Now settled into its new €50m global headquarters in Monaghan, Ireland, Combilift continues to lead the way when it comes to customised and innovative handling solutions for a wide range of applications across varied industry sectors. Always a step ahead of other manufacturers, Combilift’s original range of multidirectional forklifts and sideloaders has expanded over the years to include the Aisle Master articulated forklifts, innovative small pedestrian forklifts and straddle carriers which lift and transport extremely heavy and out of gauge loads. Combilift now exports to more than 85 countries and over 40,000 units have been produced since the company was established.
Martin McVicar, Managing Director of Combilift Ltd, speaks to Warehouse and Logistics News.
What are your best-known products and services?
Our first product was the C4000 IC engine powered multi-directional forklift, and the company name is still to a large extent synonymous with the multi-directional concept. We have introduced at least one new model on average every year since then, but I would say that in the industry we are now known not just for our diverse product range – from small pedestrian stackers, Aisle Master articulated trucks through to the Straddle Carriers – but more for our unique ability to develop handling solutions for any specific challenges that our customers face.
Our free logistic and warehouse design service also differentiates us from other manufacturers. Our engineers proactively design, plan and produce material flow analyses and 3D animations for our worldwide customers which clearly illustrate the capacity potential as well as the optimum flow of materials on their sites.
Which market sectors and countries are your customers in? Which ones are growing fastest?
We export to around 85 countries so have a global presence. The UK is our largest market, followed by the USA and Germany. The sectors that use Combilifts are as diverse as the products themselves – through the alphabet from aluminium to zinc coating. We have seen a lot of investment in infrastructure in certain regions such as the UK, USA, Australia and Italy and as construction projects grow in 2019 this will increase the market for our heavy handling products such as straddle carriers, used by concrete manufacturers for example. The continued expansion of Ecommerce will further the demand for more distribution centres in various regional locations to ensure fast customer delivery, which will benefit the sales of our warehousing range. Manufacturing is at an all-time high in many markets around the world and as output increases, so will the need for space saving production and storage facilities. This is also an opportunity for us to capitalise on the benefits of models such as the Combi-CB which handles pallets and long loads.
How do your products benefit your customers’ businesses?
Our products are all based around the core principles of ensuring safe, space saving, cost effective and productive materials handling, whatever type of load the customer needs to lift, move and store. Safety is a number one priority for any business and our products are designed to offer the safest operating environments for personnel. As warehouse space becomes more costly and scarcer, the ability of our multi-directional models or the Aisle Master articulated trucks to work in much narrower aisles than conventional forklifts is of great benefit: customers can avoid disruptive and expensive relocation or building new facilities in times of growth for example. Our models are also characterised by their ability to replace a number of other types of forklifts for universal, versatile operation: doing more with less you might say, which reduces costs.
Why should customers choose you as their main supplier in your area?
We are known for delivering tailor made products that exactly match what our customers need to do their job. Thanks to our reputation as an innovator and the substantial investment we make in R&D every year (7% of turnover), customers are confident that they benefit from our knowhow in design and engineering as well as their own feedback, which we always welcome. Also, the use of readily available standard components makes for low maintenance and easily serviced products that guarantee excellent ROI. Forklift dealerships continue to favour our products due to the reliable operation and higher residual value that they offer compared with other brands. And our warehouse design and 3D animation service, mentioned earlier, is a rarity in the industry as it is totally free of charge and is of great benefit to current and potential customers alike.
What were the business highlights for you in the last 12 months?
Combilift has continued to buck the trend with over 20% growth in our sales in the UK market. 2018 was also a milestone for us in more ways than one: we celebrated our 20th anniversary and the inauguration of our new €50m, 46,000 m² manufacturing facility and global HQ, which was officially opened by the Irish Prime Minister in May. Over the course of a few days we welcomed hundreds of journalists, customers and dealers to the new site, and thousands of local residents on the open days. Eddie Stobart also recently took delivery of its 100th Aisle Master articulated forklift, which is a great example of how we collaborate with our long-standing customers in the UK. We also won the Excelling Enterprise of The Year Award at the Irish Business and Finance Awards and were once again recognised by Deloitte as one of the best managed companies for the sixth successive year.
How have you fine-tuned your offering in the last 12 months and why?
We have responded to the growing demand for pedestrian operated trucks, as many companies are looking to use these rather than ride-on forklifts when possible, particularly in areas where other personnel may be present, in busy production plants for example, as they enhance health and safety procedures. We now have five different models in this range with lift capacities starting from 1,000kg to 3,000 kg with our pedestrian forklift range.
What new products have you brought out?
We launched two new products this year; the Combi-PPT and Combi-OP, both of which were on show for the first time at the factory opening.
The Combi-PPT is a pedestrian operated powered pallet truck with standard lift capacities of 3,000kg and 6,000kg, with heavier capacity models from 7,000kg to 16,000kg available on request. It enables the safe and secure transportation of even the heaviest and bulkiest loads without the need for a ride-on forklift. It includes a feature common to all Combilift’s pedestrian models: the unique, patented multi-position tiller arm. This enables the operator to stand at the side of the unit rather than at the rear (as is the case with other walk behind brands), guaranteeing efficient and productive operation in confined spaces as well as optimum visibility of the load and surroundings, for maximum safety in areas where other personnel may be present, in busy production plants for example.
The Combi-OP is the first purpose-built order picker on the worldwide market for long products. Previously customers have had to modify traditional order pickers to cope with the specific demands of long loads and this model guarantees much more efficient and non-compromised operation for easy picking of long profiles in, for example, steel service centres. It features a roomy elevating platform to enable the operator to access and hand pick long products stored at height. It is fitted with guide rollers to enable it to operate in existing guided narrow aisles of just 1.4m and it has a capacity of 450 kg.
What factors do you see affecting your business in the coming year? How will you turn these into opportunities?
Brexit will continue to be a hotly debated issue, but I believe that as we are a solutionbased provider, demand for our products in the UK – which we treat as our home market – will grow due to the overriding benefits they offer. Now that the new factory is fully operational its capacity means that we are on target to manufacture over 6,000 units in 2019, and this number is set to rise significantly year on year.
Are you planning to branch into any new areas, target new customers and take on more people?
Combilift has set the benchmark for the mass production of customised innovative products and the level of our predicted growth means that we expect to significantly increase our workforce in 2019, with employment opportunities for skilled mechanics, technicians, design engineers, logistics and supply chain specialists. Combilift strategy as a business is to double our business over the next 5 years.
Are you involved in any major trade shows or other industry events over the next year?
Trade fairs always prove to be a very worthwhile way of spreading the news about our new products and developments and we will be exhibiting at industry specific events in most continents around the world in 2019. Focus closer to home is of course on IMHX in September.
What big news from Combilift can our readers look forward to seeing in Warehouse & Logistics News in 2019?
As ever, there will be new models to talk about, hopefully some more industry awards, and new markets to conquer! We also extend an open invitation to clients and dealers to visit our Global Headquarters and manufacturing facility so that they can see the product evolve through the design, welding, painting, assembly and final testing processes.
And finally, if you had to sum up your company in a tweet what would it be? #Combilift lifting and driving innovation across global markets #forklifts
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