Moving product can be a difficult feat. Large, long or awkward loads can present further challenges for companies. For many reasons, the safety and efficiency of transporting products should be of major concern for companies in a variety of industries. I had the pleasure of learning about a company offering innovative, customizable forklift and lifting products unlike any others.
Combilift, a specialized forklift company based out of Monaghan, Ireland, recently celebrated 20 years of providing revolutionary product transportation equipment with the grand opening of its brand new, 50 million euro global headquarters and production facility. The 500,000-square-foot facility sits on an over 100-acre site, providing the vast opportunity to grow in the future.
Destined to Innovate
Combilift was started in 1998 by Martin McVicar, Managing Director, and Robert Moffett, Technical Director. The name Moffett may be familiar, as the name is synonymous with the well-known and highly utilized “Moffett Mounty” truck-mounted forklifts designed by the Moffett family company. McVicar, a young prodigy, became the Moffett Engineering Chief Engineer even before turning 20 years old. After the sale of Moffett Engineering, McVicar and Moffett, two brilliant and accomplished engineers, joined forces to create the world’s first internal combustion engine-powered, all-wheel drive, multidirectional forklift — the Combilift C4000.
Within the first year of operation, the Irish company produced 18 units, 17 of which were shipped to other countries. In the years that followed, Combilift grew in popularity around the world. In fact, 98 percent of the products produced by Combilift are exported to other nations. In the last five years, the company has more than doubled and now has over 40,000 unit in operation in over 85 countries, including the U.S.
“As a company, Combilift has always focused on a number of niche market segments and has a proven track record of launching one to two new products annually,” says McVicar. “In the first 10 years, Combilift revolutionized the handling of long materials, as it allowed customers to handle long products in less space more safely.” The company has come a far way in its 20 years. Now offering a variety of forklift products and equipment for various lifting needs, the utilities of the products are vast. Impressively, the company’s key focuses are on providing products that improve safety, promote efficiency and maximize space.
Products for Unique Uses
Forklifts are used for a variety of purposes. Some companies may use forklifts to move product indoors, such as palettes in warehouses, or outdoors, including timber or steel around work yards. Forklifts can also be used to transport or lift people — to pick a product from a high warehouse shelf, for instance. I’ve mentioned only a few uses; the utility of these products is actually quite diverse.
Most forklift companies, design products with a general use in mind. One of Combilift’s most unique and useful attributes is its ability and propensity to customize as needed to meet the needs of their customers.
Customization allows Combilift to produce products that have specialized uses, designed to accommodate the customer’s specific needs. McVicar explains, “Combilift has set the benchmark for the mass production of customized, innovative products. Mass customization is the new frontier for both the customer and the manufacturer, as customers are increasingly expecting products to be tailored to their requirements. We listen to and take feedback on board from our customers and dealers to identify solutions that best match their individual specific needs.
“There are over 200 manufacturers of forklift trucks worldwide. And for Combilift, when myself and Robert established the business 20 years ago, we knew we could never make a business trade in Ireland to compete with the big brand names. Our intention is not to get into the high-volume production of forklift trucks. Our business is very much geared on developing innovative forklift trucks that are focused on a niche market. And with focus on the niche market, we want to become the number one player in whatever market segment we enter.”
If a company comes to Combilift with a specific problem in mind, the engineering team will take a look at its products to see if one can be modified to meet the customer’s needs. However, at times the company will have an opportunity to use the customer’s problem to design an entirely new product with usefulness for other/future customers. In fact, many of the new products offered by Combilift are a direct result of a design tailored to fix one customer’s problem.
“Traditional forklift manufacturers focus on high volume, mass production of the same products,” McVicar shares.
“We evolve with our clients, producing new products each year.”
Having the agility to customize and modify products to meet the needs of their niche customers is one of the company’s greatest assets.
Safety in Design
Forklifts can present a variety of safety concerns, depending on the load, the operating technique and the location, among others.
Say, for instance, the operator is transporting a long load (think steel, pipe, timber, etc.) with stacks of other materials, buildings, trucks, equipment and so forth around him as well. To transport the long product and avoid the surrounding obstructions, the operator must carry the load high to avoid hitting the objects. Carrying a high load, especially if long, can result in instability of the machine and the load. Pedestrians now have to stop their work to clear a space to avoid potential pedestrian injuries.
With this concern in mind, the company designed multidirectional forklifts, including their popular C-Series. The multidirectional forklift can go sideways as well as forward, allowing the operator to transport the product without needing to raise the load in more narrow areas. Additionally, platforms built at the base of the vehicle offer a stable location to place the load while transporting to avoid wobbling (which can occur on unstable, traditional forks) during transportation.
