Celebrating 21 years in business in 2019, Combilift continues to lead the way when it comes to customised and innovative material handling solutions for a wide range of applications across varied industry sectors. The company’s range includes multidirectional forklifts and sideloaders, the world’s biggest selling narrow aisle articulated forklift – the Aisle Master, an ever-growing selection of pedestrian stackers and powered pallet trucks as well as straddle carriers and mobile gantries for handling containers and extreme loads.
From Combilift’s manufacturing facility and global HQ in Monaghan it exports its products to more than 85 countries and over 50,000 units have been produced since the company was established. Martin McVicar, CEO and co-founder of Combilift spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
What are your best-known products and services?
Our company name is now not just synonymous with multidirectional long-load handling. We are known for our ability to provide versatile solutions that enable safe, space saving and productive handling of all types of loads. The high level of customisation that we offer on all of our products makes us unique in our sector.
What new products/services will you be launching next year?
Every year brings new developments and products from our R&D department, and we often time launches to coincide with a major trade fair. We launched our latest 15NE Aisle Master model at this year’s IMHX and this is being released as a production unit in 2020. This incorporates our patented front-end steering which allows it to operate in aisles as narrow as 1,600mm.
Tell us about your business highlights or a project you have recently completed?
We recently delivered our 15,000th unit into the UK; an Aisle Master articulated truck for Nestlé. Around a third of all units manufactured so far have been shipped to the UK, which we regard as our home and most important market. Nestlé uses a number of Aisle Masters and Combi-CS pedestrian stackers in its manufacturing and warehousing facilities across the country and the specially painted silver Aisle Master 15NE model will be operating at its site in Sudbury, Suffolk. We also won more awards this year for our products and management. One of our newest models, the Combi-PPT high performance powered pallet truck won the Safety category at this year’s FLTA Awards and a feature common to all of our pedestrian models – the multi-position tiller arm, won the Industrial Vehicles Category of this year’s BITA Design for Safety Award.
What challenges will the business environment offer to your industry in the coming year? How will you turn these challenges into opportunities?
We always turn challenges into opportunities – whether it’s devising new solutions for customers’ handling problems or coping with any fallout from political or economic situations. We believe clients are going to demand quicker delivery times to assist their decision making in times of uncertainty. With our new production plant up and running for 18 months at this stage we have increased our weekly output significantly during 2019 which has allowed us to reduce our delivery times for new truck orders.
What industry sectors do you see offering you the most potential next year?
Most of our R&D investment in 2019 and into 2020 is going into new warehouse products, where we have seen substantial recent growth.
I also expect expansion in the demand for and sales of pedestrian operated trucks. Safety, reduced product damage and shorter operator training requirements are the major drivers for this. We entered this market segment six years ago with the introduction of the internationally patented multi-position tiller arm pedestrian range, which can be operated in smallest available aisle widths, on the global market. We expect these products to be the fastest growing ones from our complete range in 2020.
Are you investing in new premises over the next 12 months? What about recruitment, staff development and training?
We made a major investment in our new 46,000 m² manufacturing facility before its official opening in 2018, and we are focusing on ensuring that there is a good pool of qualified people available to fill our vacancies that arise on a regular basis. Fostering young talent is important for us, not just as part of our commitment to our home region but also to our thousands of customers around the world. We work closely with local education and training providers and together with the Monaghan Institute we initiated the Traineeship in Engineering course and developed the OEM Engineering Apprenticeship. These give students the opportunity to develop cutting edge engineering skills and gain on-the-job experience while training.
Are you involved in any major trade shows or other industry events next year?
Trade fairs are a major part of our strategy to inform visitors about what we have to offer, and we will be exhibiting at events in most continents around the world next year including LogiMAT in Stuttgart in March, which is always a very good show for us. We will be launching an additional new Aisle Master model at Modex in Atlanta in March. This latest model was very much developed around client feedback and what we could do for them. We will also be exhibiting the Combi-CSS in action for the first time in South America at Intermodal in Sao Paolo in March – it’s a busy month!
Do your solutions reduce manual handling and physical lifting?
Any piece of mechanical equipment should reduce manual strain, but the ergonomics we incorporate in our products ensure that this is actually the case. On our award-winning Combi-PPT for example the lifting platform features fingertip controls on the tiller arm so that even engines weighing 16,000kg can be moved with minimum operator effort.
Our latest innovation, the Combilift Container Slip-Sheet (Combi-CSS) is designed for mechanised loading of products into containers. It is a much less labour intensive system than using multiple forklifts and reduces physical strain and risk to personnel and also minimises product damage. Loads weighing up to 30,000kg can be assembled on the slip-sheet platform outside the container and guided into the container by a hydraulic pulling mechanism. So it’s stress free and quick and easy – a 40’ container can be fully loaded in as little as 6 minutes.
How do your solutions help customers increase the level of automation in their business?
There has been a move towards more automation in the warehouse, but as investment in automated systems is too costly for many small to medium businesses, forklifts and pedestrian stackers will continue to play a crucial role in moving, picking and placing goods. The optimum use of this equipment should therefore be a priority for many companies, so our mantra is “optimisation before automation”.
How do you help customers make optimum use of their existing warehouse space?
Our logistic and warehouse design service also differentiates us from other manufacturers. We are committed to offering this service free of charge as a method of demonstrating that our products bring our clients value and we see this as a good marketing investment. 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.
How much do your solutions and products contribute to warehouse safety?
Safety is our main design criteria. We were therefore very proud of the two safety-based awards from the FLTA and BITA that we won this year. These recognised our contribution to safer practices in the MHE and warehousing sectors – for operators and all employees who work with or in the vicinity of forklifts and industrial vehicles. Our unique multi-position tiller arm allows the operator to remain in the safest possible position when placing and picking in narrow aisles – at the side of the pedestrian stacker or PPT rather than behind it. This improves visibility and reduces the risk of accidents. We also offer the Combi Safe-Lift: a very simple safety interlock that stops an operator from overloading a truck with an over-heavy load or lifting a load at an extreme load centre.
What big news can our readers look forward to seeing in Warehouse & Logistics News from you in 2020?
As ever, new innovative products, new solutions, new markets.
And finally, if you had to sum up your company in a hashtag what would it be?
#Combilift lifting and driving innovation across global markets #forklifts
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