As winners of the Farm Safety Award at the 2020 Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards, Dromone Engineering Managing Director, William Egenton, speaks to us about levelling-up the expertise in farm safety technology.
Dromone Engineering designs and manufactures bespoke coupling and hitching systems for the agricultural and construction industry. They work with OEM customers across the world such as Volvo, Kubota, AGCO (Massey Ferguson and Valtra) and Claas.
Founded by Pat McCormick in 1978, Dromone operated as a general engineering company, and throughout the 1980s became more specialised. “We focused more on the development of pick-up hitch technology and worked our way up the value chain, to the point where we moved from largely supplying farmers, to selling to dealers,” Egenton says. “Then ultimately we ended up designing the product and shipping it directly to factories.”
The company continued to build up expertise in pick-up hitch tech while simultaneously developing a name for itself within the industry. At the turn of the millennium, Egenton says they needed to change tack. “There was a big shift at that point to lower costs in manufacturing environments.”
When Egenton joined the company in 2002, working closely with the founder, he recognised the need to maintain a foothold in Ireland while continuing to remain competitive. “We diversified the product, which brought us into new industries and new geographies. We also invested in automation to make sure that we were able to operate competitively in Ireland. That went down well with our customers because we were able to maintain supply from a European base.”
Today, Dromone has a track record that speaks for itself. This year’s Farm Safety Award is the latest in a history of accolades for being one of the most innovative Irish agri-tech and agri-engineering product providers.
First launched at the LAMMA show in the UK earlier this year, the award-winning HAL (Hitched and Locked) is an electronic monitoring system that uses sensor and feedback technology to tell the operator in the cab of the tractor whether or not an attachment has been safely hitched and locked. This small but powerful system adds an added layer of safety to an operation that can have devastating consequences if incorrectly completed.
This added layer was the spark for Dromone, who spend as much time as possible in the field talking with farmers. “Through that kind of interaction, we pick up on areas that may be important. For example, in the area of safety,” he says. “The voice of the customer activity that happens in the field allows our people to get a bit of a head-start on what kind of technology should be used or adopted to enhance the product and increase the value for the customer, and the safety in this particular instance.”
Coupling these insights with the knowledge of a significant increase in tractor horsepower and speed, the HAL system was created.
Three pillars of success
The Innovation Arena award brought industry recognition, positive customer sentiment and pride to the team at Dromone, and now it’s back to business. The current focus centres around three pillars, which Egenton says Enterprise Ireland have been crucial in supporting.
Pillar one is market development; channelling energy into developing new markets and gaining new customers. This, Egenton tells us, is a multi-team effort. “We have sales, technical and product teams engaging with customers to try and get them on board, either in the development of new technology or buying existing products from us.”
The market development support from Enterprise Ireland has been central to this, Egenton says. “They have an extensive network that has allowed us to leverage entry into markets very quickly. And we have someone local who we can springboard off in terms of understanding more about the local markets.”
The second pillar is operations; leveraging the strength and importance of their people and processes. “We have a team of people working on and investing in automation. Last year, we put in new laser-cutting machines. Before that, it was automated machining centres and robotic welding. So, there’s a team working on that pillar of development for the business.”
Over the years, they have engaged with Enterprise Ireland to support operations, partaking in lean systems projects and availing of equipment supports. “EI has a programme around the development of companies like Dromone, and we benefitted greatly from that. It has transformed the company.”
The third and ever-important pillar is technology. Winning innovation awards certainly is proof of a job well done, but the job is never finished. Egenton tells us that continuing to add and increase value for customers is a priority. “We are focusing on higher-value-added; using technology, data acquisition, additive manufacturing, and the application of software like augmented reality to figure out how can we apply technology in our product that will allow customers to get increased value.”
Enterprise Ireland provides ongoing technology pillar support in the form of R&D funding. “We run several R&D programmes, supported by EI, which allow us to innovate and ultimately deliver the likes of the HAL project to the market.”
Futureproofing and being the best
The company’s future success centres around continuing to offer the best in customer solutions. Within their niche, Egenton says, it’s crucial to be the best. “We’re building on a solid platform, and it may appear very focused, but that’s the business model we have. It’s more akin to the Mittelstand model in Germany, where companies are really focused in a particular area and try to be the best at it.”