Irish engineering leads the way in the agri-food sector
25 July 2013
Irish engineering company Dairymaster has been basking in the spotlight in recent months. Not only did CEO Dr Edmond Harty win the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2012, but he also represented Ireland at the next stage of the competition in Monte Carlo last month – the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
Harty, who is also technical director of Dairymaster, won the Irish title last year after beating 24 other candidates on the shortlist, which had already been whittled down from 150 nominees. Dairymaster has worked hard to position itself as one of the world leaders in the development and manufacture of labour saving, automated devices for the global dairy industry.
“When you go to events like the World Entrepreneur of the Year, you end up measuring yourself against the competition,” explained Harty. “What we found was that Irish engineering technology and agriculture is of the highest standard in the world. We were competing against organisations from 48 other countries, all of whom had won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in their own countries. None of them were producing solutions that made better use of engineering technology than we do, no matter what industry they were part of.”
For Harty, one of the bonuses of being part of the competition was the chance to meet a number of high profile and influential people, including former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. “What I found interesting was that he shared our concerns about food production,” he commented. “His position means that he’s acutely aware of the potential problems we face with regard to security of supply
Harty pointed out that the world’s population was growing by 200,000 every month. “We must take cognisance of our carbon footprint when designing equipment to ensure that it’s energy efficient. Ireland is strong in agriculture, so there are real opportunities for Irish companies in this area.
“Before I went to the World Entrepreneur of the Year competition, I said that it was an honour to represent my country at the competition, and it was,” he continued. “But it was so much more – we got to build a huge network of contacts and we were interviewed by the world’s press. The informal feedback we got was that we were serious contenders. They never announce any ranking beyond the winner, but it was clear from the reactions of judges and media that we came very close. We were in the mix right up to the very end.”
Dairymaster is based in Ballinoe, Causeway, Co Kerry, as well as having operations in the US and UK. However, it carries out all of its manufacturing, research and development in Kerry, rather than outsource them. This is designed to nurture the innovation that has allowed the company to compete against much larger opposition.
Dairymaster employs 300 people in Kerry – with 20 involved in research and development – and 35 staff in its overseas operations. Some 75% of production is exported to wholesale and retail customers in over 40 countries including the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Iran.
The company was established by Ned Harty in 1968. His son, the current CEO, completed a degree in mechanical engineering in the University of Limerick. Edmond Harty joined the family business in 1998 while studying for his PhD in University College Dublin under senior lecturer Dr Patrick Grace, in the UCD School of Biosystems Engineering. True to his roots, his PhD focused on the area of milking performance in dairy farming, entitled ‘The measurement and modelling of liner behaviour and the influence of milking cluster design’.
While completing his PhD, Harty developed a new method for the evaluation of milking units by measuring performance under flow conditions. This research has resulted in the test methods being adopted into the international standards for performance measurement of machine milking.
The company maintains a strong focus on in-house R&D, manufacturing and the application of advancements in engineering technology. “This has always been core to the business’ international success, and it has enabled the company to be at the cutting edge of product innovation while retaining jobs locally – that’s very important to us,” according to Harty.
“Because we don’t outsource, we can develop and manufacture more efficiently – we don’t depend on anyone else or wait around for them to complete a step in the process. We have full control by building capability for different technologies in house. This gives us a competitive advantage because we can tweak and tailor to our own specific needs.
“It also means we have a cohesive team that has a full understanding of the production process. Staff on the electronics side of things, for example, can see the products they worked on manufactured and completed.”
The company’s product range now encompasses five key areas: milking equipment; automated feeding systems; hydraulic manure scrapers; cow fertility monitors; and milk-cooling tanks. Dairymaster’s milking equipment milks each cow an average of one minute faster than the competition and delivers 5% more yield in scientific trials. In turn, this superior milk-out, natural milking and a focus on automation allow the dairy farmer to make smarter management decisions.
The range of automated feeding systems identifies each animal via a chip in the cow’s ear tag and its Smart Feeder System has been recently developed to provide custom feeding to cows during the ‘dry period’ coming up to calving. Connection to the cloud allows remote monitoring of the farm, which ensures the correct allocation of energy and minerals within the animal’s feed and this subsequently results in fewer health issues for the dairy herd and improved milk yields.
Dairymaster’s hydraulic manure scrapers provide significant labour and cost-saving efficiencies to farmers. The addition of the SwiftCool milk-cooling tank to its product portfolio has provided the dairy industry with further opportunities to improve milk production performance and can even advise the farmer when milk has been collected from his farm. The milk-cooling tanks have two-way mobile connectivity between the milk tank and the farmer.
Harty’s responsibilities as the Irish Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 did not end with the trip to Monte Carlo. Last month, he was invited by competition sponsors Ernst & Young to mentor the 24 Irish finalists for the 2013 award, to pass on his experiences of leading Dairymaster and of competing against the best in the world. This week-long ‘CEO retreat’ took place between Chicago, New York City and Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.
“I wanted them to understand is that they shouldn’t try to schedule innovation,” said Harty. “If you take the Dairymaster MooMonitor, for example, the idea for it came about while I was on an aeroplane with Fergus O’Meara, our international business development manager. But what you can do, and what we actually do, is listen to customers, make sure you understand their problems and always have your eyes open to the possibilities offered by technology and research.
“That’s why we’ve developed a suite of products that allow the farmer to treat each cow individually, in terms of milking, fertility, nutrition and health, rather than just the herd as a whole. The modern-day farm is more about science than instinct these days and all of our work stems from three aims – to make farming more profitable, more enjoyable and more sustainable.”
The MooMonitor aims to tackle the problematic and costly area of herd fertility by identifying precisely when to breed the cow and start the cycle. For a cow to produce milk, she needs to have a calf. The use of nanotechnology means farmers can monitor animal behaviour on a 24-hour basis to ensure they do not miss out on a ‘heat’ – missing a single ‘heat’ typically costs a farmer €250 for each cow.
This close monitoring also allows those challenged cows to be identified at the earliest possible stage. A complementary smartphone app has also been developed, which allows the system to be viewed remotely.
FUTURE OF ENGINEERING
Harty is optimistic about the future of engineering in Ireland today, but advises that combining skills is the way forward. “It’s like making a cake,” he explained. “All the ingredients have to be combined properly for the best results. For the engineering sector – especially manufacturing – that means there must be more crossover between mechanical and technical know-how and electronics and software. For example, in Dairymaster products, we take automotive technology and apply it to agriculture.
“Ireland has so much knowledge of agriculture and we have a real opportunity to exploit this and become world leaders in agri-food by combing our historical know-how with electronic and manufacturing engineering expertise. With this approach, we’ll be able to offer unique and innovative products to the world market. We have higher labour costs in Ireland and that’s not set to change, so we have to differentiate ourselves and offer better, more efficient products – not necessarily cheaper.”
His final advice is that companies should look to the international market, rather than depending on the home market alone – use your knowledge to identify whether your activities are relevant to the world market.
“For us, our area of expertise was agriculture and so we looked to develop products that solved problems for farmers around the world. I believe that Ireland can compete internationally when it come to manufacturing. The key to success is to identify a universal need in your own field of expertise,” Harty concluded.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2013/07/25/irish-engineering-leads-the-way-in-the-agri-food-sector/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Dr-Edmond-Harty-and-David-Fleming-Design-Department-Rapid-prototyping-using-3D-printing-1024x682.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Dr-Edmond-Harty-and-David-Fleming-Design-Department-Rapid-prototyping-using-3D-printing-300x300.jpgMechagriculture,electronics,manufacturing