serves semi-truck manufacturers, such as industry leader
Wabash National. Aurora has one 300,000-ft² distribution
center in Lebanon, Ind., and in 2016, wanted to expand
to cut lead times from what could be two weeks.
“The customers still expect us to have all the parts,”
says COO Brad Fulkerson. These parts are often for trailers,
and the extruded aluminum pieces can reach up to 53 feet
in length. They had previously used an overhead crane, a
bulky mover that takes up a lot of overhead room.
“The leasing of building is expensive, and we’re a
low-margin industrial distribution business,” Fulkerson
says. “We can’t afford to not run the building at or near
Space not dedicated to storage, and instead being horded
by a crane’s footprint, would not suffice for the new facilities
Fulkerson wanted to keep a third of the size of the Lebanon
site. Aurora contacted Combilift and scheduled a trip to
Ireland. Aurora’s industrial engineers worked with Com-
bilift face-to-face to discuss the material flow, storage needs
and current limitations. One problem was that the different
suppliers would package pallets in different, sometimes
“In a matter of two days, they were able to squeeze more
air out of the building,” says Fulkerson, adding that 30%
of the space was saved over the visit. “What we were able
to do in a footprint in less than 100,000 square feet was
The new DCs are in Dallas and Atlanta, with two more
planned in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
“Now the buildings are full and operating at capacity,”
Fulkerson says. “We needed every square foot that we sal-
vaged. It turned out to be an incredibly valuable trip for us.”
Aurora currently has about
15 Aisle Masters and a few
more heavy-duty C-8000 (kg)
models. He also notes that
the operators are damaging
“You’re swinging around,
not backing directly up, so
we didn’t have to over engi-
neer the width of the racks,”
Fulkerson says. “There’s
plenty of room for our Aisle
Master operators to get in
and get what they want.”
Lead time has been re-
duced from two weeks to a
day for 42% of its custom-
ers, with projections of less
than 48 hours for 90% soon. (It took more than that for
my wife’s suitcase to arrive.)
Now these benefits are becoming crystal clear.
“[Faster lead times] help all of manufacturing, and
speed up the supply chain, and take business from the
competition,” Fulkerson says.
Fulkerson did not make the recent trip to the new
Monaghan site with the other suppliers, so his final
thoughts should probably carry more weight:
“We probably would not have been able to do our
project had we not come across them and partnered
with them designing the facility and equipment at the
LEAN GREEN MANUFACTURING MACHINE
Like Ireland’s landscape, the week before my plant visit
had plenty of peaks and valleys, experiencing the genuine
local charm and beauty of Galway and the disappointing
tourist traps and lackluster cuisine of Dublin (save for a
solitary bowl of Guinness stew).
All that changed when the caravan of buses from Dublin’s swanky Gresham Hotel arrived at the Monaghan
site—a greenfield site spanning 100 acres with 11 under
the plant roof. That roof is covered in solar panels and
lined with skylights to reduce energy costs on sunny days,
a phenomenon less rare than Irish stereotypes had me
We were greeted warmly, with McVicar shaking hands
and chatting with as many guests as he could as they
poured through glass doors and into the lobby full of
old models and new awards. He proudly mentioned the
building’s “L” shape. The admin offices are in the middle,
so design engineers would have less travel time to the
production floor and R&D.
And they need all the time they can get working, not
walking, as R&D is still as big a factor as it was 20 years
ago. The company dedicates 7% of its revenue to developing
new ways to solve customer problems and improve quality.
For example, a new paint developed in-house for the
vehicles uses 74% less VOCs. It’s water-based, making
it better for the environment and easier on the human
painters and sprayers. Most importantly, it’s better for
the user if they want to leave it outside.
“If it does get scratched, the rust does not propagate
as fast,” Short says. It also won’t peel off creating bigger
gouges also doesn’t peel and stands up to 850-hour salt
Water itself is conserved via a rainwater reclamation
system for the bathrooms. And rain is definitely not in
The entire plant, which at launch produced about 9
vehicles a day, seems all about efficiency of operation
and space. It’s tightly packed with a lot of bright red and
blue boxes, dark green half-finished forklifts, and racks of
long black hydraulic hoses. The assemblers are asked to
make several different versions of several different trucks,
so keeping everything close and finding them quickly is
the difference is paramount.
“The new factory enables us to double production and
remain focused on the needs of our customers and deal-
ers,” McVicar says.
The customer (and guest) service that day ended with
an unforgettable night in a temporary ballroom con-
structed in the parking lot overlooking rolling green hills
filled with dairy cows. A decent meal (finally), mixed with
traditional Irish spirits and traditional Irish music and
dance made sure all its visitors had in one night what it
took me more than a week to accomplish.
Apparantly, they really are good with small spaces.
These forklifts aren’t for every solution, McVicar
stresses, and the company has no interest in competing with major forklift manufacturers. According to the
company, there are 12 bigger. But what it does, it plans
on doing well.
“What’s very much in the Combilift DNA, we focus on
the niche markets,” McVicar says. “The segments we
enter, we are confident we can be the number one player
in five to 10 years.”
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Combilift specializes in mass customization, requiring
assembly lines fully stocked with various parts.
The Combilift chassis is composed of two thick pieces of steel welded together to
act as the forklift counterweight.