Case Study: James Latham and Combilift – 20 years of partnership

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With a history stretching over 260 years, James Latham is one of the UK’s largest independent distributors of timber, panels, and decorative surfaces and operates twelve branches throughout the UK and Ireland. When it comes to materials handling and warehousing – a crucial aspect of any business to get right – it is now 20 years since Lathams ordered its first three C4000 multidirectional forklifts from Combilift for its Hemel Hempstead site, starting a partnership that continues to this day. 

Around 70 C4000 models are now in operation across all Latham branches, and according to Combilift’s Tommy Cadden over 165 trucks have been supplied in all, which have a typical lifespan of 7 years. “When we first started working with James Latham they were considering two electric 4-way reach trucks for indoor operation and two couterbalance trucks for outside use only at Hemel,” he said.

Company Director Piers F. Latham added: “We had nearly decided to go with this option, but were ideally looking for a new concept that would maximise the footprint in our depots. The combination of Combilifts and racking enabled us to go to an impressive height of 8m in narrow aisles, and the indoor/outdoor ability meant we needed fewer trucks whilst achieving optimum versatility.”

Continuous growth has led to an expansion of many of the company’s depots and therefore the ongoing need for space-saving materials handling. The Yate branch is one of a number of new facilities designed with 9m high racking to make the most of every inch of space. With a footprint of 53,000 ft² it has a current storage capacity of 7,000m³.

The ten Combilifts work constantly, offloading deliveries, putting products into racking and reloading for despatch. With their 4-tonne base capacity and lifting capability of 2 tonne to 9.4m, they handle loads which can be up to 4.5m long. They work in guided aisles of 2520mm and in some free roaming aisles set aside for the storage of 3m x 2m jumbo boards. For these larger loads, four trucks have been fitted with telescopic forks, which measure 2050mm when extended. These can lift 1900 kg at 1035 load centre to 7.8m.

Yate is the first branch to introduce electric Combilifts into its fleet following the initial LPG trucks, and all replacement models will be electric wherever possible. Depot Director Andrew Jones said: “There are numerous advantages to electric power, one of which is the quiet operation. This is appreciated by our neighbours, as we operate a 24/5 shift pattern to maximise delivery capacity.

Customer feedback has always played an important role in Combilift’s product development, and this was the case when the first trucks were planned for Hemel.

“Combilift worked with us to find customised solutions for our exact requirements, and this, together with the level of after sales service, has been key to the long and ongoing partnership,” concluded Piers.