On September 25th, 2023, Combilift, the Ireland based manufacturer of multidirectional forklifts, straddle carriers and other lifting devices, celebrated its 25th anniversary by introducing five new products and hitting a milestone of 80,000 vehicles.
Combilift, the world’s largest manufacturer of multi-directional forklifts and other lifting equipment, in September celebrated its 25th anniversary with the unveiling of five new product lines and a milestone achievement.
At an internationally attended celebratory gathering at Combilift’s plant in Monaghan, Martin McVicar, one of the equipment manufacturers two principals [the other principal Robert Moffett was unable to attend], used the opportunity to unveil to the global public three new product lines: Combi-LC Blade (designed to meet the load handling demands of large scale offshore wind manufacturers), Combi-Connect (telematics) and Combi-AGT (Autonomous Guided Forklift Truck). Two other products launched earlier in the year, the multidirectional Combi-CUBE (unveiled in Munich at LogiMAT in February 2023) and the electric Combi-CB70E (introduced at LIGNA in Hannover in May 2023) were also part of the introduced at the celebration.
As McVicar noted in his opening remarks, “We felt that we really want to emphasize what the new products were bringing to the market.”
Innovation Behind New Products
Although the five “new” products address different aspects of the lift market, they all share a common source – a sense of innovation that has been the company’s well-spring from the beginning. And the ongoing commitment to innovation is bottom-lined, as McVicar pointed out in his 25th anniversary remarks, “7% of our revenue goes into research and development.” And that investment is regularly churning out new ideas and products as in the five introduced at the anniversary celebration.
A “big” example of how R&D translates into products is the launching of the Combi-LC. Combilift in collaboration with wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa designed a purpose-built tandem of vehicles for the movement of wind turbine blades and towers through production stages and on to storage locations.
The concept is based on the deployment of two fully remote-control tractor units with low-level chassis-beds that can work in tandem as master and slave sets to adroitly move the blades that can measure up to 115 meters (377 feet) and weigh 70 tons and can travel up to 5 kilometers (10 kilometers without a load). But what really sets the Combi-LC carrier duo apart from conventional blade moving equipment is the attachment designed to securely grip the substantial cylindrical end of the blade, firmly affixed to the generator hub. In operation the “tip side” carrier unit maneuvers beneath the blade, supporting it via a hydraulic tilting table-mounted clamp toward its narrower tip. That and the multi-directional steering enables remarkable agility for moving the blades into position in the laydown area. Additionally, the Combi-LC can either be customized with a cab or work remotely.
Although until now Combilift had not specifically designed its products for the wind energy sector, the company had been delivering vehicles for onshore projects. But the Combi-LC was developed to meet the load handling demands of large scale offshore wind manufacturers with its much larger turbines and blade. Combilift expects to generate over €50 million in revenue per year in this market segment by 2026.
Another intriguing product that Combilift showcased at the anniversary event was the Combi-AGT. The Combi-AGT (Autonomous Guided Truck) is as the designation implies. It is an electric forklift that can work autonomously or has the option of working manually. It is especially adept at handling long items such as metal tubing products stored in narrow aisles. And because of automation can do so around the clock. It even can go to its own charging station on its own. Interestingly the Combi-AGT uses LIDAR technology — the same hi-tech laser based technology that is often seen on television programs mapping jungles for archaeologists — as part of its spatial positioning tech. The Combi-AGT is also designed to safely work around not only the existing infrastructure but also other vehicles and people.
Although the Combi-AGT highlights the autonomous operational qualities having a manual driving option rounds out the truck’s capabilities.
Although it isn’t a “wheeled” product, Combi-Connect, a proprietary telematics system, provides a state-of-the-art solution to fleet management. According to McVicar, Combi-Connect is available on any model and is a logical extension of Combilift’s doctrine on data-sharing. As McVicar explains data handling, “We’re very transparent…some manufacturers keep a lot of data to themselves and they’re not sharing the information. We feel if we share [data], it accelerates product evolution. By utilizing GPS, sensors, and data from the truck’s engine Combi-Connect creates a unified fleet management system to monitor Combilift vehicles in real time. And like everything else in the Combilift product portfolio the telematics are customizable, so that the customer can concentrate on answering the management questions they feel are most important.
According to McVicar, the Combi-CUBE had a little story behind the moniker, as he explained, “Now, you might wonder why we call it the Combi-CUBE. The reason we call it that name, it's such a compact unit, it's almost a cube in shape, it's the same length and width…” And of course, conveniently the “E” also stands for electric. The Combi-CUBE (which the writer had a chance to drive) is a new electric model that packs a number of new design features as well as a number of innovative approaches to addressing driver comfort.
The principal feature is the “Dynamic 360 Steering” that enables seamless direction change – that enables the Combi-CUBE to live up to its billing as the most maneuverable counterbalance forklift out there. From the operator’s perspective, the most novel attribute of the Combi-CUBE is the swivel seat. The seat moves with selected direction 15 degrees left or right in keeping with the direction of travel. This saves a lot of neck strain on the driver and along with the integrated joystick style control makes it easy to control or really glide from position to position. And if you ever wanted to see just how maneuverable a Combi-CUBE is on the shop floor, please watch the video of two Combi-CUBEs dancing below.
Although the Combi-CSS wasn’t exactly “new”, it is hard to ignore when talking about innovation. The Combi-CSS, also called the Combi-Slider, might be as unique an invention for supply chain cargo handling as the ocean container was over a half century ago. The Combi-CSS can load (or unload) a 40-foot container in as little as six minutes. The loads are placed on the slider and slide into the container with the slider then being withdrawn – similar to the old magic trick of pulling a tablecloth out from a table with the place settings remaining fixed. While it is easy to see how the system works for homogeneous loads of lumber or steel products the Combi-CSS handles mixed freight just as easily. And with a 30,000 kg (33 tons) max load capacity it is also load-efficient.
Finding the Right Niche
Virtually all of Combilift’s products are customizable, it is an intricate part of the company’s operating philosophy and is part of the ongoing collaboration that the company shares with its customers in product-creation.
McVicar in his opening remarks outlined this when he said, “We always focus on niche markets where we [can] truly become a number one player. … as a company, we're not in the business of making conventional forklifts. We want to build and design unique vehicles that bring real solutions for our market segment and become the dominant player in the market segment.”
And as the unveiled new products attest, Combilift’s adept at finding the right niche when it comes to the lifting market.