About VALE Engineering
VALE Engineering has established itself as the market leading manufacturer of high-quality, robust and easy-to-use weed control, turf care and winter maintenance equipment. The company’s reputation has been built since its inception in 1999, when it first started marketing a prototype of the PKL Spraying System to the municipal market. Since then, many of the company’s products have become recognised as clear market leaders. Today, VALE Engineering prides itself on maintaining its market leading position by designing and manufacturing quality products that fulfil customer requirements, whilst also providing responsive after sales and training support. Here is a brief overview of the VALE Engineering story so far…
Coming from an agricultural background in the Vale of York, James Wilson spent his childhood surrounded by farm machinery. Discovering how things worked fascinated him, and he was always designing, making and welding whatever was lying around the farmyard to create go-karts, sledges and the like – upcycling as it is called today! From those earliest years, James now heads a company that can proudly boast of being the UK’s leading supplier of weed control, turf care and winter maintenance equipment for the municipal and amenity sectors.
The practical skills learnt in the farmyard proved a good grounding when, at De Montfort University (formerly Lincolnshire College of Agriculture) and York Technical College, James studied engineering design and mechanical engineering. He came top in his year before becoming an Associate Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Straight out of University and keen to earn some money, James bought a Yamaha quad bike kitted out so he could apply slug pellets to local farmer’s fields after drilling. Realising that the quad bike could be adapted for multiple uses, in 1997 James then set about designing a sprayer attachment.
That product development led to what became known as the PKL (Pavement, Kerb and Lance) concept – in essence an ATV Yamaha quad bike mounted with sprayers. Like all successful entrepreneurs, James had spotted a gap in the market. Alongside manufacturing, assembly and sales, the fledgling company also offered training courses. Geoff Wilson, James’ father, had been providing structured training courses in all weed spraying techniques for some time, having been one of the very first individuals to take what became known as the PA1 pesticide spraying course. Keeping it in the family, mother Elizabeth provided office support, a function later taken on by James’s sister Rachel, who is a vital part of the company today.
First trading in 1999 under the family farm business name of “G & AE Wilson” at Moor Monkton, the company soon developed a niche in the design and marketing of sprayers and associated equipment. The fledgling company’s first exhibit was at the BTME exhibition at Harrogate in 2000 where the “VALE Engineering” brand was launched. On 12 June 2000, VALE Engineering (York) Ltd was formally incorporated. The new company was named after the Vale of York where VALE Engineering is based – an area of flat agricultural land surrounding on the River Ouse primarily to the west and north-west of the historic City of York.
The breakthrough product was a 70-litre capacity PKL sprayer for mounting on ATVs as well as pick-ups and vans with Liverpool City Council ordering the first batch of machines. At that time, sales were mainly through a network of distributors – although the company has dealt directly with the vast majority of its clients ever since. Initially, the opportunity was the supply of these mobile weed sprayers to local authorities, although other facilities maintenance operations also started ordering for retail parks, airports and leisure facilities. This allowed VALE Engineering to quickly establish itself as the market leader. VALE Engineering soon started hiring out their ATVs as well as selling, with Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council being the first hirer. Hire became a popular option that has expanded significantly in recent years.
In 2001, VALE Engineering won an important Department of Trade and Industry Smart Award to help fund the further development of the PKL concept and this also helped raise the company’s profile with much press coverage dating from those days, particularly in key trade journals such as Horticulture Week. At that time, the company was employing just three full-time staff and one part-time engineer. Around this time, the family stopped farming to concentrate on building the VALE Engineering business.
By 2003, VALE Engineering was selling so many Yamaha ATV quad bikes with its PKL system that it became an official Yamaha Power Products Main Distributor, a status the company retains to this day. Always looking to expand its offering in the weed control sector, in 2009 VALE Engineering acquired RIVERLYNX – a specialist Controlled Droplet Application (CDA) Sprayer producer. This system has revolutionised the professional weed control market and is now used by everyone from landscape amenity contractors to farmers who have found RIVERLYNX can be successfully used to control Black Grass.
