Combilift launches heavy-duty electric forktruck

by Emily Atkins

Ireland-based forklift manufacturer Combilift has unveiled an electric forklift designed for heavy-duty and outdoor operations.

According to CEO and co-founder Martin McVicar, the company is spending seven percent of revenue on research and development, with a focus on electric vehicles. The push toward electrification is part of Combilift’s strategy of offering customers a way to reduce their carbon footprint, starting from the narrow aisle operation that allows a more warehouse. More than 60 percent of the forktrucks the company makes now are electric, with three new electric models launching this year.

The Combi-XLE adds an electric powertrain to the original internal combustion-engine XL C-series truck, which was developed to address the requirements of tough working environments such as those in the timber, concrete and steel sectors. The two trucks share design features such as high ground clearance, large cushioned front and rear tires and a spacious cab, allowing smooth operation on semi rough terrain.

As with all Combilift products, it is a multidirectional forklift, and uses the company’s patented electric power system that has a separate electric motor on each of the three wheels. Each one has its own controller, which means the rotational speed of each wheel can be set independently to allow for maximum traction.

Emissions free

The lift has a five-tonne capacity while being entirely emissions free. The XLE carries an 80-volt, 700-Ah lead-acid battery. McVicar pointed out on the launch call that if you design a forklift around a lead-acid battery you can always retrofit it with a smaller lithium-ion battery at a later date, but if you try to go the other way, there won’t be room on board. McVicar also noted that the battery technology was chosen because lead-acid batteries are 98 percent recyclable, while lithium-ion battery recycling is still in its infancy.

Proof of concept

The XLE was put into use with several customers before being generally released. U.K.-based concrete pile manufacturer Roger Bullivant Limited has five of them, adopted after using Combilift’s gas-powered XL models for years.

“At our South Derbyshire precast factory, we use five multidirectional Combi-XLE trucks to transport product from the factory to storage and then to load-out for distribution nationwide,” said Dave Clement, the company’s production director.

“As we had already been using Combi units for years, the product decision was straightforward, and from a driver perspective, the operation remains essentially unchanged. The reasons to move to electric were twofold: to eliminate exhaust particulates in the factory and as part of our Group environmental plan to minimize our carbon footprint.”

At the moment, Combilift is producing one of the XLE trucks a week, but McVicar expects that orders will ramp up quickly. Oshawa, Ontario-based Velcan Forest Products, which makes prefabricated wood components for buildings, has ordered one.

If 2021 so far is an indication, Combilift looks to be on a roll. This year the company has received more than 10,000 orders – a record – and is on track to have 8,000 forklifts roll off the production line.

McVicar says they have been fortunate to have avoided the worst pandemic-related supply chain issues, but have expanded their outdoor raw materials yard by 40,000 square feet to accommodate safety stock. They will also be adding indoor warehouse space for components to build a buffer into the production cycle.

When asked about the effects of the global semiconductor chip shortage, McVicar said the simplicity of the Combilift design means they do not rely on electronics. However, he noted that just within the last couple week a supplier of remote controls for their straddle carrier informed them they would not be able to meet orders thanks to the chip shortage.