Heavylift / Breakbulk
Getting better all the time
Combilift is celebrating its 20th anniversary and opening a new factory. Formerly just a small enterprise, it has become one of the largest suppliers in the forklift business today. Its ambition is to keep on growing. Here’s our report of a visit to both events.
The Irish economy is usually seen in terms of the country’s lenient tax laws and their attraction for multinational corporations. This easy tax regime is not regarded very positively by other nations, which lose tax revenue from the same multinationals that prefer Ireland, for obvious reasons. Success stories about the Irish economy are therefore welcomed, especially by politicians, who see the opportunity to show the country off in a good light, with more to offer than Google, Microsoft and the like.
Combilift is one such standout project. The company manufactures multi-directional and side-loader forklifts, reach trucks and stackers, straddle carriers as well as mobile gantries for heavy goods – and has been doing so successfully for many years now. Martin McVicar and Robert Moffett founded the firm in 1998, focusing on a specific niche, namely forklift trucks for long goods. “The first customer bought a forklift from us on the basis of a sketch,” says CEO McVicar. After that, things went very fast, with Combilift focusing on the global market right from the start. McVicar even visited potential customers during his honeymoon in the Caribbean. As a result, Combilift products can also be found in Antigua.
A new centre for EUR 50 million
Today, the company’s forklifts and other lifting machines are in operation in 85 countries, and Combilift has sold a total of 40,000 units. But McVicar and the 550 employees now on board are not satisfied with what they have achieved. At the headquarters in Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland, a new Combilift production facility has come up. The 46,000 sqm factory is the second-largest under one roof on the emerald isle. Combilift invested around EUR 50 million in the new site, and at the end of April it celebrated both the opening of the new factory as well as its 20th anniversary with a lavish party.
Warm words from ministers
As mentioned earlier, Ireland’s politicians are keen to wax lyrical about such local success stories. Therefore, both prime minister Leo Varadkar and Heather Humphreys, minister for business, enterprise and innovation, were in attendance. The latter grew up in the region and is a proud local supporter of the company. “Combilift is the best proof that you don’t have to be at home in a metropolis to achieve global success.” Varadkar also dispensed praise, and – taking a swipe at the Brexit negotiations – pointed out that many Combilift employees cross the border from Northern Ireland to get to work. It is thus imperative, in his opinion, that they continue to be allowed to come to the Republic without hindrance.
The crisis – an opportunity to prove itself
The fact that the company is celebrating its anniversary so lavishly, with around 350 guests, has not little to do with the fact that there was not much to celebrate on its tenth birthday. In 2008 the economic crisis hit Ireland with full force and Combilift also suffered. Until then, McVicar and Moffett focused mainly on side-loaders for long goods, but due to shrinking orders the company was forced to diversify. First came so-called narrow-aisle trucks, which are used in warehouses with limited space. Afterwards, Combilift increasingly relied on heavy loads for its growth, and developed gantry cranes that move goods weighing up to 35 t. In more recent years, the portfolio is being expanded with pedestrian forklifts.
With the new factory, Combilift plans to double production over the next five years and hire 200 more people. The factory has four 90 m assembly lines for the various units it produces, and deliver a finished stacker every 15 minutes. Once the new factory is in full production, Combilift wants to produce 10,000 forklifts a year.
Saudi Arabia a promising market
McVicar sees great potential in refrigerated warehouse trucks. “Our products can move in confined spaces, and there is often a shortage of space in refrigerated warehouses, due to costs.” Saudi Arabia is the special focus of the firm’s attention, the managing director explains. The country is currently expanding the number of warehousing centres there, especially for the food industry, and they all need forklift trucks. It is more than apparent that Combilift’s ambitions are as high as ever. Everything seems to be pointing towards progress between now and the next birthday. Combilift’s forklift trucks seem to be in great demand, with ever onwards and upwards growth predicted.