Martin McVicar, CEO and Co-Founder of Combilift shares how the Irish company’s newly-released Aisle Master-OP uses customer-led innovation to stay ahead of the curve in the global warehousing sector.
“Combilift as a company doesn’t manufacture conventional forklifts – that’s not our forte,” Martin McVicar, CEO and Co-Founder of Combilift says. “Safety is at the forefront of every Combilift innovation. That, and listening to what our customers actually need is what differentiates us. We invest heavily in R&D – 7 per cent of our turnover in fact – and we’re not blinkered by what other companies are doing, we’re just interested in solving the issues that our customers have raised with us.”
Customer feedback has heavily influenced the latest release from Combilift – the pioneering Aisle Master-OP (AME-OP). Namely, the design allows an operator to exit from both sides and hop on and off quickly with its low-to-ground platform step.
“It’s a major innovation in the warehousing sector,” says Martin. “This feature is exclusive to the design of the AME-OP and comes out of direct feedback from our customers which was a desire for improved ease of access with order picking.”
The new AME-OP combines the advantages of a narrow aisle articulated forklift with an order picker and is well-suited to manufacturing warehouse applications. It’s a patented variation of the Aisle Master – a forklift designed to work in very narrow aisles of only 1.6 metres – which has shown to increase storage capacity in warehouses by 50 per cent through the double racking of rows.
“Customers already using the Aisle Master for space saving, storage and efficiency in their warehouse asked if we could redevelop the Aisle Master to meet their ever-growing demand for order picking customised orders”, says Martin. “And the versatility to use the one Aisle Master for multiple applications – narrow aisle operation, truck to rack handling, bulk picking and item order picking – will no doubt result in strong demand for this new product in Australia.”
In fact, Australia has been a key growth market for the Irish manufacturer. Sales in the antipodes have increased by around 20 per cent each year for the past 3 years, even in 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19
Martin partly ascribes this to Combilift’s safety-first approach – a priority that resonates with Australian manufacturers.
“From our experience with customers in Australia, I’d say that their priority for safety would be the highest that we deal with of any market around the world,” he says. “The top three markets in the world where safety ranks the highest are in the US, UK and Australia, but Australia stands out as a country that takes a pragmatic approach to safety in the workplace – Australians really make it happen.”
To illustrate his point, Martin makes mention of Combilift’s first purpose-built pedestrian stacker, the Combi-WR, which was prompted by a request from Australia’s iconic DIY store, Bunnings. It epitomises the confluence between customer-feedback and Combilift’s commitment to developing products within a safety-first, space-saving vertical.
“They challenged us to make a pedestrian forklift that would be safer for their operators and customers – especially as customers are walking and shopping in the same warehouse space as the forklifts,” says Martin. “This encouraged us to develop the Combilift Walkie Reach, which is unique in that the operator stands to the side of the vehicle, not behind the vehicle which would ordinarily put them in the ‘crush zone’. This improves their visibility and reduces the risk of incidents in confined spaces.”
Likewise, the AME-OP is the result of Research and Development (R&D) carried out by the company in 2019 and 2020. Its key feature is the step-through operator compartment which has design copyright protection across multiple markets worldwide. The low floor height of just 280mm is an exclusive feature, enabling single step access from both sides of the truck. This is much faster for order picking when compared to an operator having to get up from a seated position and exit from only one side.
Importantly, the AME-OP has all the advantages of the conventional Aisle Master, such as being able to work indoors and outdoors, for loading or offloading and for stock replenishment at other times when order picking is complete. It is also available in a number of variants with lift capacities ranging from 1,500 to 2,500kg, lift heights of up to 12.1m and the ability to operate in very narrow aisles of 1,650mm.
Additional features include a patented chain steering system that allows the truck to articulate more than 205 degrees, a programmable joystick which enables the operator to adjust hydraulics and traction, and a sensor system which detects when the operator steps off the truck to order pick and automatically engages the parking brake.
The AME-OP is now a Combilift production unit and the company anticipates that it will constitute a significant portion of Aisle Master unit sales going forward. One of Combilift’s customers in New Zealand, Sorted Logistics, have already put in an order for eight AME-OP and have been a vital part of the trialling process.
“Before we officially launch any new model, Combilift carry out extensive field testing on customer’s sites, this was the case with the Aisle Master-OP”, says Martin. “Sorted Logistics have been invaluable in providing us input on the new product and its this type of input that continually allows us to improve and cater to the market. We anticipate a strong demand for AME-OP – I project 300 units this year alone.”