As factory openings and anniversary celebrations go, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.

Combilift, the inventor of the multidirectional forklift truck, the machine that has done so well in the timber products sector, invited 2,000 international visitors (dealers, customers and journalists) to the four-day opening to celebrate the €50m opening of the new Monaghan factory and its 20th anniversary in May. In addition, more than 3,000 people from the local community attended an open day.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar attended the opening, as did the UK and Australian ambassadors, while some of Ireland’s top singers, musicians and dancers entertained the multitudes under a big top erected on the factory site.

The value Combilift attaches to everyone it works with, including its own staff, was demonstrated in MD Martin McVicar’s speech at the celebration, in which he paid tribute to dealers, customers and staff, all of whom he said had paid an important role in the success of the company. The positive reaction he received afterwards was probably one of the best clues as to why this company has become such a success.

As one dealer confided in me at the event, not only did he rate the company’s vehicles highly but also the way it dealt with its customers. The scrum to shake Mr McVicar’s hand afterwards was a sure sign that the company’s ceaseless, hard work has paid off and that there is a legion of Combilift enthusiasts.

New Factory

The new factory is the largest single manufacturing space under one roof in Ireland, with 46,500m2 of space (500,000ft2) situated on a 100-acre site with enough land to expand by 40% in the future.

What’s more it was all paid for by the company’s accrued profits, with some support from government agency Enterprise Ireland.

The reason for the expansion was to realise its ambitious growth plans.

“We have employed an additional 230 people since we announced our plans for this factory in 2015 and the combination of this state-of-the-art production plant and the growing skilled workforce will allow us to double production within the next five years,” said Mr McVicar.

Four 90m moving assembly lines produce a finished truck every 15min. There are 60 welding bays, two plasma cutting machines, three paint lines, three automatic shot blasters, 12,000 pallet locations, as well as a 50-seat cinema, training room, 5,000m2 of office space and a dedicated R&D development and testing centre.

Sustainability and wellness were key themes in designing the factory, with 23% of roof space covered in skylights, enabling staff to work in natural daylight. Solar panels supply 185kW of energy with a 1MW biomass plant fuelled by recycled wood to heat spraying booths and assembly areas. And 110,000 litres of rainwater are harvested for re-use.

An insight into the detailed planning and high level of in-house fabrication was given during one of the many factory tours led by sales director Anthony Rooney.

Production capacity, he explained, had already gone up from 80 vehicles a week in the old factory to 110, with a target of 145 by September and 200 targeted in 2019. More than 50 truckloads of products are dispatched each week.

All the chassis are fabricated in-house, with the majority of steel coming from Tata Steel.

Plasma cutting facilities can cut up to 100mm thick, while the new paint and shotblasting technology will allow the company to grow its business. Paints have gone from oil to 100% water-based coatings from supplier Valspar, which is now standard across all lines.


One of the key characteristics of Combilift over the years has been solving customers’ materials handling problems.

In the factory were several chassis for US customer Weyerhaeuser, fitted with rollers for a warehouse rail system. Combilift effectively designed the system for the company and it has since sold 150 trucks to the company.

“With Martin and Robert [Moffett, Combilift co-founder] the answer is always yes,” added Mr Rooney.

“If we can make five of a particular product in a week we can make a profit out of it.” Mr McVicar said the company’s growth and status was down to mass customisation. “Mass customisation is the new frontier for both the customer and the manufacturer as customers are increasingly expecting products to be tailored to their requirements.

“We listen to and take feedback on board from our customers and dealers to identify solutions that best match their individual specific needs.”

The company invests 7% of its annual turnover in R&D to improve its customisation capability and to maximise return on investment for its customers.

Walking past the R&D centre, Mr Rooney hinted at yet another Combilift innovation to come. “There are new projects on the table at the moment,” he said. “But we’re not ready for production yet.”

“The flexibility in our new facility means that we can continue to accommodate any request for a customised material handling solution,” added Mr McVicar.

“We also see ourselves as much more than a forklift manufacturer and are transforming the transport and logistics sector with our innovative, space-saving products and our services.”

New innovations that were on display in the factory included a solution to speed up the loading of loads into containers, such as hardwood. This consists of a plate system sited outside a container, which operates something like a matchbox, sliding the loads into the container.

It takes a reported 6min to load a full 40ft container with the system, while minimising damage to expensive products like hardwood. One hardwood importer is already interested in using it.

Ministerial Support

Attending the opening event was Irish minister for education and skills Richard Bruton TD.

He told invited guests that he had absolute confidence in the future with companies such as Combilift, which he likened to the calibre of well-known global companies based in Germany.

With the UK being Combilift’s largest market, Mr Bruton raised the Brexit issue, reporting solid progress in talks but said challenges still lay ahead and spoke of the need for the UK and Ireland to work together.

Picking up the Brexit issue, Mr McVicar said 52 out of its 550 employees were in Northern Ireland so the news of an agreement over employees being able to freely travel over the border was great.

Mr McVicar said getting the “Combilift” brand out there was important. “We want to be the number one player in the world.”

Since the world’s first multidirectional all-wheel drive IC engine powered forklift was developed in 1998, overall production numbers have now increased to 40,000 units in over 85 countries.

For the first 10 years it focused on the long load material handling sector and for the past 10 years it diversified its range by developing products such as the Aisle Master articulated truck and Straddle Carrier (Combi-SC). Pedestrian trucks were added five years ago.

This is a growing market, driven by safety concerns where customers and employees are in the vicinity of operating forklifts.

Combilift’s intention to expand this range can be seen with the launch of a new high lift capacity powered pallet truck called the Combi-PPT.

Another new product is the Combi-OP Order Picker, billed as the first purpose-built order picker for long products.