How investing in R&D keeps Abbey Machinery lean and green Agritech Insights

How investing in R&D keeps Abbey Machinery lean and greeN

Michael O’Grady, business development manager at Abbey Machinery, tells Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal how the company’s investments in R&D are helping farmers to meet environmental regulations and stay sustainable.

In 2016, Abbey Machinery opened its doors on a new purpose-built manufacturing facility that would set the company up for continued expansion over the coming years. Situated on a 30-acre site in Ireland’s County Tipperary, the 100,000 square foot facility represented a €10 million investment, a remarkable achievement for a family run business that has been manufacturing agricultural machinery for more than 70 years.

Today, the company is led by Clodagh Cavanagh, who is the fifth generation of the Cavanagh family to work in the agricultural machinery space. The Cavanagh family’s links to making agricultural machinery can be traced as far back as the 19th century.

Abbey Machinery’s investment in the manufacturing facility provided it with several new production lines but was also fitted with class leading manufacturing equipment, such as enhanced laser and plasma-cutting facilities, semi-automated robotic welding and a state-of-the-art sand blasting and paint plant. It also provided an extra 35% in warehouse capacity for Abbey’s Q Parts business, enabling increased levels of service to its global customer base.

The company’s product range is aimed to cater for the ‘total cow’, starting at the front of the cow where Abbey manufactures precision diet feeders, grass toppers and fertiliser spreaders.

For the back end of the cow, the company also produces a range of environmentally focused slurry spreading systems including tankers, muck spreaders and slurry agitators.

How Abbey Machinery stays lean

Building a new manufacturing facility allowed Abbey to intensify its focus on lean manufacturing. According to O’Grady, lean manufacturing techniques allow the company’s senior management team to critically analyse all areas of the business.

“Lean is at the core of what we do in Abbey. It has improved process flow, manufacturing time, production costs and overall manufacturing efficiencies in the business,” he says. “We’re now continuously measuring what we do in many areas of the business. If it’s not being measured, it cannot be managed,” he adds.

The longevity of Abbey Machinery is testament to its ability to remain relevant to its farmer customers but also its continued investment in developing new technologies for the farmer. Every year, the company sinks up to €0.5 million into research and development (R&D) work in order to have a continuous pipeline of new products.

Earlier this year at the FTMTA farm machinery show, Abbey showcased its new ‘Plus’ range of diet feeders, which are aimed at larger scale dairy and beef farmers, and have a capacity range of 24m3 to 30m3.

In 2017, the company launched a new door mounted band spreader, which can be retrofitted to existing slurry tankers. This new band spreader places the slurry directly onto the soil, which the company says reduces ammonia emissions, improves nitrogen retention and reduces odours during the application process.

Building strong relationships with local partners

With almost two thirds of sales coming from export markets, maintaining competitiveness in the international marketplace is essential for Abbey. The company first began exporting machinery to Northern Ireland and the UK over 30 years ago but has since developed markets in Scandinavia, Central Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and South Africa.

When exploring opportunities in new markets, Abbey works closely with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, to help to develop market entry strategies with the right local partners.

“We build strong relationships with the key players in markets by looking at local needs and establishing a footprint on the ground,” says O’Grady.

The company is seeing increased demand from farmers for precision feeding technology and low emission slurry applicators because of ever increasing environmental regulations and a drive to lower carbon emissions from farming.

“Our feeding systems can help reduce ammonia and methane emissions from the cow by mixing and chopping feed mixes in a way that allows the animal to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the feed, which minimises negative emissions,” says O’Grady.

“On the slurry side, our low emission slurry applicators can inject slurry into the soil and significantly reduce ammonia emissions. Recent trial work carried out earlier this year by Teagasc [the Irish agriculture and food development authority] highlighted a near 80% higher growth rate in grass from our vertical trailing shoe tanker versus a splash plate. This highlights a win-win for both the farmer and the environment,” he adds.

At a time when climate change is leading to major changes for farming in Europe, Abbey’s investment in developing its range of low emissions slurry applicators and diet feeders is almost certain to pay dividends in the years ahead as agricultural compliance rules and regulations evolve.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency. 1

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