submitted by Intellectual Property Australia on 17.08.2006
Above: An Atom drilling attachment fitted to a conventional chainsaw makes easy work of a hardwood post.
See, John (left) and Angelo Notaras, amongst various inventions and accolades
Award-winning, world famous, Atom lawn edger
To read this article in its context as part of IP Australia's publication, on World Firsts, go to:
Notaras World FirstsIPAChapter_4.pdf
As young banana growers on the New South Wales North Coast, Angelo Notaras and his brother John quickly discovered the benefits of putting mechanical equipment to novel uses. For instance, they were the first to use centrifugal pumps for banana irrigation, drawing water up lifts once considered far too great except for piston pumps. They also invented a highly effective new crop spraying system. They increased production several times over, establishing practices still followed on banana farms.
However, they became so absorbed in machinery that in 1960 they left the farm and set up a workshop in Sydney. By the late 1960s their company Atom Industries had a small factory, making only their own inventions. The mainstay was a heavyduty drill that can be attached to a chainsaw.
The Atom drilling attachment is still as popular as ever, and nine-tenths of Australia’s rural fencing is built with its assistance.
The Notaras brothers realised they could invent a chainsaw far more advanced than the European models that dominated the market. Features that made it superior included a self-cleaning air filter, a carburettor that plugged into a seal, turbo-charging electronic ignition and a longer, troublefree working life. The Commonwealth Government encouraged the brothers to develop the chainsaw for commercial production. In particular, the
support would see them through the first critical years—while they found export markets to boost volume and convinced customers of the advantages of invisible features such as the air filter.
The saw went into commercial production in 1972. But a few months later, in 1973, the tariff was halved, which put an end to the domestic market for the saw. At about the same time, the Australian dollar was revalued sharply, so that export sales were no longer possible. It was a heartbreaking combination.
Atom Industries stopped production immediately and took all the specially made tooling to the scrap heap. Thirty years later European saws have finally caught up with the ill-fated Australian chainsaw. All the dearer European models are now being fitted with self-cleaning air filters and other improvements like those invented by the Notaras's, whose patents have expired.
A far more successful venture is the Atom range of motorised lawn edgers, launched in 1994. Lawn edgers then were slow and difficult to use. The Notaras brothers had the idea of making a two-handled edger that could be steered around the garden as easily as an empty wheelbarrow. In the last few years it has captured market dominance in Australia, ousting both dearer and cheaper imports.
One of Atom’s new ventures is a recently patented two-stroke engine. The conventional modern two-stroke—invented over a hundred years ago—produces a high volume of toxic fumes and wastes petrol. By using air to displace the exhaust the new engine will be cleaner and more economical.
Angelo and John work together on all their inventions. Often each will go home, after a day considering a problem, and think of a solution that night. Meeting again next morning they’ll discover that both have independently reached identical solutions. John keeps a pad at his bedside and sometimes wakes to record an inspiration.
Most of their innovations are not eye catching new machines but clever improvements to existing products. For THE CUTTING EDGE instance, in place of a conventional chuck for their drill, they invented a ring with a screw through it, which is cheaper to make but holds the drill bit tighter with use, instead of working loose like a chuck.
Atom Industries holds dozens of patents and design registrations covering a range of innovations. However, they decided not to patent their “augur stop”, which is standard on Atom drills. Whenever a knot of timber, an old bolt or some other obstruction causes the drill to jam, the augur stop switches the transmission into neutral, stopping the motion instantly. Drills are much safer with this feature, which could easily be engineered into a wide range of other powered machinery.
Because of its potential to improve the safety of millions of workers, the Notaras brothers preferred to make it freely available — just as John Ridley declined to patent his stripper (see page 8) from a desire to benefit the community.
A recent innovation is an ingeniously simple centrifugal clutch, developed for electric lawn edgers. Direct drive is standard around the world for light and medium electrical machinery. Adding a clutch radically reduces breakdowns and prolongs the life of the motor.
When they try to sell their new technology overseas, John and Angelo routinely find that major manufacturers would sooner stick with existing procedures than introduce improvements developed by little-known outsiders. As a result, most of the superior technology in their mechanical products remains unique to Australia.
Curiously, though, Australian manufacturers
rarely take the opportunities presented by Atom’s innovations. The clutch, for example, could readily be adopted in all sorts of appliances and tools to give Australian products a quality advantage. Angelo suspects that experts working for some manufacturers are reluctant to concede that they could have been doing better all along with something they didn’t think of. That may be easy to say, but it underlines a problem repeatedly faced by Australian inventors: their difficulty in getting attention and credence, without vast resources for sales promotion of their ideas.
The brothers often win awards for innovation, which can be a useful aid in promotion. A wall at Atom Industries’ modest inner Sydney factory is crowded with them. Amongst them are the Mechanical Engineers of Australia Product of the Year
award, four years running from 1994 to 1997, for various lawn edgers; and the 1976 Inventor of the Year Award for the Atom electric ignition system. Frequently inventions aimed at making better, more durable products lead to significant cost savings, and vice versa.
At the moment the two brothers are working on a plan to reduce from seventeen to eight the number of pieces in the assembly at one end of the lawn edgers. This could take dollars off the manufacturing cost. Like many simplifications in assembly techniques that they have worked out over the years, it will speed up their output.
When Australian manufacturers have to compete with those in other countries, it is not good enough for them to be equally efficient, or able to match the quality of an import at equal price. They have to do better just to be able to survive.
Astonishing though it sounds, Australia’s tariff regime operates to protect overseas manufacturers from local Australian competition. For example, if Atom Industries imports an engine for one of its lawn edgers, it has to pay duty. But a lawn edger made in America with the same engine comes in duty free. In this way Australian manufacturers are effectively forced to subsidise their overseas competitors, to the extent of hundreds of millions of dollars every year. In recent decades, many have shut down their operations; and, saddled with this handicap, many others will have to do so as time goes on.
Thanks to on-the-spot ingenuity, Atom Industries is too far ahead of the competition to be immediately threatened. But in the long run all such enterprises are vulnerable to foreign takeovers followed by transfer of their plant to other countries so that “high” Australian wages need not be paid.
Angelo and John Notaras,
P.O. Box 513,
ROZELLE, NSW 2039,
Tel:- +61 2 9810 0194
Fax- +61 2 9810 6691
Email: Atom Industries
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