Keenan: the digitisation of stainless steel Agritech Insights

Keenan: the digitisation of stainless steel

From data collection to animal nutrition, a lot more is expected from farm machinery today. Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal speaks to Robbie Walker and Matt Higgins from Keenan to learn how the company is adapting to modern farming.

When you talk of bundles or a bundle offering, the first thing that usually springs to mind is a sports and entertainment package, or the latest deal from a phone and internet provider. For one Irish farm machinery company, the bundled sale has always been at the core of how it does business with farmer customers. According to Matt Higgins, general manager of Carlow-based machinery manufacturer Keenan, the company has never just sold a steel machine to farmers. Instead, the company has sought to bundle services and nutrition advice with every sale.

Keenan has always been a concept sale. This goes right back to the 1980s, when we developed the Easy Feeder machine, which was the first of its kind in Europe,” says Higgins. “We began offering nutrition support and advice to farmers alongside this machine. So it was very much a bundled product from the very early days and this has continued right through to our InTouch technology today,” he adds.

Evolution

In May 2016, the Keenan business was purchased by Alltech, the animal nutrition company privately owned by the Lyons family. Alltech’s acquisition of the business made sense as it brought a new level to the bundled offering that Keenan could sell to its customers.

According to Robbie Walker, chief executive of Keenan, there are four stages to the evolution of the Keenan business model.

“The first stage for Keenan was during the 1970s when the company sold an extremely well-engineered machine that farmers could rely on. The second stage for the company came in the 1980s, when Keenan began selling good nutritional advice alongside the machines,” says Walker.

“The third stage was combining the machine and the nutritional advice with digital technology. This gave the business much more control and improved our ability to offer advice to the farmer. Finally, the fourth stage for Keenan has been the acquisition by Alltech, which allowed us to combine the machine, the nutritional advice and digital technology with actual nutrition from Alltech,” he adds.

Looking at the wider industry, Walker says you can already see that manufacturers are needing to evolve their business model to offer customers a bundle of services alongside the physical machine.

“True innovation in a company is also about innovating your business model, which for Keenan is about combining the machine with digital and nutrition. That’s where I believe the future of Irish manufacturing is going. Irish manufacturers are going to need to bundle services along with their product in the future,” says Walker.

Keenan invests in R&D

Unsurprisingly, R&D and new product development are an important investment for Keenan. In 2017, the company announced it was appointing Michael Carbery as the its new head of innovation to focus on developing its R&D pipeline.

Keenan looks at its innovation pipeline from two sides: engineering and digital.

“On the engineering side, it’s vital we continue to innovate because any engineering company will not survive without innovation,” says Walker. “Farmers in technologically advanced countries like Germany and Denmark, where we have very strong sales, are starting to adopt robotics and technologically advanced ways of feeding. As a result, we’re having to imagine what the robotic future would look like,” he adds.

“We’re looking to collaborate with companies outside that have developed the technology we need and fast-track any new product development,” says Higgins.

“For example, the self-propelled feeder we launched in 2017 was a result of a collaboration with Storti, an Italian company. That collaboration allowed us to bring a proven product to market very quickly,” he adds.

On the digital side, it’s all about data, or more precisely, the analysis of data collected on farms. Keenan’s digital platform, InTouch, was first launched in 2015, and the company is now looking at the next stage for the software programme.

“InTouch recently went through the Pearse Lyons accelerator programme this year and that produced two new ideas for the platform,” says Walker. “This first is a second generation platform called InTouch 2.0, which is a software and hardware update for the InTouch system. The second idea is a new concept called InTouch Go, which will be an evolution of the current system,” he adds.

Lean at Keenan

Since acquiring the Keenan business in 2016, Alltech was quick to reaffirm its commitment to continuing manufacturing Keenan machines in Borris, Co. Carlow in Ireland. The company works with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, to implement lean manufacturing principles across the business in order to improve efficiencies in the plant and eliminate waste.

“Lean is something that needs to be consistently worked on in a business. It’s about standardising what people are doing, reducing inventory levels and eliminating waste in your business,” says Higgins.

Interestingly, Keenan has begun to evolve its interpretation of lean principles to how it interacts with customers.

“Lean made a big impact on the Keenan business but it was initially done on just the manufacturing process. Now, we’re looking at the customer journey and inputs to the factory,” says Walker.

“That’s basically how we receive our orders from customers, how this information is then passed through to the factory and how we place orders for parts to meet the specifications of each machine. We’re evolving lean from the engineering process to include the customer experience,” he adds.

Future

The growing focus on the carbon emissions produced from animal agriculture presents opportunities for companies like Keenan who are focussed on precision agriculture, or getting more from less. The company was recently carbon accredited by the Carbon Trust in the UK.

“Keenan machines are now recognised as a technology that can reduce carbon emissions on farms. This is certainly unique for a feeder wagon,” says Walker.

“Our technology can help farmers be more carbon efficient, meaning they can produce more milk for the same amount of feed or produce the same amount of milk but using less feed. And that includes our InTouch digital platform and our nutrition advice for animals. We’re taking a mechanical, digital and nutritional approach to reducing carbon emissions,” he adds.

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