Having seen a gap in the market for grassland machinery which could cope with the heavy crops of Ireland, McHale has gone onto become one of the most recognisable names in the round baler market. Jane Carlery charts the company’s success.
McHale Engineering has forged a reputation in recent years for innovative, tough-built kit for the grass and livestock sectors, and this relatively young company continues to develop new solutions.
The company was founded in the mid-1980s by brothers Padraic and Martin McHale, who came from a farming background and a family of 15. In 1976 Padraic established a used farm machinery retail outlet before later being joined by younger brother Martin.
The manufacturing company, McHale, subsequently evolved from this dealership which is still in existence today.
Padraic: McHale originated in the small village of Kilmaine, Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland. By 1999, we were shipping to 25 countries. To keep up with demand, production was relocated seven miles to a 20 acre greenfield site in the nearby town of Ballinrobe, where we built a 100,000 square foot manufacturing plant. Over the years the plant has expanded and is now 320,000 square feet with eight acres of roofed area.
Today, we operate two manufacturing facilities, utilising the latest in laser, CNC and robotic technologies. All products are coated using advanced ‘E-Coat’ and powder systems. As the product is built on the assembly lines, rigorous quality checks are conducted; every complete machine is run, calibrated and tested before being exported.
I established the research and development department in 1994. All machines go through a rigorous three-year product development and testing cycle before being launched. During the design and development stage all machines also go through comprehensive testing with end users in various parts of the world. Today, over 10 per cent of the workforce at the Ballinrobe headquarters are involved in new product development.
Padraic: The retail background was a great foundation for the design and manufacture of farm machinery, simply due to its direct contact with the end user.
We saw a gap in the market for machinery to cut clamp silage in the west of Ireland. At the time, imported machines struggled to deal with the long grass in the area so we designed a machine which we felt would do a better job.
During the summer of 1982, we built a prototype silage blockcutter and the following winter tested and refined it on our home farm. The first product was the Silomac blockcutter and a range of slurry pumping equipment followed this. The following year we started to manufacture and sell the blockcutters locally.
In 1987, we manufactured our first round bale wrapper and less than two years later, we decided to specialise in this area and grow the company through market development. The range then extended to square bale wrappers for field and static wrapping.
As the product range and export markets developed, a decision was made to brand all products with the family name, McHale, in 1991.
Padraic: By the turn of the century, many contractors had started to tow wrappers after their balers so that both jobs could be done with one tractor and one man. To cater for this demand, we developed the 991 C and then the HS2000 wrappers to work behind balers.
From this experience, the Fusion concept was developed. Unlike a lot of established players in the market, we did not have a baler to start with, so we were not blinded by any traditional concepts. As a result, our team developed an integrated baler wrapper where the bale chamber split like a clamshell, with the lower section of the bale chamber transferring the bale.
This machine was also unique in that it had a vertical wrapping ring instead of the more traditional twin-rotating dispenser formation. When the bale transfer and vertical wrapper ring were combined it resulted in a more compact machine that could provide up to 15 per cent more output.
Padraic: In 2005, we launched a standard fixed chamber baler, designed as a direct result of customer demand. The baler used 85 per cent of the components from the Fusion and due to its success, in 2007 a non-chopper baler, the F540, and a fully automatic baler, the F560, were also added to the range.
Over the years, they have been superseded by the latest models in the fixed chamber baler range and, in 2009, we added the V660 variable chamber baler which was targeted at drier climates where there was demand for larger bales. We have continued to advance this concept, most recently launching the V8 range of balers which are capable of producing a bale from 0.6m to 1.95m in diameter.
The McHale Fusion 3 Plus integrated baler wrapper was launched in 2013 using film on film technology to apply film to the barrel of the bale in the bale chamber.
In 2012, we decided to extend product offering with the introduction of a winter product, the McHale C4 range of straw blowers and silage feeders.
Martin: In 2015, we widened our grass line range to include the Pro Glide range of front, rear and combination mowers. All mowers in the range have a number of key patents around mower floatation and performance, to offer faster working speeds and output. In 2017, we unveiled a two-model centre delivery rake range.
Martin: Having established the dealer network in the UK in 1990, we have always focused on developing a good relationship with the customer.
Today, our customers include farmers, contractors and high-end users across 55 countries worldwide with a special emphasis being placed on working closely with the customer for the development of products. Exports account for 90 per cent of sales.
McHale is a specialist in the market compared to ‘full line’ manufacturers with the company completely devoted to the development of grassline machinery.
Padraic: Today, the company is one of the largest employers in the region. Many of the people have been with myself and Martin for 20-30 years. As the business has expanded these people have taken on new challenges and developed new ideas. This team has been fundamental to our success and I would like to thank them for their continued hard work, support and commitment.
Martin: In the early 90s I travelled to the UK and began to develop and expand the dealer network. Today, this network consists of 70 dealers, many of whom have been working with McHale for over 30 years. We also have a team of sales and service personnel covering the whole of the UK who support this dealer network and our customers.
Kieran Hughes has been with the company 25 years and has been working in the UK for 16 years. He took over the role of UK sales manager in 2014, having originally covered the Scotland and Northern England region prior to this position. Gary McConnell is the area sales manager for Scotland and Northern England and has been in this role since 2019 having previously sold McHale machinery in Canada.
The McHale service team is headed up by UK product support manager, Shane McKenna, who has been with McHale since 2012 in various positions in manufacturing and technical support. Shane is accompanied by Jack Harland who looks after all service queries for Scotland and Northern England. Jack has been with the company since 2019 having worked on McHale machinery at various dealerships in Northern England.
Padraic: Business has been tricky over the past 12 months but orders have been strong. Covid-19 did cause some problems with component supply but we put a plan in place to overcome this and with thanks to our suppliers we have ensured delivery of components and finished machines to our customers.
Covid has also caused some issues around ensuring the workforce is kept safe, but contact tracing can be carried out efficiently which has allowed us to continue to produce machines throughout this global pandemic.
One of the biggest effects of Covid has been the cancellation of shows. As a company we take great pride in meeting our customers at shows and demonstrations to discuss the latest developments, but with the lack of shows it has been difficult, so we are looking forward to shows returning and everyone getting back to normality.
In addition, Brexit has resulted in increased customs checks and paperwork; other issues included the supply of components from some key UK suppliers. We have worked through all issues and found solutions. Overall, the market is supportive during these times and showing good signs of demand for machinery.
Padraic: We have kept in touch with our customers and dealers through both traditional marketing and various forms of technology. The lack of shows and demonstrations is unfortunate, but it allowed us to explore other routes and since the restrictions have come into place, we have tried to support our customers and dealers over video and phone.
The lack of shows has not necessarily affected or delayed any key product launches. In 2020 we launched the V8 variable chamber baler to the market through an online demonstration for our dealer network. However, it would be nice to have shows or product demonstrations where you could display the physical machine and get the opportunity to showcase it to the customer in person.
It has certainly made us look at other methods of promoting our products outside the traditional methods of trade shows. Overall, the future promotion of products will be a mix of traditional and evolving methods, but we look forward to getting back to meeting our valued customers at shows.
We have carried out product training online to our dealers using video technology. This has allowed us to bring a new dimension to our training which we would envisage working for future sessions and allow for training to be carried out remotely on a more frequent basis. We look forward to welcoming dealers and customers to our factory when restrictions are lifted, but for now, we are doing everything we can to support them remotely.