Based just one mile from the Galway border in Tubber, Co Clare, the O’Connor family have over half a century of experience in machinery manufacturing.
Conor Engineering was established in 1985 by Enda O’Connor. Having always been handy when it came to general design and fabrication work, he started the business manufacturing round feeders, rollers and implements such as yard scrapers – anything the local customers needed. Being from a farming background, Enda knew his customers’ needs and expectations.
Skipping forward to the early 1990s, Conor Engineering was one of the first Irish manufacturers to produce a round bale wrapper as round baling was still a relatively new concept in the country. Barry says: “It was the shear grabs, bale wrappers and grass topper ranges that put Conor on the map during the 1990s. With the toppers, we started out with a rear-mounted 6ft machine before expanding into side-mounted and trailed models. The Conor topper became well known early on for being one of the first direct-drive toppers on the market.”
Before long, Conor had wrappers and toppers working worldwide.
In the early 2000s the wrapper market began to level off, which led Conor to diversify into slurry tanker and muck spreader ranges. This decision proved a wise one given that these are among the company’s bread and butter offerings today. Enda’s son Barry joined the family business full-time in 2008. This was amid the economic downturn and Barry described it as a challenging time to come back to the family business considering all industries including farming were under strain. Barry had spent time abroad and held a position for two years as an area manager for Lidl having completed a degree in business.
In 2010 the diet feeder range was added, while in 2012 topper production stopped and a greater focus placed on slurry, muck and diet feeder product lines. Barry says all machines have increased in size, with 20m3 diet feeders more common today than 12m3 machines.
“Wrapper and topper numbers had been declining year on year in the runup to 2012, with the move mainly towards combination baler wrappers and switch towards mowers from toppers. In the early 2000s we were manufacturing in the region of 3,100 toppers annually, which by 2008 was back to just 600. However, we still manufacture a small number of wrappers annually, roughly between 90 and 100 compared to over 600 units at one stage.
“The introduction of TAMS for LESS equipment saw orders skyrocket overnight which to a degree hasn’t eased since. When we first started building tankers it was easy to carry units in stock as there weren’t many options when it came to specification other than size. Today, every tanker that leaves the yard is built to order.
“We built our first tandem-axle tanker in 2012. Now we manufacture in the region of 300 tankers annually, 30% of which are tandem axle. Almost every tanker ordered for the Irish market is fitted with our own dribble bar or trailing shoe up to 7m, anything larger we outsource. Interestingly, the trailing shoe is now more popular than the dribble bar. Over the last few years we have averaged in the region of 200 trailing shoes annually.”
Today, the Conor product range consists of slurry tankers, muck spreaders, swarthers, agitators, diet feeders and bale wrappers.
“TAMS grants for slurry and LESS equipment here at home on the Irish market have left us very busy while still keeping our other ranges manufactured.
“This has slowed the exploration of many export markets simply because we don’t want to take on more than what we can handle. In total, we work with approximately 25 Irish dealers, spread across the country.
“That said, we do still have a strong presence in export markets, with active dealers in over eight countries including France, the UK, Norway and New Zealand. As well as this, our export markets continue to grow organically. We’ve had customers make contact from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iceland and Pakistan who have bought machines.
“Looking to the future, the goal is to establish more export markets as TAMS inevitably won’t be around for ever. This would allow us to keep production at capacity throughout the whole year. Judging by how well export markets are going currently, we feel confident this is something we can grow considerably in time ahead. What all our dealers like about Conor Engineering is our ability to heavily customise machines and build them bespoke to their needs. This is something we pride ourselves on.
“We also have a few product ideas that we are working on in the background which we plan to peruse over the years, but for the short term we are focusing on the existing range.”
“The many unknowns still around Brexit are a threat in two particular ways for us. Firstly, a lot of our steel comes from the UK. While on the other hand, the UK is one of our strong export markets. Since I joined the business full-time in 2008, the number of employees has risen from 25 to 40 even considering the investment in more efficient manufacturing techniques and workflows. Sourcing skilled labour going forward will prove more of an issue in our line of business.
“I suppose when TAMS comes to a close at some point and all machines are built for it, it will be a slight shock to the business, but this is something we are working on to prevent happening. At the moment, lead time on a tanker is anywhere up to seven months depending on specification. I believe this is fairly standard amongst the majority of Irish manufacturers. This is why it’s important that our next steps are to work on securing new export markets for a smoother transition when TAMS grants do come to a close. For now our short-term plan is to keep doing what we are doing and work on offering our own line of larger trailing shoes and dribble bars over 7m.”
Business: Conor Engineering.
Managing director: Barry O’Connor.
Number of employees: 40.
Markets to date: 10