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A good idea goes to market

Converting your bright idea into a commerical product takes determination, plus help from the experts, but it can be done

On his farm near Drayton, Ont., hog producer Jake Kraayenbrink has built and perfected an automatic air inflation-deflation system that reduces the soil compaction caused by heavy manure tankers. Designing the system may have been the easy part, though. The path to launching a commercial version has been a long one.

It was back in 2009 that Kraayenbrink first approached Greg Stewart, a corn specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, about his concept for a system that could inflate and deflate tanker tires from a tractor seat.

By decreasing tire pressure, Kraayenbrink figured he could increase the tire footprint by as much as 60 per cent, thereby spreading the manure tank’s weight over a greater area and reducing compaction.

Aware that the trucking industry was already using inflation-deflation systems, Kraayenbrink and Stewart sought funding from the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) to help offset the cost of developing such a system for agriculture.

Their proposal was successful, but they soon discovered that purchasing a system off the shelf in North America would not be possible.

The system used by the trucking industry was too slow to be practical for farmers. It took two minutes to deflate the tires, and given that a farmer might need to deflate a tanker’s tires three times an hour, this wasn’t going to be practical on the farm, explains Kraayenbrink.

They envisaged a new system that would respond much more rapidly, with a design that was modified specifically for farm use.

Going forward, the right doors seemed to open when needed, Kraayenbrink says. Additional funding was sought from AAC to research systems which had already been used in Europe for more than 20 years, and soon a team of three — Greg Stewart, Sam Bradshaw (an engineer with Ontario Pork) and Kraayenbrink — were on a plane.

Much was learned visiting five countries, two universities and six tanker manufacturers, as well as local farmers, says Kraayenbrink.

However, the team didn’t achieve their main goal. They had hoped to buy a European system for use here, but the stumbling block was that the manufacturers wouldn’t offer support for the North American market.

The best option then became to purchase a trucking air inflation/deflation system from Western Canada. The system worked well, but had limitations because it was developed for trucking systems and not for agriculture, says Kraayenbrink.

A local engineer, Maurice Veldhuis, and Kraayenbrink’s truck mechanic, Steve Bailey of Teviotdale, came on board to help. Armed with the knowledge gained during the European trip, and with the equipment used by the trucking industry as a starting point, Kraayenbrink and the team developed a system that could deflate the tires in less than 30 seconds.

As a farmer with years of experience hauling and spreading manure, Kraayenbrink was able to steer the development to include many practical features, including:

• The controller is easy to operate with a toggle switch that can be thrown from the tractor seat to select pre-programmed tire pressures.
• The Quick Attach design allows the operator to use the air compressor and Air Inflation/Deflation Control on multiple implements.
• An air compressor and air tanks supply the air. If the air tank doesn’t have enough air for re-inflation, the system won’t allow the operator to deflate the tires. The control unit also has a manual override system so that should the electronics fail, a valve can be moved manually, bypassing the electronics, and inflating the tires.
• A series of swivels, valves and plumbing to deliver the air supply is mounted on the exterior of the equipment and can be retrofitted to any piece of heavy machinery, including hay balers, grain buggies, tankers, air seeders and self-propelled sprayers.
• The system uses tried and proven components from the trucking industry which are 100 per cent North American-made.

In 2011, the inflation system was recognized with a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Excellence.

A typical four-wheel tanker system costs about $12,000. In addition to reducing compaction and increasing crop yields, the Automatic Air Inflation Deflation (AAID) system reduces fuel consumption and tire wear-and-tear, adds Kraayenbrink.

Three years ago, Baden, Ont. dairy farmer, Kees Hogendoorn, read about Kraayenbrink’s invention in a local farm newspaper. Hoogendoorn was in the process of purchasing a new manure tanker for his 470-head dairy farm and wanted it equipped with the Automatic Inflation Deflation System. Having immigrated from the Netherlands in 1995, Hogendoorn was already familiar with the concept. Now, based on three years of field use, Hogendoorn says he is very pleased with how the equipment functions.

From the Grainews website: Stop Sensor

Kraayenbrink has been working hard to get the word out about the system. He has had displays at several events including Soil and Crop Association Field Days, the Drayton Farm Show, Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, the Manure Expo, the Dairy Expo, the London Farm Show and the Ontario Pork Congress.

There’s been a lot of interest in the equipment, and Kraayenbrink is busy working out the details of how to mass produce the equipment. Kraayenbrink says he’s been fortunate to connect with BioEnterprise, a Guelph, Ont. non-profit company that promotes the growth of businesses engaged in agri-technologies. (BioEnterprise is supported by Growing Forward 2). If they deem your product worthy, they’ll mentor you, says Kraayenbrink.

So far, BioEnterprise has helped him develop advertising materials, apply for a patent and develop pricing for the various components and options.

While Kraayenbrink admits he’s amazed at how far his invention has come, he says it’s been a long and bumpy road. He’s put a lot of time and money into the development but he is quick to point out he hasn’t done it alone. “I’m just the face,” says Kraayenbrink, who says one of the things he enjoys is building a team. “The right people have seemed to come forward when I needed them. I look for enthusiasm, not someone who is just doing their job,” he explains. His wife and family have been important supports as well, he adds.

There were times when being a farmer was helpful. “People are excited to see a farmer doing something like this,” he says. It also allowed him to have some really practical input into the design. And although “thinking outside the box” was good at times, having professionals involved was key in making it all work.

Reflecting back on what it takes to commercialize an innovative idea, Kraayenbrink says you have to really believe in the idea.

“I’m a bit obsessive about it,” he says with a laugh.

Kraayenbrink has set up a company, AgriBrink, to market the equipment. While he will continue to farm, he sees his sons taking over more of the daily operation of the farm while he devotes more of his time to marketing and producing the inflation systems.

To find out more about the system, check out the company website.

The equipment may be eligible for funding through the Growing Forward 2 Program. Check with your local program administrator for eligibility criteria.

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Helen Lammers-Helps

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