There’s a bit of a digital and e-commerce revolution happening in the tranquil setting of the South Downs, the home of hardwood timber specialist English Woodlands Timber. Since the start of the pandemic the company has pulled out all the stops for its online marketing activities, and as a result has achieved record sales as well as a large number of new customers.

Catering for the bespoke and high-end construction, joinery, furniture and kitchen sectors, the company is experiencing huge demand for its niche products which include boards, cladding and structural timber as well as a wide range of species such as oak, elm, ash and sweet chest-nut. Fundamental to its success is the fact that each and every item stocked is now also availa-ble to view and buy via the web shop.

Equally important however is the ability to efficiently fulfil what director Ian McNally calls the “pick, pack and dispatch” side of operations once orders have been received. For this, English Woodlands Timber (EWT) has switched to products from Irish handling specialist Combilift which have been instrumental in enabling it to keep pace with the recent 50% growth in business. Having previously used mainstream counterbalance forklifts, Ian and his team were won over by the multidirectional abilities of Combilift’s C-Series trucks when they saw one in operation at another timber supplier.

Having taken delivery of the first C4000E model in 2019, two of these 4t trucks are now in op-eration at the four acre site, together with two 2t capacity Combi-WR4 multidirectional pedestri-an stacker trucks. The latter feature Combilift’s unique patented multi-position tiller arm which enables the operator to work at the side of the unit rather than at the rear when working in narrow confines for enhanced safety. EWT’s materials handling consultants Locators supplied all the trucks and also recommended a wider than standard fork carriage of 1950mm for the WR4 models, which increases load stability when carrying 6m long packs or boards.

“What differentiates us from other suppliers is our quality and diverse range, best summed up as the choice of length, width and thickness of our products,” said Ian. “But we need to ensure that our own pick, patch and despatch procedures match the ease and efficiency with which customers can select and buy packs and individual boards. The Combilifts can handle all the varied and awkward sized boards we stock, they are nimble, manoeuvrable and allow us to work more quickly.”

The ability to move 6m lengths sideways with the C4000E trucks has done away with the need for wide aisles and access areas in the undercover warehouse, and the widths between packs stored outdoors have been more than halved - down to 3m compared to the 6-8m needed for the old two-directional counterbalance trucks. Storing most product in 4m high racking rather than block stacking has also made best use of vertical capacity and Ian reckons that at least 35% extra space has been gained in the existing footprint. This is set to increase once another Combi-WR4 is brought in for use in the machine shop.     

A further advantage of the Combilifts is their versatility, not just when it comes to lifting and moving products around inside and out, but also their ability to double up as portable work sta-tions to rest boards on whilst they are logged, numbered and photographed before being put online. Owner and MD Tom Compton is particularly impressed with the performance of the Combi-WR4s. “This one operator/one machine combination has been transformative and has improved productivity by 30-40% compared to the old trucks. In spite of their relatively small size they can easily lift packs of timber from the top bay of racking. An added bonus is that train-ing staff to use them takes just a few hours.” 

Sustainability is also a byword at the EWT woodyard, with solar panels on roofs wherever possible, charging stations for those who drive electric vehicles, chippings are used for biomass and other material is recycled into bedding for horses for example. “It’s electric power wherever possible here and nothing goes to waste,” says Ian. Electric Combilifts were therefore the ma-chines of choice, as they are emission free and are also very quiet compared to diesel machines, which is much appreciated by all on site. Due to the general move to cleaner operation in many sectors, over half of Combilifts now manufactured in the Monaghan HQ are electric powered.

Thanks to its digital offering, EWT’s customer base has expanded not only in quantity but also in geographical reach. “We used to typically sell to a radius of 20 – 30 miles but now we sell nationwide,” said Ian. “Also whereas customers generally used to come in person and look through the range with our experts, they can now browse and find exactly what they are look-ing for from the comfort of their office or their workbench. But if people want to visit us and meet the team, then of course they are always more than welcome!”

Ian sums up: “The latest digital technology and the innovative engineering from Combilift has been a winning combination which has enabled our business to expand and flourish, without having to worry about building extra space too.”