Ric Awburn, farmer, father of three young boys and the inventor of the Springarm, has worked on three different farms with water supply issues.
Buying the farm across the road meant greater pressure on the already stretched water supply and now issues were constant. It became a standing joke amongst his friends that Ric was either in the pump-shed or ducking home during parties to turn taps on and off to manage a complicated system of tanks and wells to try to keep up with demand.
It was in the middle of summer of 2018 when Ric was standing beside another trough with a broken arm that he thought there had to be a better way. The brass arms would simply snap after too much pushing around by stock drinking at the trough.
Ric thought “those arms can only move one way, up and down.” as soon as pressure was applied in a lateral direction the arm would begin to become brittle and eventually break.
With the thought of a better way firmly in his mind Ric was back in the workshop when looking around the shed he noticed the spring on one of his sons bike stands. Call it a lightbulb moment, it was then that the idea of a flexible ballcock arm using a spring came into mind. For his son, his bike would no longer have a spring loaded stand attached to it!
One of the first prototypes used nuts to connect the springs and rods together and secured by welds at each end. Realising that the welds were not going to work after a couple were broken by stock Ric enlisted the help of a couple of engineering mates who helped him locate stronger springs and a tap & dye kit was purchased to enable a thread to be applied to the end of the rods.
It was around this time that Ric moved the design to use stainless steel componentry. The brass arms he had been using did not weld to the springs and this is where the weak point seemed to be. So the decision was made to move to stainless steel arms and connectors.
The spring testing was one of the bigger jobs. The tension needed to be strong enough to close the valve when the trough was full with water but allow enough movement to not break the arm and spring or the valve itself.
Numerous springs were tested and tensions changed before settling on the final spring now used on the arms.
Next was solving the connection to the valve. After initially trialing an extension of the arm into the valve beyond the spring, Ric saw that he could connect the spring to the valve using a simple valve connector. This meant he could screw the connector directly into the spring, keeping it secure and in place. The positioning of the holes in the valve connector would enable the arm to now be used on many different valves found on farms.
After many trials and mishaps, Ric says he actually gave up in the middle summer. But the idea stayed with him.
Over drinks one evening Ric found himself chatting with one of his engineering mates and they started to see how they could complete the connection challenge Ric was having. It did not take long for Ric’s enthusiasm for Springarm to return and product development got underway in earnest.
With countless iterations of the design, springs tested and replaced, arms tested and replaced, Ric finally arrived at the perfect arm. Such a simple and practical idea had taken nearly 18 months to arrive at a product that was able to be taken to market.
Alongside Ric during the product development phase, Rics wife Marianne has assisted and provided direction and advice to Ric. She has played a key role in getting the Springarm ready for sale including design improvements, product development, marketing and raising funds.
In early 2021 Ric and Marianne decided they would give the National Fieldays a go at Mystery Creek. It was a bit of a jump into the unknown and the first time they had put their invention on display for the general public to view. The response was immediate and enthusiastic culminating with their winning of the Fieldays Innovation Award and the $10,000 cash prize that went with it.
This award enabled Ric and Marianne to really get things going and with the addition of an ecommerce website, sales began to flow in and manufacturing began.
With the Springarm prototype ready to take to market Marianne and Ric set about manufacturing the arms. Purchasing the parts themselves, they set their workforce of three boys, and themselves, to manufacturing the arms as the orders came in.
It soon became obvious that they would need to scale their production to enable the Springarm to meet market demand. They decided to set about looking for a manufacturing partner who could manufacture their little invention on a much larger scale. At Fieldays earlier in June, Campbell Easton, Managing Director of Metalform in Dannevirke had approached Marianne and Ric about their product and the possibility of helping them scale Springarm production. Metalform had a number of products they manufactured in the agricultural space (Tow and Fert, Tow and Collect, PondStir), and after an intensive search, discussions, meetings and more meetings, Ric and Marianne decided to partner with Metalform to scale their “farmers little helper.”
Metalform now manufacture the Springarms in their factory in Dannevirke in the Manawatu. With a specialist design team, industry contacts and supply chains to draw on, as well as expertise in sales and marketing, Metalform is able to help Ric and Marianne take Springarm to New Zealand farmers and the world.
The Springarm story is the typical New Zealand No.8 wire innovation story and one that Ric and Marianne are immensely proud of.
For Ric and Marianne the partnership with Metalform also gives them time to develop new products in the Springarm range as well as running their dairy farm and busy family life.