Invaluable help for a small business

Have you ever cleared out horse manure with an ordinary pitchfork? Then you know that it’s not very easy. Horse owners Patrick and Lydia Springer believed that there must be a better way. And there was. The result is called SverigeGrepen, a product that is now on its way to being exported around the world. “The help we received from the university was invaluable,” says Patrick Springer.

On Patrick and Lydia Springer’s horse farm there has been much dung to clear out. But it was heavy, boring, inefficient and time-consuming work. If they used a pitchfork the dung fell through and if they used a shovel the sawdust went along. Irritating. Finally they grew tired of it and Patrick went to the workshop to try to devise a more expedient and efficient tool.

“I put together a prototype of old shovels and plastic material that turned out pretty well. So we thought that it should be possible to develop further,” he says.

Patrick contacted a plastics company in Grisslehamn and started to discuss solutions and make blueprints. The next step was to find a company that could make an injection molded prototype. This was cheapest to do in China.

The result turned out so well that they applied for and were granted a Swedish patent for their “SverigeGrepen”. But it took a year and cost almost 40,000 SEK.

“Patent application is a complicated process, but we thought it was worth it as it is a mark of quality and a good sales argument,” says Patrick.

The next step was to order a mold. So far they have paid all costs themselves, but now it started to get really expensive.

“Die-casting is not cheap. It cost 1 million SEK to create the mold for the manure fork we have.”

So Patrick and Lydia took all their savings, borrowed the rest of the money and started production.

“You have to stake something in order to win,” Patrick says.

Patrick Springer with SverigeGrepen.

Patrick and Lydia started their marketing by contacting a friend who had a horse shop. Now SverigeGrepen has been sold on the Swedish market for a year and a half. At a trade show Patrick met with a large German distributor and now SverigeGreppen is also sold in Germany, France, Italy and Holland.

Patrick and Lydia thought that they had a really good manure fork that they had tested in all possible ways. But when the sales and use of the product took off there emerged issued that had to be addressed. Some parts were not as durable as expected, and the fork was not always used as intended, which could cause injuries.

“As we had never made a manure fork before, we didn’t quite know how to proceed with the development work. Of course we wanted to produce a durable quality product,” says Patrick.

At this point Patrick found out about Uppsala University's AIMday initiative and learned that he could get help from university researchers.

“It was unbelievably rewarding,” Patrick exclaims. The quality of the knowledge at the university is so high. There are researchers with years of experience of the material problems we had.”

One problem that Patrick needed help to solve was why the color on handle of the manure fork sometimes came off and stained the hands of the users. Some researchers responded and started to investigate the matter, their work being funded by an innovation voucher from UU Innovation. It turned out that the alloy of the handle was too thin.

“It was very helpful for us the get to know this. Previously we didn’t know how thick the alloy should be. Now we have a demand specification for this with our supplier in China and can let our distributors know that this problem will be solved at the next delivery.

The ability to rapidly deal with weaknesses is of decisive importance for a new product.

“Otherwise the demand can die immediately. Getting help at this critical stage has been invaluable to us, as we don’t have the same resources for development or marketing as the big companies. If it wasn’t for my friend we would never have known that we could turn to the university. I feel that the university should market this possibility much more,” says Patrick.

And the collaboration with the university continues. Three students were involved with further development of the manure fork as their graduation project. The present fork is made for clearing out dung in chips and peat. The students helped to construct a fork also for straw. They also looked at how the handle, which is unusually long, could be made in two pieces so the fork becomes easier to package and transport.

“They were really pepped up for this. They think that it was exciting to find solutions that will be of use in real life,” says Patrick.

Patrick says that they are now continuing with a student project in pursuit of an even better product.

- A student will look at the design of the fork head, and by using simulations identify the weakest points in order to upgrade to an even more durable construction.