Feature story


Thursday, 29 April 2004 ( #155 ) - NEW YORK, NY, United States
If you're one of the thousands of forklift professionals who read Forkliftaction.com's first feature on long-load solutions (Forkliftaction.com News #153), you'll know the side-loading forklift is not a new development in the materials handling world.

While such companies as Taylor, Raymond, Hubtex, Kalmar, Linde, Baumann and Irion are household names for their "traditional" side-loading forklifts, it's the new wave of robust, paradigm-breaking, multi-directional side-loaders that has the materials handling market, and forklift buyers, talking.

Relatively new names, such as Combilift (the company is only six years old) and even Airtrax, with its omni-directional forklift concept, have charged onto the market with these new machines, which are a practical cross-breed of a conventional forklift and a side-loader.

Forkliftaction.com News chief reporter Damien Tomlinson interviewed Tommy Cadden, Combilift's US sales manager, at the NA 2004 show in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

The red-headed Irishman, who moved from the company's home in Clontibret, Ireland, to spearhead Combilift's US assault in February 2003, said the USA was the market with the most potential for success.

"The USA offers some huge opportunities for a company like ours, which is bringing something fresh and new to a very mature market," he said. "Buying habits in the US market are fuelled by the ever-decreasing amount of warehouse space companies have access to now.

"Companies want to be close to business centres in their regional areas, but city space costs money, so the appeal of machines like the Combilift is that they can use existing spaces much more efficiently than traditional forklifts."

Combilift's machine was the world's first internal combustion, four-directional, inside/outside forklift that could perform the jobs of a side-loader, a conventional forklift and a rough-terrain forklift.

The company built and moved 18 Combilifts in its first year, and this year expects to build 1,000. The company uses a network of exclusive territorial dealerships in strategic regions across the US, and a top-secret marketing strategy (Mr Cadden would not reveal details) to spread the word.

"We're plan to set up a subsidiary, Combilift Parts & Service Inc, in North Carolina this year to provide technical support and backup to our growing US customer base," Mr Cadden said.

The penetration of the Irish trucks had been pleasing, he said, giving the example of a Maryland roof truss manufacturer which replaced almost its entire fleet of counterbalance forklifts with Combilifts.

Bolton, Ontario-based Omega Lift Manufacturing Inc has been on the rough-terrain forklift scene for more than 20 years, but is the new kid on the block for multi-directional side-loaders with its 4D Multiloader, released last October.

Operations manager Greg Pannia told Forkliftaction.com News the 4D Multiloader was the company's first foray into the market, and offered many significant advantages over rival machines.

Like the Combilift, Omega Lift's machine can operate inside and outside over wet and rough terrain, and features a limited-slip traction control system that varies the amount of drive to each of the machine's three wheels in slippery or boggy conditions.

Mr Pannia said the company prided itself on its refinement of hydraulics and control systems, claiming the 4D Multiloader had 40% less hoses than the competition.

"We've certainly looked at the competition and learned a few things in developing our machine," he said. "We worked on the machine's design for about a year and a half, and have sold 48 units since launching in October."

The Multiloader is being distributed in the USA through Baumann Handling Systems, led by president Manfred Kaufmann, and is also available in South America. Agreements have been signed with distributors in Italy, Africa and Ethiopia, and the company's European rollout is planned in coming months. Asia and the Pacific regions "will have to wait a while".

Mr Pannia said all major parts were manufactured at Omega Lift's Bolton, Ontario, facility, which kept costs down and quality up. While Combilift was the world's biggest producer of that type of machine, he said "there's always room for some healthy competition".

"The 4D Multiloader is the fruition of a long period of research and development, and we're confident of its potential success. Our machine is a bit cheaper than Hubtex machines, and a little more expensive than Combilift's," he said.

Hubtex, which has for a long time built electric side-loaders for warehouse applications and side-loading trucks for the outdoors, has just released its own cross-breed variation on the Combilift platform. The Series 3050 is a multi-directional forklift available in LPG or diesel variants and able to operate inside and out.

With companies jumping on the multi-directional bandwagon, and the popularity of the machines already in the market, it is obvious this latest development in forklift technology is not going to go away quietly, or soon.

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