Mass customization gives materials handling factory an edge
Forklift manufacturer and materials handling solutions provider Combilift officially opened its global headquarters and manufacturing facility in Monaghan, Ireland, to customers, media and dignitaries, including Kevin Vickers, Ambassador of Canada.
Celebrating two decades in business, the privately held firm has carved its niche as a forklift manufacturer known for safely handling long and bulky products in less space and for narrow-aisle warehouse applications.
The new $60-million factory is a 46,500 sq. m purpose-built manufacturing operation set on a 100-acre site, which will enable Combilift to double its output in a single shift across all production lines. Four 90-metre moving assembly lines produce a finished truck every 15 minutes.
The factory boasts 60 welding bays, two plasma cutting machines, three paint lines – which use sustainable water-based paints – and three automatic shot blasters to cater for different sized products. More than 50 truckloads of finished products are dispatched to 85 countries each week. And with 12,000 pallet locations, ample storage space for parts and components has been allocated.
The Monoghan factory employs more than 550 people. Managing director Martin McVicar said that keeping labour costs within 10 per cent of its US$280-million annual revenue allows Combilift to be competitive exporting anywhere around the world.
With about 25 per cent of all sales coming from the United States and Canada, North America is the fastest growing market in the company’s portfolio and McVicar expects 36 per cent growth in 2018. Parts can be delivered overnight in North America from Combilift’s headquarters in Greensboro, NC, said Paul Short, president of the Combilift USA.
McVicar explained that the factory has been set up with very little automation. “Assembly is a manual process and that gives us great flexibility… We like to think we’re setting this plant up so that we can do mass production of customized products. And even though there is a bit more labour required, it gives us great flexibility. But we have a lot of internal backup systems – MRP, ERP, Factory Track – for tool and labour tracking materials.”
Meanwhile, a number of automated space-saving forklift trucks are planned in the pipeline as a direct response to customer requests, said McVicar. “We’re starting to develop AGV (automated guided vehicles) products… We’d like to accommodate the market with automated space-saving forklift trucks.”
McVicar explained that Combilift’s business advantage stems from having customers who expect products to be tailored to their needs. “Forklift producers that offer customized products generally produce low volume, but Combilift is setting the benchmark by offering the mass production of tailored products, resulting in a strategic advantage for our customers. Traditional forklift manufacturers focus on high-volume mass production of the same products. We evolve with our clients, producing new products each year.”
Combilift’s has come a long way since its co-founders, Robert Moffett and Martin McVicar, first launched a multidirectional all-wheel drive IC engine powered forklift in 1998. Today the company launches one to two new products annually and invests seven per cent of its annual turnover in research and development as a way to enhance its customization capability, said McVicar.
Between 2008 and 2018 the company diversified its product range by developing innovative space-saving warehouse and heavy load handling products, including the Aisle Master articulated truck and the Straddle Carrier (Combi-SC). Benefitting from Combilift’s patented multi-positional operator tiller arm technology, the company has introduced a number of unique products (Combi-WR and Combi-CS) in the pedestrian forklift market in the past five years.
Customers can also take advantage of a free logistics and warehouse design service, which allows the customer to collaborate with design engineers in visualizing a site’s capacity potential and the optimum flow of materials on a site using 3D animations.
Certified to international quality and safety management standards, the new headquarters and manufacturing facility has been awarded ISO 9001 international quality management system, ISO 14001 Environment Management and OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series.