Although sales of professional weed control equipment continued throughout the year, inevitably the market was seasonal. Consequently, James wanted to expand into other marketplaces, needing to design and develop something that would be required during the winter months.
Under the Highways Act 1980 Section 41(1A) “a highway authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.” Technically, most pavements are considered highways and so fall under the remit of councils. For this reason, highway winter maintenance contractors and local authorities needed to find an easy-to-use method of keeping footpaths clear from ices and snow as well as roads. Initially, VALE Engineering developed a way to dispense liquid brine from quad bikes, although this was not ideal. Instead, in 2006, James designed his first two tow-behind (trailed/trailer) salt spreaders, designated the TS500 and the TS1200 – the latter being one of the company’s best-selling products to this day.
In 2010 VALE Engineering expanded into the highway gritting market, launching its first large tractor-towed and tractor-mounted salt spreaders. These used a unique, in-house developed POZI-FEED auger system, now used in all VALE Engineering salt spreaders. The POZI-FEED auger system incorporates industry leading technology, to allow the spread of all types of salt and grit – brown or white wet or dry.
VALE Engineering’s expansion into this sector received a significant boost in 2013 when the law changed to allow tractors to grit roads and highways using red diesel. This was a significant change in legislation as, prior to that date, tractors had to laboriously drain their fuel tanks of cheaper, red diesel before filling with more expensive white diesel to use on roads or highways. This was a major barrier and meant that very few tractors were used for gritting, whereas today tractor mounted snow ploughs and tractor tow-behind (trailed/trailer) salt spreaders (gritters), are key elements of planned winter maintenance regimes. Not only is this far more economic for local authorities, it also provides much-needed income for the agricultural contracting sector when machinery would otherwise be largely standing idle over the winter.
Responding to customer demands, in 2013 the company launched the compact Winter Wizard – the first UK-manufactured salt spreader that was designed to be forklift-tine mountable. This makes Winter Wizard as easy to pick up as a loaded standard pallet! Incorporating the POZI-FEED auger system, Winter Wizard was designed for use by industrial sites, distribution centres and car parks. Consequently, VALE Engineering can now offer a comprehensive range of snow ploughs and salt spreaders, including liquid de-icers, for winter maintenance at all sites, large and small.
Expansion saw the VALE Engineering office, production and servicing facility fully relocate from Moor Monkton to a 6,500m2 (70,000 sq ft) site near Rufforth in 2012, utilising redundant agricultural buildings once used as cattle and arable stores for the family farm. What is now the building housing the parts department and the offices was once a pig sty – please be assured that it is much tidier now! Subsequently, VALE Engineering has increased in size, now employing almost 20 staff and engineers. A nearby site of 5,000m2 (55,000 sq ft) was acquired in 2016 to bring steel fabrication in house. That facility incorporates machinery such as a press brake, auto band saw and welding bay as well as a CNC high definition profile cutter. This means that everything is designed, manufactured and assembled on site by VALE Engineering – the only significant external resource being the shot blasting and specialist powder coating functions to ensure all designs are robust and built to last in extreme conditions.
Further expanding the company’s offering, in 2016 the STARGREEN brand of turf care top dressers and amenity sprayers was launched – aimed at the professional sports pitch and golf course markets. This means that VALE Engineering today manufacturers weed control, turf care and winter maintenance equipment. Yet the company remains a family business, ensuring that it is quick to adapt to changing market conditions or to respond to new commercial opportunities – whilst still providing a friendly and efficient service for clients.
VALE Engineering is always looking to the future, seeking out opportunities. In 2020, the company constructed new warehousing for product maintenance operations, started investing in a complete overhaul of its marketing (including this new website), whilst also launching a range of complimentary machinery. This family business wants to continue to flourish in every season!