Surviving the fickle farm machinery market is no easy feat, but for southern Queensland equipment builder, Aust-Mech, there are barely enough weeks in the year to keep up with demand. After just notching up three decades as something of a grain handling trendsetter, the Dalby-based business is again in the throes of enlarging its manufacturing facilities so it can keep pace with the market. Orders for Aust-Mech’s fast, big capacity grain conveyor units have climbed solidly as graingrowers get more serious about on-farm storage, even marketing and packing their own grain exports. “We need to get our production capacity up,” said Aust-Mech general manager, Chris Gilbert. “We’re constantly turning away potential orders because we need more manufacturing space, and a bigger workforce, too.” Aust-Mech hit the ground running in 1986, when Mr Gilbert’s father and Aust-Mech managing director, Tony, took the concept of moving grain on conveyor belts and developed the “tubeveyor” design. A former Massey Ferguson product designer in the UK, South Africa and Thailand, his novel enclosed grain conveyors were not only about 50 per cent cheaper to run than traditional augers, handling grain almost twice as fast, they lifted it higher, too. He also commercialised the idea of self-propelled grain augering equipment. The big orange units, with Aust-Mech’s trademark big friendly eyes painted on top, could be manoeuvred into position using their own wheel drive mechanism, rather than needing to be towed. Back in the 1980s Aust-Mech’s first machines, capable of shifting two tonnes a minute, were considered by many farmers far too big for their needs. Today the company’s range has capacities up to 15t/minute, with a lot of sales going to bulk handlers and trading companies. “We probably still sell more two-tonne/minute units to farmers than other lines, but anything from seven to nine tonnes is considered quite standard these days,” said Chris Gilbert. Aust-Mech’s innovative use of gentle belt conveyor technology triggered rapid growth in its market footprint in Australia in the 1980s and ‘90s, including exports to South Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia and the Pacific. A contract to Saudi Arabia in 1992 included five truck unloading and bunker stacking systems. “We haven’t actively sought out export business, partly because our books are fairly full with the local market orders, but exports are also quite administratively intensive,” Mr Gilbert said. However, Canada’s emergence as a busy rival in the tubeveyor equipment market in the past decade is proof of the concept’s international appeal. Apart from its capacity and cost advantages, the gentle grain shifting process is ideal for handling pulse crops, beans and seed grain. While grain is its priority market for Aust-Mech it also makes factory-fitted and mobile gear for the vegetable industry, the recycling sector and mineral sand miners. The Gilbert family’s business now has a workforce of about 28 building fixed and mobile handling systems. Its mobile petrol, diesel, electric or PTO-driven tubeveyors stretch up to 43 metres long with lift capabilities to 16m, and price tags from $6000 to $500,000 each. Orders are invariably to suit specific customer requirements - handling systems to cope with rapid harvest receivals into bunkers and mother bins or silos, or mobile configurations for container filling. The company’s latest release, the mobile auger-type drive over receival grid (ADOG), reflects the surging market for bulk delivery handling gear on farm. Capable of handling five to seven tonnes of grain unloaded from a tipper every minute, the low profile, three-metre wide grate deck will cope with weights up to 20t. The ADOG is designed to match Aust-Mech’s 355mm tubeveyor or larger PTO auger capacities. Contact Aust-Mech (07) 4662 4200.