KANSAS NATIVE Shawn Schneider, a mechanical engineer for a major OEM, was frustrated with the red tape, bureaucracy and layers of middle management involved in trying to turn a good concept into an actual product in corporate America.
“There seemed to be a huge disconnect between engineering, sales and marketing that got in the way of creating (a) the product the farmer wanted, and (b) a product he could afford after we accounted for the massive overhead that was involved,” Schneider recounts. “It may take two years from the time an idea for a product is conceived to the time the product sees the light of day.”
So last spring, after years of feeling stuck in the cycle, Schneider, 38, decided to quit his job and start his own equipment company called SJS Corporation. The S stands for Shawn and the J for his wife Jessica, the two principals of the company.
The couple had already been operating a part-time business of remanufacturing old farm equipment for a few years, so they had the shop and some of the tooling required. Anything more they acquired from bankrupt automakers in Detroit and elsewhere. Tools included water-jet torches, milling machines and re-machine tools.
“If there's a bright spot to the economic downturn, it's that it allowed us to buy pre-owned manufacturing equipment that we couldn't have afforded otherwise,” Schneider says. “We have some tooling that came out of Michigan auto plants that cost us 20 to 30% of what it was worth a couple years ago, which has saved us millions of dollars.”
New in-line ripper
Their first product out of the gate is an in-line ripper with an integrated fertilizer applicator. The tillage tool, branded the Ag Iron Inline Ripper, is designed to be used in the fall to break up hardpan while at the same time applying liquid, dry or granular fertilizer.
“Farmers in our area went extensively to no-till over the past five to 10 years and are finding issue with disease and hardpan,” Schneider says. “So there has been a push to do more fall tillage but in a minimum-till, conservation way. What we are trying to do is push the application of anhydrous ammonia or liquid or dry fertilizer along with that in-line ripping operation in the fall to save farmers an extra field pass.”
He says the in-line ripper he designed has three features that set it apart from competitive offerings from major OEMs. The first is that the fertilizer application component is an integral part of the machine, whereas with others it is sold as an add-on. This allows for better value and performance, Schneider claims.
Second, the applicator is adjustable to allow for varying depths of fertilizer application. “Most [kits] are not adjustable,” he says. “So if you rip fairly deep to eliminate the hardpan, you actually may be placing your nitrogen too deep in the ground.”
Third, the machine is built 20% heavier than competitive rippers to provide a longer wear life.
The couple also plans to continue their remanufacturing business. Schneider claims their company is the first and one of the few businesses in the U.S. to remanufacture farm equipment. Such businesses are rare, he says, because many of the replacement parts are too expensive to allow for much profit. He has bypassed that problem because he now owns the equipment to make parts.
Schneider remanufactures about every type of farm equipment, including tractors, planters, combines and skid steers, and sells them at a fraction of what they would cost new. He says remanufacturing provides farmers who can't afford to buy new equipment with affordable machinery that they don't have to fix. “It's not someone's worn-out old trade-in,” he says. “In these trying economic times, not everyone honestly can afford a quarter of a million dollars for a new tractor.”
He says most of the equipment comes from dealer trade-ins, insurance companies and repossessions. Each machine is subjected to a checklist of potential problems. Schneider and his five-person team first check the engine, drivetrain and hydraulics and do an overhaul if they are out of spec. Machines are then painted and buffed to a like-new condition. Interiors are redone, and rubber is replaced.
The price varies according to the type of machinery. Prices for remanufactured tractors range from $15,000 to $50,000.
Schneider field-tested a prototype of his tillage tool on his family farm last fall and is now taking orders for the machine. Prices range from $4,200 for a three-shank model to $19,000 for a fully optioned 11-shank model. The ripper can be 3-pt. mounted or drawn with a caddy.
Schneider also plans to build other equipment. His next product, he says, will be another minimum-tillage tool, most likely in the category of mulch-till. “We've also discussed making grain-handling equipment such as grain carts and gravity wagons,” he says.
He promises that the new tools he plans to manufacture also will be heavier built and lower priced.