In 2016, Hyster Company is celebrating 35 years of manufacturing tough forklift trucks at its plant in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. To commemorate this milestone, Hyster hosted an exclusive event celebrating advances at the plant and looking to the future, with the unveiling of the new “XT series”.
“Reliable, tough, affordable forklift trucks - that was our remit in the factory back in the 1980’s,” says Alan Little, Vice President Manufacturing & Logistics EMEA, who first joined the company in 1983.
“These are design principles still built into all Hyster® products today.”
1980’s – In the beginning…
The forklift factory at Craigavon, now the largest volume forklift plant remaining in the UK, first opened in April 1981. It was built at a cost of £25 million with one objective: to manufacture a range of quality trucks that could compete in world markets.
The highly automated factory was equipped with the latest robot systems and numerically controlled cutting and milling machines. Starting with 22,000 m2 of manufacturing space and 4,000 m2 of office space, the facility has been a success story, growing to over 41,300 m2 and now employing hundreds of people.
Thousands of diesel, LPG and battery powered forklifts are manufactured each year in Craigavon, with a large percentage of these being exported through Hyster distributors to customers across Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.
However, back in the 1980s the functionality of the factory was much more limited and initially only one type of truck was produced. "In 1981, it took 10 days to produce a forklift truck here – today, that's down to four days from raw material to shipping, with increased flexibility to rapidly increase capacity to meet demand, despite producing a wide variety of truck models and configurations ” says Alan Little.
XL becomes Britain’s No1 export truck
“The world famous Hyster® H40-60 XL (2-3 tonnes capacity) forklift was the first product manufactured at Craigavon,” says David Rowell, Product Launch Manager for Hyster.
“At the time it was a popular truck aimed at companies in food and drink manufacturing and distribution. It set the standard for quality, robustness and functionality. Never before had such high quality been offered at such affordable prices.”
In the first 20 months of production, about 3000 H40-60 XL were made and it became Britain’s No1 export truck.
The company soon started to build further models at the factory including the 1.25 to 1.75 tonnes series’ S25, 30, 35 XL (cushion tyres) and H25, 30, 30 XL (pneumatic tyres) featuring power steering and fully automatic transmission as standard.
“Ease of control, especially for inexperienced drivers, was of high priority in the design,” says David.
1990’s - Investment and growth
Within 10 years after the opening, the Craigavon factory had built more than 50,000 forklift trucks. This led to further substantial investment in 1991 to expand the plant, almost doubling the workforce.
In 1995, Demand Flow Technology (DFT) was first introduced at the Craigavon plant which is used in all the Group’s manufacturing operations globally today. This pioneering system transformed the factory operations, providing the capability to produce any model, any day, based on customer demand.
The processes utilize a flexible workforce and allow product volume and mix to be adjusted based on actual sales and maximize manufacturing and financial assets by eliminating waste. As opposed to checking quality only at the end of the truck build, with DFT quality checks form an integral part of the assembly process, so quality is built in and verified at each stage.
The early 90’s saw the introduction of the XM series, which incorporated new technologies that were starting to become available.
The popular H2.00 – 3.20XM Series was designed to make light work of even the heaviest workload.
“The XM offered outstanding uptime, excellent driver comfort and high performance,” says David Rowell. “There was a fully isolated operator compartment to minimise vibrations, excellent visibility through the mast and remarkably low noise levels.”
At the time there were 14 models in the XM range and it was a clear step towards offering greater choice for customers to suit their specific applications.
2000’s - Wider customer choice and energy efficiency
2003 saw a further major investment programme to establish the plant as a world-class manufacturing centre. At the time, Alan Little, said the quality of employees had been a major factor contributing to the continued competitiveness of the Craigavon operation. “We’ve developed a very skilled and motivated workforce that has been quick to adapt to business improvement techniques and to ensure high levels of productivity.”
The Hyster Fortens® series was then brought on to the production line which has been the ‘flagship’ of the brand for the last decade, offering a wide range of choices to customers.
The range of Internal Combustion (IC) trucks provides a premium option to suit any application, with everything from the compact H1.6-2.0FTS to the H4.0 -5.5FT being produced at Craigavon for Europe.
The Fortens® range offers excellent customization options with special configurations available to match specific application needs, including those with attachment usage in the paper, manufacturing, recycling, beverage, metals or construction industry.
In 2009, Craigavon became a mixed plant for manufacturing both IC and battery products, with a major change to the layout of the plant to accommodate production of both lines.
The introduction of the XN and XNT series’ of electric forklifts in 2008 cemented Hyster as a world class provider of low energy consumption trucks, with reduced maintenance requirements, minimised operating costs and zero emissions.
Hyster now produces a varied range of electric trucks, with powerful, robust and high capacity trucks available alongside small, three-wheel electric forklifts which are the most energy efficient in their class.
“We have developed a clear understanding of how the choice of forklift can significantly affect the overall performance and cost of an operation,” says David Rowell. “It depends on what the trucks will be doing as to what the customer should choose. We are building forklifts for all types of operations, from high intensity at full capacity to intermittent light duty. Quite often the trucks can look similar, but it is what is going on inside that counts.”
No other manufacturer has such a wide choice of trucks to suit budgets and applications. In fact, there are over a dozen different types of 2.5 tonne Hyster® counterbalance trucks rolling off the Craigavon production line.
2016 - Introducing the Hyster XT Series
In April 2016 at the recent 35 Years Celebration, Hyster introduced the most recent addition to its portfolio of tough trucks to be produced at Craigavon – the Hyster® XT series. This durable range of 2.0 – 3.0 tonne capacity forklift trucks has been designed to suit a variety of everyday applications in logistics, distribution and manufacturing. Built using proven, high quality Hyster® components, the XT series offers operators a long and reliable performance at an attractive price point.
“While the robust, straightforward design and ease of service of the XT echoes the spirit of the 1981 XL truck, it benefits from recent advances in design and engineering. The addition of the XT series to the Hyster® product portfolio gives businesses even greater choice and opportunity to specify a forklift that meets their operational needs and their budget,” says David Rowell.
An award winning plant
The commitment to quality at Craigavon has been recognized with a number of different awards. In 2015, the plant achieved ISO 50001 certification for its commitment to energy efficiency and development of an energy management system (EnMS). It also received the accolade of the prestigious ROSPA Gold Award for Health and Safety.
Other recent successes include achieving the Investors in People Gold Award recognizing effective people management, receiving OHSAS 18001 accreditation for occupational health and safety, and being crowned “Best Place to Work” at The Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards 2013.
The high quality standards were also acknowledged when the Craigavon factory achieved the prestigious Northern Ireland Quality Award 2011 (EFQM).
Additionally, in 2013, Alan Little was recognised for services to Industry in Northern Ireland and was awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).
The Craigavon factory also received a visit from the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in November 2012, during which he emphasised the importance of great manufacturing operations like this to the UK’s ability to compete and succeed in what he referred to as “the global race”.
For future generations
Following all of the changes over the past 35 years, many of the staff have been working at the factory for decades. In fact, 33 of the current staff were there during the first year after the factory opened.
To celebrate 35 successful years, this year a commemorative tree is being planted at the factory, close to the location of an oak tree which was on the site before the plant was built and has been respectfully preserved.
“We are proud to celebrate 35 years of history, but equally want to sow the seeds for continued growth, sustainability and success in the future,” says Alan Little.