WORKING UP TO THE CHALLENGE
It would appear that the materials handling equipment sector in Ireland
learned some hard lessons from the 1980s recession, when a significant
number of dealers/distributors fell by the wayside or lost important franchises.
Today, despite the fact that we’re told this downturn is even more severe
than that of the ‘80s, the Irish forklift truck sector has risen to the challenge.
It’s true that in order to survive, hard decisions have often had to be made
in terms working conditions and contracts. But despite any slimming down
of operations, the underlying strength of the sector has become apparent.
Better management, improved efficiencies and greater support from manufacturers
have all played their part in maintaining high levels of customer support service
Today also, it’s true that customers, big and small, have an even greater appreciation
of the benefits offered of the forklift truck. The vast majority of commercial and
industrial enterprises have a need for materials handling equipment of some type.
This is because practically everything we see around us: food and drink; building and
maintenance materials; clothing and medicines; office furniture and equipment …you
name it, it’s been moved by a forklift truck at least once before it gets to the end user.
Choice of Machines
And the variety of machines available to the buyer is growing all the time. The
conventional IC-engine counterbalance forklift now comes with better specification
and, with improved technology, has become easier to operate. Electric warehouse
trucks have become highly sophisticated, providing more efficient handling and
capable of operating for longer periods on a single charge. Niche brands, such as
the articulated forklift and the 4-way directional truck, have made significant inroads
into the conventional market – giving buyers greater opportunities to satisfy their
individual handling requirements. And now the ‘hybrid forklift’ is beginning to come on
stream, heralding yet a new era in materials handling equipment.
Europe and Japan, the regions from where Ireland gets most its imported trucks, are
well-recognised as the most advanced in the area of materials handling equipment
design, R&D and production techniques.
And the forklift industry in Ireland is well up for the challenge of change: there is
probably no market in the world more ready to embrace new technologies and
equipment – with forklift importers, distributors and dealers ready and well-equipped
to offer new developments to their customers.
Training in servicing techniques and parts systems is traditionally seen as a priority
in the industry. Likewise, sales personnel generally have an excellent background
in product knowledge – an essential requirement where correct and appropriate
specifications are crucial to customers’ applications.
Almost unique in the area of heavy engineering, the Irish forklift industry has its
own highly-progressive manufacturing sector. Foremost amongst these enterprises
is Combilift of Monaghan – a company which started in 1998 as a small operation
aiming to produce a niche 4-way directional truck and now recognised as a global
brand with some 11,000 machines operating in more than 50 countries worldwide. Its
sister company, Aisle-Master, has achieved similar success with its articulated forklift
Other Irish forklift manufacturing operations include Moffett Engineering of Dundalk,
who produce a wide range of truck-mounted forklifts, and the Shannon-based
Stonehall Engineering Company, builders of a similar range of products.
The Hyster and Yale forklift brands – part of the NACCO Materials Handling Group –
have been built since 1981 in one of the most progressive manufacturing plants of its
kind in the world. This plant, located at Craigavon in Co Armagh, outstrips production
efficiencies seen at all other NACCO plants worldwide.
Fit for Purpose
As for almost all other sectors in Ireland, the last two years have been extremely
painful for forklift truck suppliers. And while we believe economic recovery is on the
way, there is no doubt a long and difficult road ahead. But it is a journey for which we
are confident that the operators in the industry are well ‘fit for purpose’.