Since the Aisle-Master business began in 2000, the Irish-made Aisle-Master range of articulated forklift trucks has become renowned around the world for its ability to work in aisles just 1.75m wide. In the tough economic climate of the last few years, sweating assets to get maximum performance has become a key priority for management. Aisle-Master trucks play an invaluable role in achieving this objective, enabling cost-conscious warehouse operators to reduce their working aisle widths dramatically and increase the available storage space in their premises by up to 50%. As growing numbers of users appreciate Aisle-Master’s benefits, in recent years Aisle-Master has enjoyed rapid sales growth and made significant inroads into the articulated fork lift market in the UK and Ireland first, and then in North and Central America and Australasia.
Following a recent change in the company’s ownership, Aisle-Master global sales are expected to grow further. Aisle-Master was originally part owned by Combilift’s Managing Director Martin McVicar and Technical Director Robert Moffett, but in April 2010 it became wholly owned by Combilift. Under the new arrangement, Aisle-Master will continue to trade under its own brand name and be marketed as a separate product, but with Combilift’s worldwide dealer network driving Aisle-Master product sales into new geographical areas. It marks the start of an exciting new era for Aisle-Master, as Martin McVicar explained to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – First, Martin, as MD of both Combilift and Aisle-Master, what is your day-to-day role in the Aisle-Master operation? How do you combine this with your Combilift commitments?
I am as hands on with Aisle-Master, as I always have been with Combilift. As Aisle-Masters are now manufactured at the same site as Combilift, it is easy for me to be closely involved in the manufacturing process and all aspects of R&D. I consider my work to be my hobby, in any case!
WLN – Who else is in the Aisle-Master management team?
We have built up a team of well qualified and very experienced Aisle-Master engineers and product designers, and Aisle-Master’s co-owner Robert Moffett has also brought his decades of engineering expertise into the fold for future product development.
WLN – Following the change in ownership, have you made any changes to the Aisle-Master management and sales team?
Aisle-Master has increased its sales team since the ownership change. There are now six regional Product Managers in place in the UK, and we have strengthened sales representation in Germany. Bringing the two companies together has significantly increased the number of dealers who can offer the Aisle-Master product and provide support to customers.
WLN – Where do you make Aisle-Master trucks these days?
Since May 2010 we’ve been making Aisle-Master trucks at Combilift’s HQ and manufacturing plant in Monaghan, where we’ve set up a dedicated Aisle-Master production line. We have retained the extremely skilled assembly line workforce, so the high standard of manufacturing, quality control and pre-delivery inspection will continue.
WLN – What difference will it make to the Aisle-Master business, being wholly owned by Combilift? What difference will it make to Combilift?
There will be advantages for both companies. Aisle-Master will benefit from Combilift’s very wide global network of dealers, who will be happy to add this product to their portfolio. From Combilift’s point of view, if we are talking to customers who may also need articulated trucks, we have an ideal product to offer them, which comes with the hallmarks they appreciate from our brands, such as quality and durability.
WLN – Do you use any common components in Aisle-Master and Combilift trucks?
There is some commonality in components for both brands, and we use internationally recognised suppliers such as GM, Bosch Rexroth, Danfoss, Poclain hydraulics, Curtis Controllers for AC electric models and KAB seating. The advantage of these for our customers, wherever they are in the world, is the good parts and service availability.
WLN – Where do you develop your articulated VNA technology?
We have a separate R&D facility with a dedicated team on site in Monaghan, where we carry out all our development, testing and building of prototypes. It is equipped with its own CNC for cutting steel and machining, which is linked to the 3D Solid Works Design Package. It is also situated away from the main manufacturing lines and has the added benefit of being out of sight for visitors, so that we can keep new developments confidential!
WLN – Can you talk us through the Aisle-Master proposition?
Aisle-Masters can easily double the amount of storage space available, by operating in aisles as narrow as 1.75m. This also reduces the overheads on rent and utilities, lowering the carbon footprint and the amount of energy required. Super elastic tyres mean that Aisle-Masters can be used indoors and out, reducing, if not eliminating the requirement for different types of vehicles. There is also no need to invest in super flat floors in the warehouse, unlike operation with other traditional types of VNA turret trucks. The enhanced pallet density considerably reduces storage cost per pallet space.
WLN – What distinguishes Aisle-Master from other articulated VNA trucks? Why buy an Aisle-Master truck?
Aisle-Masters are fully designed, welded, painted, assembled and tested in Ireland, not assembled from components manufactured elsewhere, for example in the Far East. This enables customised products and quality control second to none. We encourage customers to visit us and see for themselves the level of design and precision manufacturing behind each truck. The LPG Aisle-Master, for example, was designed as a “thoroughbred” gas powered truck, rather than an adapted electric model with the engine fitted into the battery housing. The front wheel drive on the electric models is also far superior to rear wheel drive when it comes to more precise positioning in racking when articulating.
WLN – What different trucks do you offer?
We offer both AC electric drive and LPG powered models, with lift capacities of up to 2.5 tonnes and lift heights of up to 12.5 metres, with a choice of wide or narrow chassis. The wide range of options includes a clear view mast, non marking tyres, telescopic forks, enclosed cabs and choice of chassis colour at the point of manufacture. The electric powered units are supplied with 775 Ah batteries as standard, with an optional 930 Ah battery for high lift applications which require more energy.
WLN – How ‘clean’ are Aisle-Master LPG trucks in terms of CO2 emissions? Can you use them safely indoors without changes to warehouse ventilation?
All our LPG models have a 3-way cat and closed loop system fitted as standard. The LPG trucks that we ship to the US are fitted with a fully certified engine that meets the current Tier IV CARB CO2 emissions regulations, the most stringent on the market today. For any UK company that has little or no ventilation in place, we can offer the Tier IV LPG engine.
