Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Gráinne's big idea set to save lives

Derek Casey

Derek Casey

The Tullamore Show crew are always keen for more students to take part in the inventions competition. And if the calibre of entries this year is anything like previous shows, punters looking for handy farm inventions certainly won't be disappointed.

Last year, the very worthy winner of the student invention award in Class 901 (Inventions in Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry) was 15-year-old Thurles Presentation Secondary School student Gráinne O'Dwyer.

Ms O'Dwyer, whose family run a drystock farm in Urlingford, Tipperary, came up with a really clever device that has great potential to save lives on farms. Her PTO shaft safety invention uses a PIR motion sensor to detect movement at the back of the tractor when the PTO shaft is engaged.

Once movement is detected, it automatically turns off the drive to the PTO shaft. The system has been proven on the O'Dwyer farm to work with a tractor that has electronic solenoid engagement with its pto shaft drive.

Ms O'Dwyer came up with the idea of a sensor as, through her farming background, she was well aware of the problems of pto shaft dangers on the farm and set about finding a solution that was easy to install, relatively cheap and reliable.

Throughout the design process, she received good guidance from her secondary school teacher Patricia Stapleton.

Ms O'Dwyer finally perfected the idea on St Stephen's Day 2011, with the use of her father's Massey Ferguson tractor and Rossmore slurry tanker. She sourced all of the components on the internet and was able to put the complete pto shaft safety kit together.

The Panasonic PIR unit has a sensor area of about 2m x 2m, allowing it to detect movement around both sides of the shaft.

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The unit is powered by the tractor's electric system and operates two relay switches. The first switch disengages the drive to the PTO shaft; the second must be operated from a special red button fitted in the cab (pictured) to re-engage the PTO drive. This second relay forces the driver to get back into the cab to restart the drive. Ms O'Dwyer estimates the cost of the components for the safety kit to be about €200, so it is not something that is going to break the bank. When you consider that this invention is capable of saving lives, it looks like money well spent.

Not surprisingly, Ms O'Dwyer plans to develop the idea further and she has wisely taken out a patent.

At the Tullamore Show last year she found it very useful to be able to get information on patents from the Kilkenny Patents Office (who will again have staff on hand to discuss such issues with budding inventors at this year's show).

As she is doing her Leaving Cert next year, Ms O'Dwyer has wisely opted to concentrate on finishing her studies in Thurles before she takes her invention further.

However, she is open to offers from anyone willing to market the invention for her and even though she is busy studying, her invention is already being put to practical use on her father John O'Dwyer's farm.

When I called at the O'Dwyer farm last week, Mr O' Dwyer was busy spreading slurry and he gave me a demonstration of how the farm safety device works. With the pto running, as soon as the driver (or any other person) comes within a couple of inches of the pto shaft, the shaft is immediately turned off.

So effective is the cut-off device that when the tanker is full Mr O'Dwyer can walk near the back of the tractor and the PTO will be automatically switched off, thereby saving him from having to get up into the cab to manually turn it off.

Neighbours have been flocking to the farm to see the invention and make enquiries about when the device will be available to buy.

Banks have offered finance and the Health and Safety Authority have also commended the idea.

All in all, it's easy to see how this invention has won awards wherever it has been shown, including first prize in the student section of the 2012 BT Young Scientist Awards.

For scooping that particular prize, Ms O'Dwyer won two TV sets; she gave one to her school and the other to a charity.

Clearly this level-headed lady is destined for big things in the future.

Irish Independent