In addition to steered vehicles, the company offers a unique take on pedestrian forklifts. A very serious concern with this type of forklift is the possibility of an operator being pinned behind the moving forklift. The Combi-WR and Combi-WR4 both feature a multiposition tiller arm that can be moved to the side of the forklift, allowing the operator to stand in the safest position while operating the equipment.
Making visibility a focus, the company designed their Straddle Carriers (Combi-SC) and Mobile Gantry (Combi-MG) with cabins low to provide 360-degree visibility when a load is lifted (many competitors place the cabin up high).
These units can also be fitted with remote-control ability to allow for a more flexible operating experience, multiple camera location options to increase visibility further, and telescopic height movement in the frame to accommodate entrance/exit clearance limitations as well as lift the load higher if needed. The Straddle Carrier is ideal for containers and oversized loads and has a capacity of roughly 44,000 to 220,000 pounds. The Mobile Gantry is best used for long and out-of-gauge loads and has a capacity of over 88,000 pounds.
Focus on Efficiency
By nature, a safer product is more efficient. By allowing the load to be moved lower and safer, the job gets done faster. But more goes into efficiency, right? Correct. Having a product customized to the specifications of the customer’s warehouse or facility can maximize the forklift abilities to the product and space requirements. Once again, the customization comes into play here.
Complimentary, Combilift offers logistic and warehouse design features that enable companies to see the benefit that the product will bring to their business specifically.
“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 visualize the capacity potential as well as the optimum flow of materials on their site,” says McVicar.
An Eye of Space
In almost every case, optimizing space can have a positive effect on the efficiency, safety and profitability of a company. Using forklifts with space saving in mind is a game changer.
Take for instance the side tiller arm of the Combi-WR. The ability to operate the forklift from the side is not only safer for the operator but also allows aisles to be placed closer together. To help with guiding in small spaces, Combilift offers the ability to add guide rollers. The guide rollers remove the guesswork for the operator to know where to position the forklift in tight spaces. The rollers will place and keep the forklift in the right location, leaving him or her to focus on the load rather than the direction.
Using the free logistic and warehouse design function, the engineers at Combilift are often capable of making recommendations, which, coupled with their space-saving products, can increase storage and workspace enormously. This, in turn, allows companies to maximize their square footage to utilize the space most effectively.
New Facility Marks Growth
By incorporating the latest manufacturing processes, the new factory will enable Combilift to double its output in a single shift across all production lines. Four moving assembly lines produce a finished vehicle every 15 minutes. There are 60 welding bays, two plasma cutting machines, three paint lines (which use sustainable water-based paints) and three automatic shot blasters to cater to different sized products. Additionally, 12,000 pallet locations ensure ample storage space for parts and components.
Each component of the new facility was designed with increased production and efficiency in mind.
“The new factory enables us to double production and remain focused on the needs of our customers and dealers,” McVicar explains.
However, even in a growth stage, Combilift has stayed true to their commitment to safety in the design of the new global headquarters and manufacturing facility. The facility was certified for international quality and safety management standards and was awarded the ISO 9001, the international standard for Quality Management System (QMS); ISO 14001, the international standard for Environmental Management System (EMS); and OHSAS 18001, the international applied British standard of Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series.
Innovation at the Forefront
The company ensures innovation is always at the forefront of its goals. Amazingly, seven percent of its annual turnover is invested in research and development (R&D) to enhance its customization capability and to maximize return on investment (ROI).
At the opening, the company displayed many brand new products, including the Combi-OP or order picker. This equipment lifts a person or people on a long platform to allow them to pick items from a top shelf, making it easier to gather products without taking down a whole pallet, removing the product and then putting the pallet back.
The Combi-PPT, or high-capacity powered pallet truck, was also revealed. The high-capacity powered truck has lift capacities of 6,600 pounds and 13,000 pounds, with models capable of even higher weight capacities of 15,000 pounds and 35,000 pounds available on request. This equipment features an optional operator’s platform using stand-on or walk-behind operation, with the patented multiposition tiller arm for increased safety.
Finally, the Combilift Container Slip Sheet (Combi-CSS) device may be the most unique of the new products displayed at the grand opening. Similar to a conveyor belt, the Slip Sheet is capable of sliding heavy, long product into containment units or truck beds without the use of a crane. A long object, such as a pipe or wind turbine, for example, can be laid on the Slip Sheet and, using a gate enclosure, the product can be slid onto the floor of the transportation unit and held there as the Slip Sheet is removed from the flooring. The brilliance of this equipment is in its simplicity and broad utility.
With these new launches and other products currently being designed, Combilift is steadfast in innovating and revolutionizing the forklift industry with products that promote safety and efficiency, while understanding the limitations and importance of valuable space.
About the Author: Lauren Guerra is the Chief Operating Officer and Editor-in-Chief of SHALE Oil & Gas Business Magazine Magazine. For editorial inquiries, please email [email protected].
Photos courtesy of Combilift and Lauren Guerra