Brothers Noel and Ger Hickey from Co. Waterford invented and launched ‘Safeshaft Systems’ a couple of years ago. It is a hydraulic motor that removes the need for the PTO shaft by “supplying rotational torque to vacuum tankers”.
That’s Farming spoke to Noel Hickey about how the product has been received so far and how business started. Noel is an agricultural mechanic, and Ger is a metal fabricator who operates his own successful business in Kilmacthomas.
“I was talking to a lot of farmers coming into the yard and some of them would complain about the PTO covers breaking off” recalled Noel, “I said that there’d have to be better options out there”.
Not one to shy away from a problem, Noel decided to “have a go” at a solution. He knew a contractor that lived nearby, so he borrowed his slurry tank.
Both Noel and Ger had devised a way to attach a modular mounting frame and coupler unit. They initially experimented with welding the unit on to the drawbar to see if their idea would work.
The siblings tried as many as nine different hydraulic motors until they applied one that had adequate speed and was best suited to the job.
The system was eventually refined into a useable unit that could be retrofitted to the machinery. The Safeshaft system has the option of nine different chassis so it works with most tankers.
It works by simply inserting the vacuum pump to the unit, and use bolts to secure it into place. “There’s no welding or anything like that for the farmer, we have that already taken care of” Noel explained.
The operational levers can be put across the drawbar or placed to the side of the drawbar so that it doesn’t get in the way of the lift arms on the tractor, keeping everything safer.
The product has been rising in sales since it was first manufactured, however, there isn’t as big of an uptake here in Ireland as there is in the UK, as yet.
“For every four we sell in the UK, we sell one here in Ireland” said Noel. That may change as the siblings have sold a Safeshaft system to a large construction company – Shay Power, just last week.
The system is TAMS approved, meaning that you can get a grant on purchasing the product, but Noel is still waiting to examine the demand on this potentially life-saving idea.
The reason that Noel feels so passionately about his product because “It’s the one machine that you have to pass all the time when the PTO is going and it’s just very dangerous”. Thankfully, Noel has never been directly adversely affected by this type of farm accident, but many others have.
The idea took about ten months from conception until the brothers made their first sale. The skilful Waterford men got the help of local farmers to trial the Safeshaft in order to receive real feedback before development.
Having not attended university, Noel went straight to work with an agricultural mechanic in Killeagh, when he finished primary school at the age of 11. He spent all his weekends and evenings there, helping out throughout his years in secondary school. There was no doubt that Noel had a fondness for machines.
Sales have been progressing steadily, although Noel said that he won’t give up the day job just yet. They have high profile clients with a couple of systems in use in both Dublin Airport and Waterford County Council.
Noel said that most of their customers in the UK have attached the Safeshaft system to teleporters, and it shows the versatility of their invention.
Noel is the youngest of five siblings, Ger is the eldest; the pair work well as a team. “We’re pretty similar as people,” said Noel, who explained that there has been no clash of minds when it came to designing the SafeShaft system.
The award-winning duo have not yet finished with their innovative work; there are further ideas in the pipeline. It is still a little too early to reveal everything, although we can say that there is currently testing underway with blower-trailers.
Since the Hickey’s started selling their invention just three years ago, the business is growing from strength to strength. The future of this company it set to look quite bright.
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