Brothers Noel and Ger Hickey from Co. Waterford have created an alternative drive system for vacuum-type slurry tankers rather than the traditional PTO system.

The brothers’ new retro-fit drive system, called SafeShaft, replaces the tanker’s original mechanical drive (PTO) with a hydraulic drive system and mounting assembly.

The Hickey brothers were concerned that the mechanical PTO (Power Take Off) systems are notoriously dangerous if the protective guarding is damaged or missing. 

The brothers believe this potential danger is even greater on trailed machines, such as vacuum slurry tankers, where the drive system is exposed and the operator is working in close proximity for filling.

Coming from a background working in the agricultural sector, Noel is an agricultural technician with Case IH dealer Kill Agri Ltd in Co. Waterford and Ger has his own engineering business.

Combining their engineering and mechanical skills, the pair developed the SafeShaft drive system, which currently has a patent pending on its design.

The new hydraulic SafeShaft system.

The new hydraulic SafeShaft system.

An oil flow requirement of 40L per minute is needed for the new system, which means it can be powered by almost any tractor regardless of age or specification, according to the brothers.

“New tankers do offer a hydraulic system, but it is recommended that the oil flow is at 80L per minute.

“Our system is more efficient as it allows the operator the option to also use macerators or trailing shoes at the same time,” Noel said.

Results have yet to show if the new hydraulic system is more economic or whether it is more fuel efficient, but it is definitely no worse than traditional systems, he said.

Installing the SafeShaft System

In order to install the SafeShaft system, a 10mm thick baseplate is bolted between the existing vacuum pump and tanker chassis, which provides a mounting platform for the new hydraulic drive system and its components.

Key to the new system is the hydraulic motor, which provides the necessary rotational force required to replace the original mechanical PTO drive.

Meanwhile, hydraulic plumbing and valve work is designed to provide soft-start and stop functions to protect the vacuum pump and gearbox.

The same system was also developed to protect the motor and vacuum pump from being driven in the wrong direction.

In order to install the new system, the mechanical PTO drive shaft has to be removed completely and one half of a special drive is fitted over the existing vacuum pump’s PTO splines.

The new hydraulic SafeShaft system.

The new hydraulic SafeShaft system.

Meanwhile, the other half of the drive coupling is fixed to the hydraulic motor. Bolting the motor in place, both couplings interconnect and the new drive system is in place.

The mounting plate of the SafeShaft system also moves the vacuum pump and its new drive system rearwards, which provides clearance for the tractor’s lift arms.

Due to the SafeShaft system being hydraulic based, the manoeuvrability of the tractor and tanker combination is also improved.

Safety is the main aspect we are focusing on, but the system does have other benefits such as being able to fill at an angle or the ability to spread while turning.

Prospects for the Future

The Hickey brothers have already developed SafeShaft systems and retro-fit kits for a wide variety of vacuum tanker makes and models.

At the moment there are a number of models out on test across the country, with the brothers hoping to launch the product officially at FTMTA Farm Machinery Show, which is set to take place in early February.

In the future, the duo plan to make these products available for purchase on their website, as a well as a variety of other slurry tanker parts and accessories.

Orders for the SafeShaft systems can be tailored to the farmer’s or contractor’s need, Noel said, while they also have the capacity to increase production once orders begin to increase.

The brothers claim that the system can be easily fitted in an hour or so, while the standard SafeShaft system costs €1,600 plus VAT and delivery.

Higher specification SafeShaft systems options are also available, which include electronic monitoring of vacuum pump speed and electro-hydraulic control.