It goes without saying that we at ToolBusiness spend a lot of time in damp and windy fields looking at products that are best tested and demonstrated in damp and windy fields. Based near Banbury in Oxfordshire, the UK base of Etesia is ideally placed, being surrounded by fields on which to demonstrate their range of mowers, motorized barrows and garden tools. The purpose of the press day was to celebrate 25 years of innovation and to demonstrate some of the new range of products and ideas that the company is developing.
Fortunately, Etesia had arranged a dry venue under canvas and began the day with a short video giving a lightning tour of Etesia’s 25 years in business. This was followed by a more detailed exposition of the Etesia story by Patrick Vives, the MD of Etesia UK.
Etesia is a family owned French company that has been very successful developing and innovating garden equipment – for example in developing and producing hydrostatic transmissions, diesel powered ride-on mowers and more latterly electrically powered machines with 0% emissions.
The company has been able to be so innovative because at least 5% of annual turnover is allocated to Research and Development – one of the ways in which a company such as Etesia can compete with slower moving corporations and thus stay in front of the innovation curve.
The development of Etesia’s range of ride-on mowers over 25 years serves as an apt metaphor for the company as a whole. Beginning in 1989 Etesia developed a new system of grass collection that used contra-rotating cutters that ejected the cuttings to the rear of the machine where it could be easily collected. The competition was still using side ejection that made easy collection impossible.
The introduction of the Bahia range was an attempt to make smaller and cheaper mowers that would find a wider market. These models too had innovations like a remote controlled emptiable grass box. With the introduction of the H124D, the high-lift emptiable grass box was pioneered as well as a 4 wheel drive option – at the same time development was aiming to lower the cost of the machines even further.
The Attila Range was developed specifically for farmers and local authorities who needed a brushcutting capacity on a machine with four wheel drive, rugged tyres and a low centre of gravity in order to work on sloped banks and verges.
When Etesia developed their Bioconcept strategy its analysis showed that in the lifecycle of a typical garden machine 9% of emissions were created in the manufacturing process, 1% in the distribution and 5% at the end of life of the machine. The bulk of emissions (85%) were in the daily use of fuel in the machine. Clearly, if the company could tackle this last one, emissions could be reduced greatly. Etesia experimented with biofuel and now has a range of machines that can run on a diesel and biofuel mix as well as on LPG.
But the future development was obviously pointing at using electricity and the promise of zero emissions.
The company also began to look in detail at production in the French factory in order to save time, money, energy and production costs. Involving the workers themselves, an integrated system was developed that allowed smarter production of in-demand models and took into account seasonal variations in demand. At the same time there was relentless pressure to produce reliable, cost effective and innovative machines in order to compete in a market place hit by recession and general retrenchment. For example, all Etesia machines are subject to post- manufacture tests whereas commonly only a small sample of machines are tested by larger manufacturers.
As a company, Etesia relies on its band of loyal customers as well as trying hard to develop into new markets worldwide. In order to do this it has to have a dealership structure that will respond quickly to customers’ demands and listen to their requests and suggestions. With exports making up 60% of production, the machines have to be aimed at a wide range of users working in a wide range of conditions.
Quality doesn’t come cheap, but as we all know in the tool trade – most often you get what you pay for.
The second part of the presentation was by Andreas Kuisl from Pellenc. Not many readers may know about Pellenc but the company has been around for 37 years. It is most well known in France for producing cordless pruners for vineyards. (Think about it – would your hands be capable of doing the pruning of acres of vineyards in the time slot available?)
Pellenc is an ideal working partner for Etesia because the company has been developing motors, cordless backpacks and cordless tools for a lot longer than the market may reflect. At least 1% of its £102m turnover is spent on research and development. With 300 patents to its name Pellenc is an innovative force to be reckoned with.
Andreas was quickly able to put across Pellenc’s vision for the future of solar powered battery packs that could be converted (using smart electronics) to run domestic appliances, LED lighting systems as well as a range of tools, both domestic and industrial. Andreas made a convincing case for solar powered battery packs being able to reduce emissions by 98% on a range of common machines and appliances.
For me the best part of any trade day is trying out the machines. I started with the Pellenc battery powered brush cutter. Like its petrol-powered counterparts it operates freely as its powerpack is a battery on the operator’s back. In my experience, it is as efficient as a petrol-powered machine, but without the noise, the vibration and the fumes. I could see how this would be perfect for urban environments where noise and fumes might limit the scope and range of grasscutting operations.
I also had a great time scarifying an area of grass using the new Etesia battery-powered general purpose Bahia machine. The diesel powered Attila mower I tried showed brilliant stability as I threw it around the field using the tight turning circle and brilliant maneuverability. The field wasn’t really damp enough to put those mini tractor tyres to the test…!