Forklift manufacturer invests €50m in mass customisation plant

Posted on 3 May 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Irish forklift manufacturer and material handling solutions provider, Combilift, has opened its new €50m manufacturing facility, which focuses on its unique selling proposition: customised mass production.

The forklift manufacturer has opened its new €50m manufacturing facility in Monaghan – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

Built at a cost of €50m, the new 46,500 sq. m (500,000 sq.ft) global headquarters and new manufacturing facility will allow Combilift to double production.

Martin McVicar, Combilift’s managing director, said at the opening in Monaghan: “We have employed an additional 230 people since we announced our plans for this factory 2015 and the combination of this advanced production plant and the growing skills workforce will allow us to double production within the next 5 years.”

Combilift exports 98% of its products to 85 countries through its 250-strong international dealer network. Currently, 550 people work for the manufacturer and the new employment opportunities will be for skilled technicians, design engineers, logistics and supply chain specialist and those with mechanical and electrical mechatronics skills.

Mass customisation = flexibility 

McVicar attributes the company’s rapid growth to one reason: “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.

“Forklift producers that offer customised 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.”

Labour content makes 10% of the product’s selling price

At the opening, McVicar explained why Combilift has not deployed more automated processes in its new factory: “Even though we set up a whole new plant, we set it up to serve our own accustomed manufacturing needs.

“The plant is not fully automated; it is mainly run by manual processes since we mass manufacture our products but still customise them around our clients’ needs.

“To keep that level of flexibility, we manufacture most of the parts manually. That way, we keep our strength in the market place which we don’t want to lose.”

Combilift set up a brand new welding department in its new factory - image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
Combilift set up a brand new welding department in its new factory – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

Since Combilift’s current labour content makes not more than 10% of the product’s selling price, he said, there is no reason to fully automate the shop floor.

Combilift invests 7% of its annual turnover in R&D to enhance its customisation capability and to maximise ROI for its customers.

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

“The new factory enables us to double production and remain focused on the needs of our customers and dealers. We have become much more than a forklift manufacturer and are transforming the transport and logistics sector with our innovative, space-spacing products.”

Warehouse design service & transparency

Combilift offers a free logistic and warehouse design service which enables customers to see the benefit that its products will bring to their business.

McVicar: “Our engineers proactively design, plan and produce solutions in collaboration with our customers by offering material flow analysis and 3D animations – 150 to 200 per day for our worldwide customers – which clearly illustrate the capacity potential as well as the optimum flow of materials on their side.”

Business growth requires constant innovation

In 1998, the company developed the world’s first multidirectional all-wheel drive IC engine powered forklift, and in its first year Combilift produced 18 units, 17 of which were exported in over 85 countries.

Combilift’s product portfolio has expanded way beyond its first multidirectional Combilift, with innovative product development and customisation being a cornerstone of the company’s ethos according to McVicar.

McVicar said: “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.

“In the first 10 years Combilift concentrated on the long load material handling sector. The Combilift multi-directional forklift revolutionised the handling of long materials as it allowed customers to handle long products in less space more safely.”