Design emphasis creates extra jobs at Dairymaster
Is Ned Harty Ireland's version of Steve Jobs? Nearly 50 years ago Ned set up shop in a shed in the corner of one of his brother's fields on the outskirts of Causeway, on north Kerry's Atlantic coast.
As the eldest son, Michael was given the farm, while Ned was expected to carve out a future for himself.
Today, along with his son Edmond, they run Dairymaster, a milking machine company that employs 300 on a sprawling 11.5-acre site in the same field.
The day I arrive, they are recruiting another 20 staff for new positions created by ambitious expansion plans.
While the company is, in theory, putting together stainless steel pipes for milking parlours, the job opportunities reveal that the company has taken the concept of extracting milk from cows way beyond the parlour.
Vets, game developers, data scientists, marketing executives with Russian are just a sample of the new positions that Ned's son Edmond is interviewing for on the day I arrive.
It is all a far cry from the day that Ned decided to try his hand at making cubicles for cows. Bending two inch tubular pipe into shapes that would create partitions for dairy cows in sheds was not exactly cutting edge, but it was Ned's passion for making things better that would see his company one day export all over the world.
"I spent my fair share of time in the milking parlour at home, and I noticed that the the teat cups on the clusters were not designed very well," explains Ned.
By simply moving the air inlet to the top of the cup, Ned created a cup that was cleaner and handled the vacuum from the milking machine better.
"It was a small, but significant change. Significant enough that every manufacturer uses that design now," claims Ned.
He only sports a little finger on his right hand, the thumb and three other fingers the casualties of an accident with a band-saw in the early days of his manufacturing career.
"I was obviously concentrating too hard on getting it right," he wryly explains.
This obsession with design and making things better is one that permeates Dairymaster – even the conference chairs in the conference room were re-designed by company staff.
The conference room is a very small component of the company's latest €6m expansion, that has seen it delve further into nano-technology to make its machines more indispensable for tomorrow's farmer.
I push Edmond on why the company hasn't outsourced more of its manufacturing to cheaper locations.
"The level of automation here helps us stay competitive. A job that might take three Indians or Chinese can be done with one person here. If can be done cheaper and to the same quality elsewhere, we'll figure out what we are doing wrong here and fix it," says Edmond.
It is noticeable that less than 10pc of the staff are non-Irish. In fact, most of the non-Irish I meet are the new recruits in the software and electronic design departments.
It is in this area, where animal behaviour monitors and mobile technology have the potential to save the farmer significant amounts of time and money that the real action will be over the next decade, when the Harty's expect to replicate the 20pc annual growth in sales that they've averaged over the last 10 years.
With 50pc growth predicted in Ireland alone over the next six years, Dairymaster's domestic sales are hitting new highs of up to two new €100,000 parlour installations a day.
But a quick stroll through the dispatch bay reveals orders destined for Japan, New Zealand, Siberia and beyond and shows just how far Ned's cubicle making enterprise has progressed.
"Choice of milking parlour is one of the most important investment decisions a dairy farmer will ever make. So if ours aren't better then we simply wouldn't have a hope of competing. They wouldn't even look at us. But they do," Ned summarises.
And with Dairymaster technology now milking cows on over 10,000 farms worldwide, they've got plenty of advocates for future expansion.