibility.

Operators can use a remote control to position themselves at the optimal vantage point while moving a load. This allows them to move with the load or switch to different viewing positions during transit.

Lucy commented “This approach simplifies tasks such as coupling to the load, manoeuvring in tight spaces, and maximising visibility when handling large, cumbersome loads. Customers from China to France utilise our remote control technology to safely manoeuvre loads such as aircraft wings, engines, modular buildings and more – the applications are incredibly varied”

MasterMover’s range of AGVs leverages cutting-edge navigation and safety sensor technology to provide fully automated electric tugs that seamlessly interact with their environment, ensuring safe and efficient travel between destinations. Advanced safety sensors detect obstacles and potential hazards, adjusting speed or stopping movement as needed, such as slowing down on wet floors or in low visibility conditions.

State-of-the-art natural feature navigation technology guides the machines between destinations, adapting to the environment to optimise routes, taking account of other machinery, and consider operational factors. Lucy said “This is an area of the business that we expect to rapidly expand as customers look for more efficient ways to move goods from A to B”.

“We’ve built on our best-in-class pedestrian vehicles and combined them with the very best navigation technology to deliver an AGV solution our customers can trust. Customers like Toyota trust our AGVs to drive efficiency in the transportation of loads and do it repeatedly – maximising their return on investment.

We’re able to offer an impressive AGV range that can handle different types of loads, heavy payloads of up to 70,000kg and safely operate both indoors and outdoors.”

MultiLink Technology

For clients that need to move long, awkward, or a particularly heavy load, such as a wind turbine blade, MasterMover’s patented MultiLink solution enables clients to position multiple machines on either end of the load, under the control of one operator. It uses machine-to-machine wireless communication, as a way to connect two or more electric tugs together wirelessly so they synchronise movement for unrivalled manoeuvrability and weight moving capabilities.

What are the advantages of Tugs?

Effective handling boosts productivity, lowers operational costs, and enhances safety. Traditional manual handling methods or even conventional vehicles can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. Electric tugs streamline this process by enabling operators to move large volumes of materials quickly and safely. The precision and control provided by electric tugs reduce the risk of damage to goods, ensuring smoother workflows and faster turnaround times.

The Health and Safety Executive outlined that 7.3 million working days are lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders – of which manual handling is a key contributing factor in the workplace. Electric tugs mitigate manual handling risks by reducing the physical effort required to move heavy items. Equipped with advanced safety features such as automatic braking systems, speed control, and ergonomic designs, electric tugs ensure a safer working environment. This not only protects employees but also reduces the likelihood of costly accidents and associated downtime.

Tugs can help to minimise the number of product movements, reduce wasted time, and maximise throughput. Many of MasterMover’s clients have seen a rapid return on investment, improved productivity and a reduction in waste.

The tugs can be used by a single pedestrian operator (with no operator licence being required) to move the load, which improves productivity and minimises the risks created by manual handling. Where wheeled loads were moved manually, an industrial electric tug takes the strain – increasing safety and reducing the risk of injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.

“For an industrial manufacturer in the USA, we recently helped them improve staff productivity and reduce the risk of injuries. Before using multiple SmartMover machines, 6 members of staff were required to manually push heavy roll cages across the 130000 ft² site.” Lucy explained.

Using tugs can help to avoid operational situations where forklifts are moving up and down a warehouse, where pedestrian workers are at risk of being impacted. It also stops floor staff having to undertake repetitive walking and frees them up for more productive and rewarding jobs.

Electric tugs support fork-free zones

One client, Terex, an American manufacturer of heavy plant equipment, have stopped using forklifts in their sub-assembly areas in their Northern Irish site. They make plant equipment for industries including construction, quarrying, recycling, and mining. Until recently, they relied on large diesel forklift trucks to move chambers which can weigh up to 18,000kg and large-scale chassis averaging around 16m in length.

Not only did this reduce efficiency, as significant downtime was caused waiting for licenced drivers to be available to move the loads, but the footprint of a sufficiently powered forklift also became an issue, especially in internal, tight and populated spaces. Using MasterMover’s  PS3000+ remote controlled electric tugs provided an on demand, flexible, safer solution, increasing efficiency, whilst also reducing emissions. With the PS3000+, Terex were able to segregate forklift trucks from pedestrians for improved safety – enabling large and heavy loads to be moved safely within the production hall.

Rapidly expanding

“We have around 80 people at our Derbyshire manufacturing facility in Ashbourne, which is also our head office. We design and manufacture all of our equipment here in Derbyshire and we’re incredibly proud to be a British manufacturer.

We also have operations in France, Germany and North America, with 70% of our output now being on an export basis. Indeed, our positive impact on British exports was recognised, when we received the Queens Award For Enterprise: International Trade in 2021. We were awarded the King’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation in 2023 and later last year we also won the MX Award for Product Innovation & Design and International Trade. The Manufacturer MX Awards are widely considered the gold standard in manufacturing awards.

Last year we launched our new website in 12 languages to support our global customer-base. Our tugs have literally been sent to the outer reaches of Mongolia and aside from traditional manufacturing, they can also be seen in operation at a number of football stadiums, including Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur.

A significant portion of the Fortune 500 list have adopted MasterMover machines as a means of moving heavy loads through their facilities . MasterMover have helped global space agencies to carefully manoeuvre huge satellites, aircraft manufacturers to move jet engines and renewable energy manufacturers to move huge 100m wind turbines. We have even got electric tugs out there moving trains, all with control and precision”.

“Normally a distinctive yellow colour, our tugs have also been used by Cirque Du Soleil to seamlessly move on-stage props and equipment. Those tugs were finished in black to blend in. A famous car racing team also owns our tugs, all custom coloured in red!”

Future plans

In 2023 the Derbyshire-based manufacturer launched the PS7000+, their most powerful PowerSteered machine that allows a single operator to move loads up to 70,000kg with a single machine through remote controlled operation.

MasterMover operates globally through direct relationships and a network of sales and service partners and are on an aggressive growth trajectory.

“Innovation is in our DNA” Lucy added. “ If we go back to our roots, we’ve always focused on innovation and new product development – which has typically been driven by the evolving needs of our customer-base. Building on the launch of our PS7000+ last year, we have 6 new models in the pipeline that we will also be launching this year as part of our PowerSteered range. These models will deliver an advanced suite of technology options, bringing our customers even greater choice. We are always looking to innovate, and I can’t wait to see what we do next.”