WLN – How innovative has Aisle-Master been over the years in the articulated truck market?
Aisle-Master was a pioneer of LPG technology in the articulated truck market, when it started out 10 years ago. It introduced its electric trucks in 2005 and was the first articulated manufacturer to incorporate AC power into its electric models, which were launched at the Hanover CeMat exhibition in May 2008. AC technology has been used in regular forklifts for about 10 years now, but Aisle-Master has the most experience of this in the articulated sector.
WLN – What are the benefits of AC power?
Brushless motors reduce the wear and tear on components for longer life operation. Fewer moving parts equates to no service requirements, which in turn reduces downtime. It also provides improved acceleration and more precise control – this is of great benefit when operating at high lift height in narrow aisles. A further advantage is reduced energy consumption for longer operation per charge and a more powerful performance.
WLN – Do you offer Aisle-Master trucks in the UK direct or through distributors? What about in other countries?
We work with a wide network of dealers in the UK and across the world. Any forklift dealership with a customer requiring an articulated truck is welcome to get in touch. If customers in the UK have a preferred forklift dealer, we naturally go along with their wishes. We also work with other truck manufacturers when they need to supply articulated trucks to their customers.
WLN – What are Aisle-Master trucks like for maintenance?
Easy access to all components makes routine checks and maintenance quick and straightforward. On the electric model there are just two motors, one drive, one for hydraulic functions. Having fewer motors than other articulated brands reduces the likelihood of breakdown and associated downtime and repair costs. The Aisle-Master range is widely recognised by distributors as being the most reliable articulated truck on the market.
WLN – How do the Aisle-Master and Combilift brands compare to each other – what is the difference between the two ranges, in terms of functional benefits to end users?
The core benefits of both brands are versatility of use both indoors and out, and space saving operation which leads to enhanced productivity. The Combilift brand caters mainly for customers handling what can be termed as extreme products, many of them oversized, very heavy and potentially very hazardous. Typical applications are in the timber, steel, aluminium, pvc, pipes, manufacturing and construction sectors. Combilift offers lift capacities of up to 25t, whereas the standard Aisle-Master capacity of 2.5t is more suited to palletised operations such as the 3PL, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors.
WLN – Who are your major customers for Aisle-master? Do you publish case studies?
We have customers across a wide range of industries. We are also seeing an increasing number of large fleet orders, such as the 11 trucks now working at 99p Stores’ new distribution centre. Even in unsettled economic times the ability to save money by using one machine instead of a combination and saving warehouse space is an attractive proposition. Case studies are regularly posted on the website, and you can see from the customer endorsements that companies both large and small can profit by switching to the Aisle-Master system.
WLN – What are your forecasts for Aisle-Master sales in terms of predicted unit numbers?
Since moving to the new production facility, order intake and output has doubled. For 2011 in the global market, we envisage Aisle-Master will have a growth in excess of 50%.
WLN – For readers thinking about moving to VNA racking, what kinds of goods are suitable for VNA storage? What racking heights can VNA racking go to? Do you need to strengthen the floor for this higher density working?
Any goods that can be securely stored on a pallet are suitable for VNA racking, and Aisle-Masters can be supplied with lift heights of up to 12.5m. Using an Aisle-Master at heights up to 12.5m lift means that a standard floor specification is ideal. This offers huge savings to customers, who may have to consider “super-flat” minimum deviation category 1 floors for other types of VNA equipment. The savings alone on floor specification can pay for the trucks in an average distribution centre.
WLN – Changing over to articulated VNA trucks is a major operational change for customers. Do you offer free site surveys and layout designs, and performance simulations?
We offer a comprehensive no obligation free of charge site survey service to illustrate the benefits of the Aisle-Master system. On the basis of the information to hand, we draw up detailed plans showing how the combination of Aisle-Masters and reduced aisle widths can offer better storage density. This service, which Combilift also offers, has a large take up, so there is obviously a need for this sort of expert advice. Based on diagrams of the warehouse and reach heights, we can provide customers with pallet movement times.
WLN – Do you have links with racking companies, and do you link up with them to offer combined solutions, including racking and trucks?
A three-way collaboration at the outset involving the customer, racking company and ourselves is obviously ideal, but we are flexible. We have no official agreement with any specific racking company, and work with all the major suppliers in the field.
WLN – This interview is part of our IMHX Supplement. What products and services are you planning to exhibit at IHMX?
We are unveiling a new look for Aisle-Master on the stand at this year’s show, so I would encourage visitors to come and see the changes for themselves. New models that have been in development will be among the exhibits. With 15 Combilift and Aisle-Master sales advisors present, this will be the ideal opportunity to keep forklift dealers up to date on the solutions we can offer. Aisle-Master and Combilift will be sharing two large stands, one of which will be dedicated to hospitality, so we would like to extend an invitation to all visitors to come and enjoy one of Ireland’s other best known exports – a pint of Guinness, of course!
WLN – What external factors do you see affecting the demand for articulated VNA trucks in the UK, going forward?
The push toward greener operations with a lower carbon footprint means that the demand for space saving storage will rise. We are also seeing major names shutting smaller regional distribution centers and replacing them with larger single ones, where optimal pallet density is paramount. As more and more consumables are being imported, there will be more outsourcing of warehouse facilities and the demand for articulated trucks will continue to grow.
WLN – Finally, where do you see Aisle-Master going from here? Can you tell us about your next wave of technical developments?
We expect worldwide sales to increase by 50% in 2011, due to the number of dealers now representing Aisle-Master around the world. There is a great potential in many European countries, where the articulated concept is still in its infancy. Some of the new technical developments we are introducing will be on show at IMHX.
Tel: 00353 47 80400
UK Tel for Aisle-Master and Combilift: 07870 976 758