All ideas are good ideas, according to Lloyd Pearson, when it comes to new product innovation. Lloyd, along with his brother David, runs Kildare-based Pearson Milking Technology and it’s this philosophy that led to the development of the company’s awardwinning BullsEye system, which picked up first place at this year’s Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards.
In the first of a five-week innovation series supported by Enterprise Ireland, we catch up with Lloyd to learn more about the company and its innovation process.
Pearson Milking Technology is a family-run company supplying milking technology into the Irish and international dairy markets. The company was founded in 1948 by Eric Pearson, Lloyd’s grandfather. In 1978, his father Alan took over the company and, in 2018, Lloyd along with his brother David took over as directors.
In the early days, the company supplied milking buckets to dairy farmers in the area.
Since then, however, the company has grown to become a leading Irish manufacturer of milking equipment and technology. Its current products include herringbone and rotary parlours, feeding and cleaning systems and a suite of data capture and analysis services.
Lloyd explains that a guiding principle for the company from the start was to build products which last. This means using heavy-duty, hard-wearing materials as well as having the backup and service to match it.
“We have some farmers who are using our machines for 30 to 40 years,” explained Lloyd.
However, over the past decade or so, the company has made significant efforts to develop the technology of its products.
This includes both the user interface and automation of the machines but also the collection and analysis of data to assist in the management of the herd and farm.
“We’re constantly thinking of new ideas, we eat, sleep and breathe it,” explains Lloyd. Their aim is to try to understand what farmers want now and what they will want in the future and develop products for those needs.
Their team of 55 employees right across the business play an important role in this.
“We have a lot of dairy farmers in the team so they know the problems and challenges facing the sector,” explains Lloyd.
The company uses an innovation technique called stimulus mining to help identify new opportunities in the market.
Stimulus mining is a targeted research approach that drives a team to think about problems and opportunities from different perspectives. There are four types of mining which the team focuses on:
The mining techniques help to foster a culture of idea generation within the company. “We try to drive out the fear of creating new ideas, as the more ideas we have, the higher chance we have of developing a new product,” he says.
The techniques also help to quickly eliminate ideas which will not be commercially feasible as “if an idea fails fast, it fails cheap”, Lloyd remarks.
This business philosophy was central to the development of the new award-winning BullsEye technology which will be commercially available next year. The brainchild of the company’s general manager Lee Wilson, BullsEye provides real-time body condition scoring of dairy cattle based on an automated visual inspection of the fat around the pin bones of the cow, using advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence.
The early development of the BullsEye project was supported by a series of joint collaborative projects with the Technological University Dublin School of Computer Science through an Enterprise Ireland Feasibility Study and Innovation Partnership Project.
They have also partnered with Nathean Technologies to help commercialise their data analytical products and also link directly with Pearson’s in-house data scientists. Between the two companies, they developed the embeddable analytics and reporting platform for BullsEye.
Lloyd said that most of these connections were made through Enterprise Ireland and without their support, the project wouldn’t have happened.
Ireland has seen unprecedented growth in the dairy sector since the abolition of milk quotas. However, as dairy expansion slows in Ireland, Lloyd explains that they are looking to expand their presence in international markets, particularly those which are poised for growth.
He sees a lot of growth and expansion opportunities in South Asian markets. A lot of the countries in South Asia have farms where milking by hand is commonplace but they are now looking to milking parlours to save labour, explains Lloyd.
The company is set to grow the workforce by up to 30 people over the next five years as it expands its Athy facility.