Growing up just outside Navan in Co Meath, a young Padraig Owens quickly developed a passion for machinery and steel fabrication. In 1989, keen to pursue a career in the sector, Padraig decided to start up a general fabrication workshop.
Like most Irish manufacturers, Padraig started out manufacturing a broad range equipment as well as bespoke solutions for local farmers. One of his most successful products starting out was a grain cleaner which he went on to exhibit at the spring show in Dublin.
In the early 2000s Padraig noticed a market for small tracked dumpers given the growing popularity of mini diggers in conjunction with the building boom. Initially, he started out importing a particular brand and modifying it for the Irish market. Having felt he could make further improvements, he designed his own machine and began production in 2005, and so SlaneTrac was born.
Aside from some aesthetic tweaks, the dumpers remain largely the same today. Features include a 1,000kg carrying capacity, 1.3m tipping height and the option of a 13hp petrol engine or 16.5hp diesel engine. Business had been going well up until the economic downturn in 2008 which largely dried up the demand for such machines.
Padraig said: “We had just extended the premises before the recession hit, so it was considerable blow. We turned our hand to whatever we possibly could just to keep the workshop busy. If we weren’t refurbishing diggers we were carrying out repairs and fabrication work for local farmers.”
“We had a local farmer arrive in one day enquiring as to whether or not we could modify a finger bar tractor-mounted hedge trimmer for a mini digger. This was a major lightbulb moment for us. There was nobody with a similar attachment on the market at the time. Having the experience with diggers we knew what we were working with when it came to oil flow and pumps. It wasn’t a matter of just making brackets, the oil pump needed replacing to suit the digger’s auxiliary oil flow,” Adrian explained.
After redesigning and building the finger bar trimmer to suit, more were built. From here, interest grew and grew.
Adrian believes this was partly due to the fact construction had practically stopped and digger owners were looking for an alternative use for their machines, so the hedge trimmers opened up an avenue for many.
Soon after that the range expanded to include other attachments such as the saw head and before too long SlaneTrac was known for its range of mini digger attachments as well as its dumpers.
Today, the range comprises saw heads, brushes, flail cutters, a front loader mounted finger bar trimmer and the original tracked dumpers. All attachments are designed to suit diggers up to 7.5t.
Adrian said: “Today, it’s all about speeding up a job and making it easier which is usually done by removing manual labour. This is exactly what our equipment is designed to do. Initially, opinions on some of the attachments were mixed. For example, some people wondered how a brush or a hedge trimmer made sense on a mini digger. But these opinions quickly changed when it was realised how well they worked and the time they saved.”
“The market continues to remain strong for us, thankfully. In total, over 2,500 dumpers have been built to date, with production now increased to 400 units annually to keep with demand. Individually the ‘blue-line’ would be more than this again given that they’re smaller products. As many as 700 hedge trimmers alone are produced in one year.”
“We always found the trade shows such as the Ploughing here at home, Bauma in Germany and Intermat in France a great way to open new markets and meet dealers/distributors as well as meet customers.”
“Today, we are present in more than 11 markets including Ireland with some great dealers and distributors in each. The advantage of export markets is that they create an all year round demand on the factory, especially with the more seasonal attachments like the hedge trimmers and saw heads. Not only that, but it sort of spreads the risk in the sense that if one market slows, there is generally room to expand in another.”
“We’ve steadily developed and built on to the factory to accommodate the growth of the business. From starting out with three staff there are now 25 employed in total. The latest extension was the new assembly workshop which was built in 2018.
“We’ve invested in the latest equipment to improve the finish on products as well as labour efficiency. These machines include two laser cutters, computer-aided CNC machines and press brakes as well as a robotic welder.”
Between the dumpers and attachments we are almost at production capacity. Although, there is room for further growth in most markets, we are happy with where we are. The unique advantage we have seen with SlaneTrac equipment is that if the end user is not in a position to buy it then they will generally hire it. So, in either case somebody has to buy it.”
The effects of COVID-19 and the current geopolitical situations continue to have an effect on components bought in from abroad, said Adrian. The main effect seems to be extended lead times which means carrying more stock. But, both steel and shipping costs have eased over the past few months which is welcomed, he said. Steel is roughly back €200/t and shipping is back from €15,000/container to €11,000/container.
Managing director: Padraig Owens.
Export markets: 10.
Address: Dean Hill, Navan, Co Meath.