Lawsons Timber’s latest deliveries from Combilift are electric trucks, in line with a general move towards electric power in a number of sectors.

Lawsons Timber was one of the first UK builders’ merchants to spot the potential of Combilift’s multidirectional forklifts when the Irish handling specialist launched its original C4000 truck just over 20 years ago. As Lawsons continued to open more branches, it also augmented its fleet and now operates around 35 of these versatile, space saving machines.

Lawsons is the largest family owned independent timber and builders’ merchants in the South East and was established almost a century ago in 1921. It supplies the area with its wide ranging stock which includes fencing, timber, building and sheet materials, insulation and steel fabrication. It also offers services such as timber processing, treatments and grading, and brick matching.

Much has changed of course since the company’s infancy; horses and carts were used for customer deliveries before they were replaced by mechanical horse power, and the handling of timber was based largely around manual labour. Lawsons now runs a fleet of approximately 100 vehicles ranging in size from 3.5 tonnes to 32 tonnes from its 17 branches in and around London, including a loft lifter for the efficient high level delivery of loft packages. Forklift trucks now take the strain when it comes to offloading, lifting and manouevering stock around the premises.

Until 1999, Lawsons generally used a combination of counterbalance and sideloader models, but when John Lawson came across the C4000 at a trade fair he saw its potential for more efficient and space saving storage. Its versatility enables it to replace the other trucks, which are much less manoeuvrable, particularly for handling long products in tight spaces. The ability to work in greatly reduced aisle widths is also a major benefit for a company whose premises occupy prime land in and around the city.

Group Transport Manager David Harvey explains: “We like to be easily accessible for our clientele, and most of our branches are in built up areas such as Camden, Acton and Wandsworth, to name just a few, where expansion of sites is nigh on impossible – either due to cost issues or the density of buildings in the surrounding areas.

“We can only ‘go up not out’ with our storage facilities so packing as much stock into any given area is crucial. Being able to configure aisles to be just as wide as the depth of the Combilift trucks and going up to racking heights of 7.5 m, depending on the site in question, means we can optimise available space and also cope with growth.”

Lawsons’ Combilifts, most of which are 4t C4000 models, are not just used for long products such as 6m packs of timber weighing up to around 3t, but are universal trucks for handling plasterboard, blocks, bricks and palletised loads, within the racking as well as outside in the yard. The most recent additions to the fleet are the two C4000Es at the Merton branch and numerous STEs at the Whetstone and Camden branches. Combilift has continued to add more electric models to its portfolio over recent years and David Harvey was quick to appreciate their advantages. “We are keen to keep emissions as low as we can for the good of the environment, and also to keep noise levels to a minimum for our neighbours in residential areas, and these models tick all the boxes on both counts. This is definitely the way forward for us and our new orders in the pipeline at the Combilift factory are all electric models. Our drivers also like the quiet operation they offer.”

Speaking of drivers – and their opinion of handling equipment is not to be underrated - Matt Long, who works at the Merton branch, is full of praise for the latest addition. “The guide rollers on the truck together with guided aisle operation make it so much quicker to access the aisles and speed up picking and placing, and there’s no risk of damaging the products either. Once the guys have been trained on the Combilift they never want to drive anything else.”

“Our first Combilifts are still going strong and have thousands of hours on the clock, with just a refurb or so in the interim for some of the original models,” said David, “which is testament to their robust build and long life expectancy. We also like working with the company as the management and engineers are very open to any feedback we have, take it on board for product refinement and are adaptable, so we know we are getting machines 100% fit for the job.”

The C4000, launched in 1998, was the world’s first IC engine all-wheel drive multidirectional forklift and thousands of these have since been sold in the 85 countries that Combilift now exports to. Combilift opened its new €50 million, 46,500 sq. m. manufacturing facility and global HQ in Monaghan last year and plans to double its current annual output of 6,000 units over the next five years. The company adds at least one new model a year to its portfolio and as well as the original multidirectional range, models include pedestrian stackers and pallet trucks, articulated forklifts for narrow aisle warehouse operation, stand-on trucks and the Straddle Carrier range for handling containers and extremely oversized loads. All of these can be customised to specific customer requirements.