Container devanning made easy


Australian company Tilling Timber has for years been in search of a better method for devanning containers of its quality wood products. Recently, by installing a Combilift Combi-CSS Container Slip-sheet system at its Melbourne site, Tilling found what it’s been looking for. 

Tilling Timber has traded for 58 years as a timber importer and distributor and has a truly national reach in delivering quality wood products wholesale to the Australian market, says Leon Quinn, National Sales & Marketing Manager for Tilling Timber. 

“Tilling distributes the SmartFrame range of engineered wood products from five distribution centres – Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth,” says Leon. “We also manufacture and distribute the Architectural range of claddings and linings, as well as FrameSmart Baltic pine framing, along with glue laminated and sheet products.”

Needless to say, quality wood products are always in demand, and customers engage Tilling because it is a renowned and trusted nation-wide wholesaler. But with supply chain disruptions coming thick and fast, it’s more important than ever that reliable and efficient materials handling equipment is in place so Tilling can quickly move products.

“We have used Combilift forklift trucks for many years,” Leon says. “We have 58 Combilift forklifts in our national fleet. We prefer Combilift because they have a proven track record of superior reliability, durability, ease of service, and – of course – they’re great people to work with.

Chris Littlewood, Country Manager Australia at Combilift, notes that the company’s relationship with Tilling is almost as old as Combilift itself. 

“While Combilift was established in 1998, we started doing business with Tilling in 2002 – the very same year we started doing business in Australia,” Chris says. “Tilling was among our first customers in Australia, and we have been working with them since the first Combilift units were brought into the country.”

Chris points out one principle that underpins Combilift’s success is the notion of “mass customisation”. 

“We manufactured almost 8000 units in 2021, and of those 90 per cent were customised,” he says. “The experience with Tilling is no different. We started out roughly 20 years ago supplying the C4000, our multi-directional four tonne unit, and since then we have customised the ‘Tilling spec’ in everything from lift capacity to colour to cabin size to speed – all to meet their unique requirements.”


One challenge on which Combilift and Tilling have been working for several years is the safe, efficient handling of containerised loads at Tilling’s five Australian sites, says Chris.

“The costs and productivity inefficiencies of either having containers unpacked port-side or having containers delivered, stored, and emptied – often by dragging loads out – has been a long-term challenge,” he notes.

Leon says that the devanning challenge became particularly acute at Tilling’s Melbourne site. 

“Until now, the Melbourne branch has used third party service providers for the devanning of our containers,” he says. “Sometimes there can be delays due to congestion, and confusion over the prioritisation of certain containers over others. Furthermore, some of our products can be damaged by the old-school devanning process – which isn’t necessarily the fault of the provider – because straps are often needed to drag out our long packs.”


It was at the opening of Combilift’s new factory in Ireland in 2018 that Tilling first saw the Combi-CSS Container Slip-sheet, then still in development. 

Once the CSS became a production unit, Chris says that it had an obvious application in helping to alleviate some of the devanning challenges with which Tilling had been battling.

“I think the CSS sits well within the overall solution we offer Tilling,” Chris says. “From destuffing containers, to handling of raw timber, to handling of full truck loads leaving Tilling sites – we look to partner with Tilling at every point of their supply chain in Australia.”

The Combi-CSS Container Slip-sheet is specifically designed for fast loading of freight containers with a maximum capacity of 30,000 kg. Able to complete a full container load cycle in under six minutes, the CSS is a simple-to-operate, cost-effective container loading solution that is faster and safer – whether handling rough sawn timber, flat-packed furniture, or panel products.

“The CSS means that trucks can be turned around within minutes, without containers needing to be taken from the back of a truck – removing the need for swing lifters – and without the need for fork slippers or dragging loads out of containers,” Chris says. “No personnel are required to enter a container. Once the container is unloaded forklifts can quickly move to warehouse the load.”

Combilift works hard to develop new products that solve customer pain points while being as simple and user-friendly as possible.

A few months back Tilling installed the first Combi-CSS Container Slip-sheet, at its Melbourne branch. Leon says  it’s been a great success.

“In terms of efficiency, from the outset we were able to achieve unloading in six minutes,” he says. “Not only are we now able to unload a container in six minutes, but the CSS also prevents damage by sliding beneath the bottom bearers and pulling the whole load out at once – plus it’s improved the health and safety of our site. We have already ordered a second and third for our Sydney and Brisbane branches.”


Combilift works hard to develop new products that solve customer pain points while being as simple and user-friendly as possible. Indeed, Combilift spends seven per cent of its turnover on R&D. The CSS is one of the fruits of Combilift’s heavy emphasis on and investment in meeting customer needs. 

“The CSS, like all Combilift products, came from a felt customer need,” says Chris. “The need was efficiency, and the CSS provides that. Traditionally, stuffing and destuffing containers can be a long, labour-intensive job, involving staff entering containers – which can be dangerous. 

“The CSS solves all those problems. It unloads a 40-foot container in six minutes, and no personnel need enter the container. In fact, with the newer versions the truck driver doesn’t even have to leave his cab. And in terms of personnel, forklift operators can start putting product from a fully unpacked container away immediately – no more waiting around.”

Readers of MHD need only visit Combilift’s website and view videos of the CSS in action to see how simply, effectively, and efficiently it operates. Regardless, Chris says the container-unloading process is quite easy to describe. 

“A truck docks against the CSS using our proprietary guided locking system,” he says. “A hydraulic levelling system at the front and rear of the CSS automatically adjusts the height and pitch of the platform to perfectly align with the container.

“The CSS is itself a low free-standing platform with a dual directional motor-driven pulling mechanism that moves a 15mm Hardox steel sheet. The sheet is guided into the container and underneath the load. The sheet and a load of up to 30 tonnes are then pulled out of the container in one careful motion.”

The CSS seems so simple and effective that – like all great innovations – it seems like an obvious solution after it’s become available. But, as Chris notes, the Combi-CSS Container Slip-sheet stands alone in the market. 

“There isn’t something like this offered by anyone else,” Chris says. “There are container rollout platforms that have been around for a while, but what do you do with the platform once the cargo has been destuffed? Large companies have occasionally invested in these kinds of systems, but you need such equipment at both ends of the supply chain. It takes up valuable container space and, more importantly, container weight. 

“The Combi-CSS Container Slip-sheet is efficient, does not limit capacity, and the ROI can be surprisingly quick.”

For more information and to see the Combi-CSS in action, click here

For more information on Tilling Timber, click here

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