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Electrifying advances in earthmoving technology – today and tomorrow

Komatsu HB335-1 Hybrid rear view


Dean Gaedtke is the Executive Manager for Construction at Komatsu Australia. He talks to Quarry about the exciting developments in load and haul equipment today – and tomorrow.

How has Komatsu Australia performed during the global pandemic?

Our equipment sales and aftermarket sales have been very good. We saw a real surge in orders. The government stimulus has been good for our customers, it gave them a lot of confidence to invest in assets.

Dean Gaedtke is the Executive Manager for Construction at Komatsu Australia and also chairman of the Construction Machinery & Equipment Industry Group.

Nonetheless, I know how much pain is out there from a health and safety perspective. Around the world, COVID-19 has claimed some very dear Komatsu colleagues.

Has the pandemic changed the way Komatsu does business with the Australian and/or global extractive industries?

When the initial lockdowns started, there were restrictions around our people and how they could interact. There were a number of things we trialled, including Facetime-style training.

We implemented COVIDSafe plans for our people, with very dynamic training, and made sure our quarry customers were comfortable feeling safe when we went to site.

What are the most popular Komatsu machines in the extractive industries?

There is a huge demand on wheel loaders, including WA480 to WA500 5-7m3 bucket size loaders. In the cement industry, sales of WA200 and WA320 loaders – 2- 2.5m3 bucket machines – have been high.

In the past six months, there has been a demand for low emissions technology, especially from our quarry customers.That’s awesome but we’re still some time off putting electric on a commercially scaleable, affordable basis. I’m excited about what Komatsu and other OEMs have in the Tier 4 space now. Tier 4 technology can get you up to a 90 per cent reduction on particulate matter output on an engine – and that’s just changing from a Tier 3 engine. It’s a massive reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) tonnage production.

Why are Komatsu’s after sales programs and services so successful with quarries? 

Komtrax has evolved into an efficient, easy system to use. It’s invaluable for us and our customers – we see how a machine performs in near real time, how the operators use it, and we can even benchmark it against other machines. That’s valuable for our customers so they can better understand how to operate the machine more efficiently.

In the SmartContruction space, the technology around fleet productivity management is exciting. It will save our customers a lot of time, money and cost per tonne, while helping them monitor safety on the machine. You can watch a fleet in near real time and see where the hazards are coming from. You can monitor the payloads of the trucks for over- and under-loads, as well as where on site you’re getting inefficiencies, over-revving, overspeeds, excess idle times.

Where is Komatsu in the development of electric engines, and autonomous vehicles?

Fully electric is probably not a commercially viable solution for a quarry at the moment – especially in higher horsepower machines. Will we see that in quarries in the future? I think so. The technology will be developed, proven and then we need to make it commercially viable for smaller horse-powered machines in the future. What you will see is power source blends – diesel and electric battery, hydrogen power systems, and kinetic energy systems.

Our customers are driving us hard to devise zero carbon power systems in our machinery. There’s also competition between the OEMs to devise solutions. Good competitive tension is driving major technology improvements, as well as the customer who is at the centre of it.

We have 400 semi-autonomous dump trucks driving in mines globally without operators. The production is higher and maintenance costs are lower because the computers are driving the machines exactly as they were designed to be operated,. Operations are getting more production out of them. Semi-autonomous and autonomous machines will expand through the construction/quarry range as the technology becomes more affordable and scaleable.

Komatsu’s path to net zero to 2050.

What will be the quarrying industry’s major challenges in the next three years?

The recruitment and retention of skilled equipment operators is a real challenge. That’s where autonomous and semi-autonomous machines will help in the future.

Our customers have done a fantastic job managing their input costs, but management of these will always be a challenge.

The enormous environmental challenge for many producers will be how to phase out existing machines while adapting to net zero and running sustainable businesses. If you have 200 machines in a fleet across the country, and you want to reduce your GHG emissions by x, you’ll have to replace a significant percentage of your fleet. How do you do that? A key part of meeting the the 2030 50 per cent reduction target will be staged replacement of the fleet with lower GHG emitting machines and operating current machines to achieve optimum efficiency.

How can Komatsu assist quarries with meeting these future challenges?

We can help our customers today with their skilled workforce challenges through our Komatsu Training Academy. We also have great people on the application engineering side and very good operator trainers that can go to site and run courses with customers to get the best out of their equipment.

We’re doing work with augmented reality, whether for machine operator training or fitter guidance for the future. Layer this onto our Komatsu Training Academy, Technology Solutions and our Support Team, we are creating more value by helping our customers.

For more information about Komatsu Australia’s earthmoving products, visit komatsu.com.au

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