This past April, my wife and I landed in Dublin and were immediately faced with the most horrific material handling situation imaginable: Somehow, the baggage handlers at Chicago
O’Hare International failed to put my wife’s luggage
on the Aer Lingus flight to Ireland.
After more than seven hours in the air, losing five
hours to the time zone change, and another one
groggily shuffling through customs, finding out most
of her amenities and outfits hadn’t joined us didn’t
do much to change my wife’s already low opinion of
travel and flying. And it certainly wasn’t a good first
impression for the Emerald Isle—from which both our
families emigrated. So much for the luck of the Irish.
Jet lag and sleep deprivation clouded our
thoughts as thoroughly as the gloomy shroud
perpetually covering this craggy island.
Then something amazing happened. I spotted a big
sign for Combilift, the forklift manufacturer I was set
to tour the next week. A chipper young man wearing
a button-down shirt with the company logo greeted
me as I approached the sign. (I don’t believe he said
“Top o’ the morning to ya,’” but I may have to him.)
He was expecting me and seemed very concerned
over our suitcase ordeal, offering to have someone
deliver the bag to our hotel if it ever arrived. The airport was going to do that, but the gesture was appre-
ciated. Over the next few days, the company would be
receiving distributors, customers, and several other
journalists for the $58 million facility’s christening,
so worrying about one writer’s wife’s bag shouldn’t
even register on their list of concerns. He then set
up a taxi to take us to our hotel, also unnecessary
At this point, you are fully within reason to wonder what this has to do with anything. I should just
chalk it up to a foreign company trying to make a
good impression on a trade journalist, or maybe it
was one kind Irish soul who took pity on two cranky,
That’s what I thought, until the next week, when
I met several American Combilift customers at the
welcome reception in downtown Dublin and the
plant walkthrough in County Monaghan. It turns
out, more important than any one material handling
product Combilift offers, the company’s true innovation is its eagerness to provide the perfect solution
for an industrial client’s need. So the company’s
reaction to our minor lost bag issue, it seems, was
really just muscle memory.
Each American guest at the event went on and
on about how Combilift’s versatile equipment trans-
formed their business and had a genuine rapport
with their Combilift hosts, from plant manager Mike
Nesbitt at metal building manufacturer Schulte
Building Systems in Houston (who gushed about
how Combilift’s catalog of versatile machines allows them to easily handle pipes for the oil and gas
industry), to Wes Oliver, equipment manager at RAI
Steel in Athens, Ga.
“It has changed our business model tremendously,” Oliver told the room full of press.
In 2011, RAI had a big job with Caterpillar, involving “tons and tons of steel,” one of many big
machinery customers that also includes Boeing
and Lockheed Martin. They had a short time to
move three steel beams over the weekend, and
a distributor brought in two Combilift Straddle
Carriers, massive 20-ton lifters that roll over a
shipping container or long load and pull them up
within the frame. Because of the stability, they
can lift 30 tons.
For Oliver, who was used to overhead cranes,
the design was disconcerting.
“It was like witchcraft or something,” Oliver says.
“You press a button and it’s going sideways.”
After the two machines completed the job, Oliver
became a believer.
“I don’t care what they cost; we’re buying them,”
Oliver recalls saying.
Story and photos by John Hitch
Niche Manufacturer Turns Up
Charm & Performance
A balanced approach of solid, lean manufacturing and gregarious customer service allows
Ireland-based forklift maker Combilift to go a long way in long-load material handling.
The Aisle Master can ft in 6-ft. throughways, allowing for tighter rack
confgurations and more storage and production space.