Innovative designs help shape dairy industry over four decades

Article Details

24 May, 2019

New Zealand

The products Jim Pharaoh designs have helped propel the dairy milk industry in New Zealand, if not around the world.

The products Jim Pharaoh designs have helped propel the dairy milk industry in New Zealand, if not around the world.

Many of his innovative ideas have appeared at the National Fieldays over the years but it’s rare you’ll find Pharaoh at the event trumpeting his own achievements.

This is his 40th year working for Waikato Milking Systems, which evolved from Alex Harvey Industries Plastic Moulding Company in Hamilton, as it was known when Pharaoh joined in 1979.

It was one of the first companies willing to employ an in-house industrial design graduate.

Pharaoh is now product design manager for the company. The business has always been a part of Fieldays, which this year kicks off June 12-15.

“When we were a small company, we started with basically just a tent and damp sawdust on the ground. We had a caravan at the back with a pie warmer to look after the customers.

“Those were the good old days. It was a big day out for us, a chance to show our product offering, meet and greet a few people.”

Pharaoh said these days, it’s a much more professional looking set up from the company.

“The level of presentation gets better each year, being an international company, you can see the quality of the product offering. We’ve had good feedback and even won some awards for site displays both here and at other agricultural shows overseas.”

Pharaoh isn’t part of the frontline team which presents at Fieldays each year but instead he works in the background to prepare new product designs for presentation.

“I don’t meet the customers, our sales team show the products, but if I’m walking through I’ll have a chat to people.

“Farmers are always interested in new technology and what it can do for them, as long as they can justify spending the money.

“What we offer to farmers are the tools of their trade, so they see those tools as an investment to improve their operations.”

Uptake of new products can take time. Farmers are cautious and watch to see what benefits technology can deliver.

“For that reason it’s normally a few years before we start selling a product at acceptable volumes,” Pharaoh said.

One product he designed in conjunction with farmers was the Waikato 320 claw, which is a manifold device that hangs under the cow, to receive milk and carry it to the milk line.

“Plastic claws had historically been fragile. You can imagine it’s under the cow’s feet, it’s often trampled on or jumped on.

“So I designed a new one which was pretty much bullet proof. It had to be strong.”

Among the changes, he increased the wall thickness of the device from 3mm to 7mm. The top part of the device was metal, the bottom made from Polysulfone, a tough engineering plastic.

“Very few have been broken, to the point we offer a five-year warranty on the bowls. It’s an example of a product that took about three to four years for farmers to take up but now we’ve sold tens of thousands of that product, it’s very popular.”

Another product he’s proud of working on is the SmartD-TECT, a collaborative project with a science research company.

Among the benefits, the device detects udder health issues in dairy cows, by testing each quarter of the udder. Udder health issues can be detected up to four days before visual signs appear.

“There aren’t many products that can do the same job as well as it does.”

One of his more recent projects was the Electronic Milk Meter, a research and development team effort to perfect the geometry and then translate the design into a product.

The meter provides accurate real-time milking data, enabling the farmer to improve herd management decisions and long-term profitability of the herd.

“A great result in the end, and the icing on the cake was being awarded the Premier Design Award from the Plastics Institute.”

There’s a great deal of satisfaction knowing the products he’s helped design are assisting farmers to advance their businesses.

“The way milk comes out of a cow hasn’t changed but the sensing technology available now allows us to offer better tools for farmers.”

The past four decades have been a journey of discovery for the Hamilton man, who graduated from polytech in Wellington after completing a four year course in industrial design in the 1970s.

He still remembers his first day at Alex Harvey Industries (AHI), then based at Te Rapa Straight.

“I was 22 and feeling quite intimidated taking my first real step in the world.

“AHI Plastic Moulding Company was one of the biggest plastics manufacturers in the southern hemisphere, it employed about 300 people.

“It was an open plan office and I started on one of those big drawing machines with just a pencil and rubber.

“I thought I was going to be designing hi-fi gear, cool and interesting stuff like that but the first project I worked on was a Janola bottle.”

The company made lots of packaging, bottles, containers and recycling bins to name a few but the products he was most interested in were from the technical injection moulding process.

That involved injecting plastic into a mould to make specifically designed parts or products.

There were several other companies working in the same industry but AHI was the only one “dabbling” in agriculture products.

“Our collaborative work with scientists from Ruakura [ag research centre] at the time was cutting edge. They would come up with good ideas but not know how to make the product.

“So they would come to see what AHI could do. There was a concept and we would translate that into a product. So the relationship was quite powerful.”

AHI merged with Carter Holt Harvey in the 1980s which established a separate agricultural division, called InterAg. Pharaoh opted to be part of the new off-site division, which later became Waikato Milking Systems.

“That was probably the first major change for the company. I think the second major change was actually our move into this building.”

Waikato Milking Systems consolidated its operations into one building at the Northgate Business Park, just north of Hamilton in 2015, just one year before its 50th birthday.

“Leading up to that move, we had partnered up with, and then acquired, companies to improve our product offering, to the point where we were able to offer a turnkey package to farmers.

“Getting everyone on one site streamlined our work and strengthened communications.

“It meant we are able to sit around the same table at R&D meetings to approach the design and installation of products together. We’re just seeing the benefits of that now.

“I just enjoy the very talented people I work with and the result we get as a team, that still excites me and gets me out of bed each day.”