Combilift’s new factory has opened in Ireland, with new products and new capacity.

When Combilift began 20 years ago, it was with three employees and one product: the world’s first multidirectional all-wheel drive IC engine-powered forklift. In that first year Combilift produced 18 units, 17 of which were exported.

The company has grown enormously over the two decades since and now has 550 employees and 40,000 units in operation in over 85 countries. But its success abroad hasn’t changed; some 98% of products are currently exported through its 250-strong international dealer network.

Celebration of the anniversary was combined with the opening of the new Combilift Global Headquarters. Built at a cost of €50 million, the 46,500m2 Global Headquarters and new manufacturing facility will allow Combilift to double production and create 200 new jobs in Monaghan, Ireland, over the next three years.

Four 90-metre moving assembly lines will produce a finished truck every 15 minutes. There are 60 welding bays, two plasma cutting machines, three paint lines that use sustainable water-based paints and three automatic shot blasters to cater for different-sized products, while 12,000 pallet locations ensure ample storage space for parts and components. The facility also includes a 50-seat cinema training room, 5000m² of office space and a dedicated R&D Development and Testing Centre.

But even more impressive is the factory’s sustainability credentials: 23% of its roof space is covered in skylights, enabling staff to work in natural daylight. When needed, artificial lighting is provided through 1100 LED lights with individual sensors. Solar panels supply 185kW of energy with a 1MW Biomass plant fuelled by recycled wood (pallets, etc.) to heat the spray booths and assembly area. Additionally, 110,000 litres of rain water is harvested for use throughout the facility.

Adaptable system

The new facility opening saw a major gathering of Combilift users from around the world. Combilift’s Chris Littlewood spoke with Ian Brooks from TTN about the company’s impact on Australian timber businesses, saying, “The most popular model in the timber industry would be our Combilift C4000 machine. Both Meyer and Tilling [who had representatives at the opening] utilise these machines.

“The Combi-CB is getting a lot of traction and is a versatile machine – the platform really does make a difference when moving the long loads in the timber industry.

“And the Straddle Carrier [Combi SC] is generating a lot of interest in the timber industry as it improves speed of loading, allows prestaging and improves safety by removing the need for any operator to access the back of a truck.”

Combilift’s popularity is easily understandable: its products require narrower aisle widths than similar systems, can have mast heights varied to suit customer needs, have improved safety due to carrying loads at lower heights, plus improved speed of truck loading, less product damage and impressive reliability. A quality manufacture is backed up by local factory-trained technicians and a wide network of back-up technicians.

Combilift’s managing director, Martin McVicar attributes much of their success to their ability to match customer needs at achievable price points thanks to mass customisation. He says, “Combilift has set the benchmark for the mass production of customised innovative products. Mass customisation is the new frontier for both the customer and the manufacturer. Increasingly customers are expecting products to be tailored to meet their needs.”

McVicar adds, “The flexibility in our new facility means that Combilift can continue to accommodate any customer request for a customised material handling solution.”

And it’s not up to the customer to provide all the engineering know-how to drive this customisation. In addition to their machinery, Combilift offers a free logistic and warehouse design service called Combi-Connect. “Our engineers proactively design, plan and produce solutions in collaboration with our customers by offering material flow analysis and 3D animations. We work with customers to produce warehouse designs to visualise the capacity potential as well as the optimum flow of materials on their site.” says McVicar.

New models

With growth, has come significant product expansion. As McVicar puts it, “We have become much more than a forklift manufacturer and are transforming the transport and logistics sector with our innovative, space-spacing products.”

The first 10 years of the company were focused on long load material handling with the multidirectional range. The second decade has seen the focus broaden to include innovative space-saving warehouse and heavy load handling products such as the Aisle Master articulated truck and the Straddle Carrier (Combi-SC).

Over the last five years, pedestrian products have joined the range, with the Combi-WR, Combi-WR4 and the Combi-CS all incorporating Combilift’s unique patented multi-positional tiller arm technology.

Two new product announcements were made on the opening day. The first was the launch of the Combi-PPT, a high-capacity powered pallet truck with lift capacities of 3000kg and 6000kg, and models with capacities of 7000-16,000kg available on request. It comes with an optional operator’s platform for stand-on or walk behind operation.

“There is a growing demand for pedestrian trucks, driven by safety concerns where customers and/or employees are in the vicinity of operating forklifts,” McVicar announced. “It is Combilift’s intention to significantly expand its pedestrian forklift range as can be seen with the launch of this high-lift capacity Combilift Powered Pallet Truck (Combi-PPT).”

The second announcement was the Combi-OP, the first purpose-built order picker on the worldwide market for long products. This man-up truck features a long platform to enable the operator to access 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.

Both are set to join the suite of successful products delivered by this customer-focused brand. Happily, the site of the new manufacturing facility is a 40-hectare block, so there’s plenty of room for expansion as Combilift continues to grow.