Combilift Ltd, the Irish specialist manufacturer of the Combilift 4-way forklift range as well as other innovative products is celebrating 15 years in business in 2013. Established in 1998 by Martin McVicar and Robert Moffett, the company has achieved unparalleled growth and success on a global scale in the materials handling sector and is now acknowledged as the world leader in the market for long load handling solutions.
Before the arrival of the Combilift – the world’s first engine powered, all wheel drive multi-directional forklift, operations which needed to handle and store long loads had to rely on a combination of other types of forklifts, none of which was actually designed for their specific requirements. This not only compromised on safety procedures but was also time consuming and required large areas to be set aside for manoeuvring and storing products.
The concept of a truck that could change the direction of its wheels to move forwards, backwards and side to side at just the touch of a button changed the face of materials handling if not almost overnight then at an unmatched pace in the industry: starting with 18 Combilifts produced in 1998, over 18,000 units have since been sold and what was once seen as a niche solution for a few select applications is now an industry standard.
Martin McVicar’s business acumen was recognised in Combilift’s early days when he was named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001 before he was 30, and the company’s products and success in the export market have garnered a host of accolades: the FLTA’s one off winner of winners award for the Combi-CB model; the Innovation award for the Combi-RT and Aisle-Master colds store truck; Best Overall Exporter to Germany and most recently a Deloitte award for one of Ireland’s Best Managed Factories.
So what is the secret behind the success of this Irish company based in Monaghan and how did its range of products come to be working in 70 countries in locations as diverse as the Arctic Circle, Hawaii and the Middle East? Apart from coming up with the initial ingenious idea for the truck’s design and 4-way capabilities, Martin attributes it to a number of factors: ongoing and substantial investment in R&D, enabling at least one new model to be launched for every year of the company’s existence; the support of a worldwide network of dealerships; the willingness to listen to customers to determine actual market demand and to supply tailor made machines. “Customer feedback has been pivotal for new product development and as there is no one typical set of requirements for individual applications our production line was configured at the outset to offer a very high degree of customisation. We also use standard and readily available components so that our products can be easily maintained and serviced wherever in the world they are being used.”
The ability to handle ever longer loads with Combilift’s range has changed practices and driven the market forward in a wide number of sectors such as the timber, steel, plastics and manufacturing industries to name but a few. Materials can now be delivered and offloaded in longer sizes to cut costs and increase productivity. The availability of additional storage space allows stock such as steel to be bought in when the price is advantageous and stored for later use.
With the incorporation of the Aisle-Master articulated trucks into Combilift’s range in 2010 the company can now offer VNA solutions for pallet handling which has enabled the warehousing, 3pl, food and pharmaceutical sectors for example to benefit from maximum pallet density in any given space for lower per pallet costs and more streamlined operations all round.
As for the future: “Our strategy is to double our turnover in the coming 5 years,” says Martin. “We are seeing significant sales increases in regions we recently entered such as the Far East, Central and South America. Demand in more traditional markets for our core range as well as new models continues to remain very buoyant. We will be introducing new models below and above our current capacities of 2.5 to 25 tonnes at product launches at major trade fairs this year and we expect to produce in excess of 3,000 units in 2013.”
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