Giving “a lift” to modular manufacturers


Modular construction offers a fast, durable, and cost-effective solution for builders and end customers alike. But for the manufacturers, modular elements can create logistical challenges and headaches. Flood Precast in Meath, Ireland, was keen to reduce the time, space, and staff needed to move finished concrete wall and floor structures from the factory floor to storage. Combilift came to the rescue with its new Swap Body Transporter (Combi-SBT) powered by a 4.5L Stage V John Deere industrial engine.

Customer-led design

Combilift, based in Monaghan, Ireland, is known for its solution-oriented, customer-led design approach. So when Flood Precast, a manufacturer of precast concrete products, came to the company with a weighty problem, the Combilift team got to work on finding a solution. 

Flood Precast was moving up to 50,000 kilograms (55 US tons) of wall panels from the factory floor to the storage area every day using a shunt truck and trailer. But this system wasn't efficient because too many finished elements remained around the factory floor for too long, slowing down production and impacting operational safety.

The Combi-SBT takes care of the heavy lifting

Combilift responded by designing the Combi-SBT with a John Deere 4.5L industrial engine. This lightweight, compact, maneuverable machine can be handled by a single operator and driven right into the warehouse. Lifting, moving, and placing heavy elements has never been easier: The operator simply steers the Combi-SBT under the deck of a swap body container and raises it using the platforms at either end of the load bed. In only 11 seconds the load is ready to be transported anywhere on site. Lowering the load is then as easy as lifting it — and the job is done!

"Swap bodies (exchangeable containers) have been around for years, but haven't been suitable for large, heavy loads such as elements for houses or bridges," saysaid Martin McVicar, Combilift CEO and co-founder. "The Combi-SBT makes it possible by offering a safer, more efficient alternative to shunt trucks, trailers, and mobile cranes." 

John Deere engine: power and reliability

Of course this sturdy powerhouse needs a reliable power source, and Combilift chose the John Deere 4.5L engine.

"We have been using John Deere engines for over two decades in our multi-directional forklifts," McVicar says. "For the Combi-SBT, which moves up to 50k of material, we selected the John Deere 4.5L for its torque and reliability."

E.P. Barrus Ltd, the John Deere engine distributor for the UK and Ireland, made some minor modifications to keep the power package as compact as possible.

"The design is very different from our forklift truck, so we needed a different cooling package. Barrus installed the cooling package and tested the pressure right here on site," McVicar says. "We also positioned the fuel tank in a different place, including piping, filters, air intake, and exhaust. Barrus helped us with this and did the final engine installation certification. We've worked with the Barrus team for more than 20 years and they have been critical in integrating new emission standards and any new designs." 

The John Deere name and support network are real advantages for Combilift and its customers as well.

"John Deere is renowned for its quality and worldwide support. We export across markets worldwide and we never have to convince customers about the engine. We can simply focus on selling our product's concept," McVicar says. "Furthermore, the John Deere name gives customers peace of mind about worldwide service. As engines involve more electronics, they feel comfortable knowing there's always a John Deere service point nearby."

Modular manufacturing: the future

The carefully placed cab of the Combi-SBT offers excellent visibility and line of sight to all areas of the machine. The three-wheel design keeps ground pressure low for moving around on hard surfaces while the rear wheels are hydrostatically driven and steered from the front to ensure excellent maneuverability.

The Combi-SBT has significantly improved Flood Precast's operations. Cycle times between casting have been reduced, and workflow has increased to 50 to 70 batches per day. While the truck and trailer combo took two men about 15 minutes per load, with the Combi-SBT, a single operator now does the job in as little as two minutes.

"The main benefits of the Combilift Swap Body Transporter are speed, safety, and storage. It's so much quicker and safer and we love it," says Tim Flood, CEO of Flood Precast.

Combilift is getting more requests for solutions to move large goods from production to storage.

"Flood Precast's Combi-SBT unit moves elements of up to 6 meters (20 feet) in length, but we can extend this easily by adjusting the wheelbase," McVicar said. "The John Deere 4.5L engine can handle longer models, too."

The Combi-SBT is the perfect fit for Flood Precast, and McVicar sees a lot of opportunity for the innovative shuttle to add value for any company in modular manufacturing, such as steel construction, bridges, timber elements, and more.

In fact, it's just the "lift" they need to take their manufacturing to new heights.

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