First-hand experience of the frustrations of tensioning wires when building and fixing fences prompted Australian engineer Richard Fox to head to his workshop to find a better system.
The inventor of the innovative Serca fence straining tool was helping a farmer friend in the Hunter Valley when he recognised the need for a more efficient and safe way to tension wires and reduce the need for longer-term fence maintenance.
Mr Fox said it was easy to over-tension fencing wire, but the danger was that metal was elastic and needed flexibility to be able to stretch and spring back. If wires are over-stretched, they will not spring back - meaning they lose tension.
Over-stretching wires in the hot summer months can also result in their contraction during the winter, adding extra strain to posts and potentially snapping the wires.
The Serca Fence Strainer solution, which was developed and released in 2017 through Mr Fox's startup business Rural Innovations, circumvents these problems.
It uses a spring-activated wire grab, a geared tensioning mechanism to reduce the force required for operation and a modified winch block.
Mr Fox said he added practical features to the device, including hardened jaws for extended tool life, an ergo-friendly handle, in-built tension gauge and removable second pair of wire grabs for repairing fences.
All components of the Serca Fence Strainer (except the winch mechanism) are Australian-made using local steel and materials.
The company, run by Mr Fox and his wife Fabiana, received a government grant under the 'Jobs for NSW' program to assist with the initial manufacturing stage.
Mr Fox said he designed and tested the Serca Fence Strainer to halve the amount of force required from the user when straining a new fence, or repairing an old one.
During this process he used a 'test bed' in his backyard, set up with a few posts and all different sizes and dimensions of wire - ranging from low and high tensile, barbed wire and the various coatings.
When he finalised the design, he moved to manufacture and sales.
Mr Fox said the Serca Fence Strainer was engineered to tension wire in two millimetre increments on older fences.
He said this was a gentler tension process and could be done by one person instead of the two or more who were needed when using a conventional straining system.
"It makes it far easier for a single operator to undertake fencing jobs, and can potentially reduce labour requirements for contractors," he said.
The Serca Fence Strainer has a chain permanently attached to the straining mechanism to reduce the connections needed during the straining process from three to one.
"This means a much quicker straining process, in most cases halving the time taken to do this job," Mr Fox said.
"It is safer, as the device uses gears to create a mechanical advantage and reduce operator force required. And there is no need to use a lever that has the ability to spring back and injure the user."
Mr Fox said the strainer was 50 per cent lighter than traditional strainers.
It is small enough to store in a vehicle glove compartment, tool box on a motorbike or in an all-terrain vehicle, which also means components can be smaller and easier to handle. For example, it can replace the need to use a 2T chain for straining when the tensile strength of the wire is a fraction of this capacity.
Mr Fox said the Serca Fence Strainer was also engineered to be versatile, with the capability to be quickly and easily modified.
Its 2.5 metre chain can be used as: a tie-down; light duty winch (rated to 250 kilograms under Australian Standards); and even a calf-puller.
Mr Fox said he added an in-built tension meter, which allowed the user to strain fences to the correct tension easily and consistently - without the hassle of carrying around an additional tool.
"The device is designed for wire fences to be tied-off in the traditional manner, without extra tools or attachments," he said.
"It is proving very popular with farmers in the central New South Wales tablelands, Riverina and western division.
"There are also increasing sales into the United Kingdom, Canada and - more recently - the USA."
The Serca Fence Strainer tool has received top reviews and positive feedback from fencing contractors since its release, and is recognised by industry as a great example of Australian ingenuity - finding a practical solution to a tough and time-sapping - yet essential - farm task.
It won a NAB Agribusiness Award of Excellence at the Australian National Field Days at Orange in 2018.
Mr Fox said he had a suite of ideas in the pipeline for future products that would take advantage of latest technologies to address a range of on-farm operational challenges.
"I have a family background in cattle and dairy production on Queensland's Darling Downs and, coupled with my engineering skills, I am keen to keep working on finding efficient, safe and cost-effective solutions to common labour-intensive tasks," he said.
"I well understand the needs of farmers, the challenges they face and the satisfaction associated with using the right tool for the right job," he said.
"And I always enjoyed seeing my dad continually invent ideas and systems to make his farming jobs easier.
"The hardest part of developing new innovations is getting them to market, but our commitment is to always ensure we produce high quality tools at an acceptable price."
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