Inside Logistics

Combilift notes demand surge as economies re-open

Manufacturers looking for ways to make more space explore narrow-aisle forklifts


May 20, 2020
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Demonstrating the narrow-aisle concept at the Combilift plant. (Emily Atkins photo)

MONAGHAN, Ireland – Calls looking for quotes and solutions have doubled in the last four weeks, said Martin McVicar, managing director of Ireland-based Combilift, which manufactures narrow-aisle, specialty, and heavy-duty forklifts.

“Some customers are screaming for a quick fix,” McVicar said in a call with media.

“Demand for space has never been at such a high level, as Covid-19 is driving space constraints.”

Manufacturers are looking for ways to increase their production space in order to comply with social distancing rules as economies around the world begin to reopen after pandemic-forced shutdowns. McVicar said that manufacturers with typical production facilities are looking for ways to reduce the space allocated to storage both pre- and post-production, and those who might have been considering a narrow-aisle solution suddenly see that it could be the answer to maintaining production levels.

With 11 acres under roof, the Combilift plant is big enough to make social distancing easy. (Emily Atkins photo)

Combilift itself is adapting to the new normal, with two shifts now at its Monaghan, Ireland manufacturing plant and HQ. After three weeks closed, the company welcomed its 600 workers back with copper-wrapped door handles, hand sanitizer, thermal cameras and a switch away from thumbprint access to proximity card readers. Masks are mandatory on the production floor.

McVicar noted that the new entry process is actually more efficient than before – bypassing the thumbprint saves time, while the thermal scanner gets a temperature reading as employees pass by and sends them and HR an alert if they have a fever.

Whle the main production floor – at 11 acres – is plenty big enough to make social distancing easy, the cafeteria was not. As a result, the main, large cafeteria has been closed and eight smaller ones opened to serve employees in specific zones.

But perhaps a larger shift in operations has come about because of the pandemic preventing travel to see prospective customers. Where once the sales team would travel to see a facility and help a customer figure out their needs, not Combilift has adopted social communications tools to facilitate sales calls.

Using WhatsApp or FaceTime, prospects can make a local call and using video they walk the Combilift sales rep through the facility, showing where the pinch points are. “We just need a few screenshots to identify what we can do to help, ” McVicar said. And in less than 24 hours their in-house designers can prepare a 3D drawing of a proposed solution.

“There’s no need to book airfare, no need to rent a car,” he added. “It’s a tool to make business more efficient, now and into the future.”