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Komatsu charts the future of construction equipment

Komatsu charts the future of construction equipment

Drawing on more than 25 years of experience in the mining and construction sectors, David Small has assumed the position of executive general manager for construction and utility at Komatsu. Stepping into the role amid the company’s heightened focus on electrification and smart construction, he envisions a promising future for the construction industry.

Small’s journey at Komatsu, which began in 2005 as the construction sales manager for New South Wales, has been dynamic. Progressing through various roles in marketing services, he soon reached general manager positions in areas such as new equipment, aftermarket, parts and key accounts, spanning both the mining and construction sectors.

David Small, executive general manager for construction and utility at Komatsu. (Image: Komatsu)
David Small, executive general manager for construction and utility at Komatsu. (Image: Komatsu)

In his current capacity, Small aims to utilise his experience to analyse and navigate the trajectory of Komatsu’s customers, whether embracing hydrogen, battery or electric solutions. His overarching goal is to understand the underlying reasons driving these customer developments, ensuring that the company not only meets but exceeds expectations in a rapidly evolving market.

“Additionally, I intend to focus on identifying the necessary support mechanisms required to align with these evolving customer preferences,” says Small. “The broad end‐to‐end experience I’ve gained throughout my career at Komatsu enables me to assist customers in extending the lifespan of their equipment, including exploring rebuild and repair possibilities.”

“While the mining sector has been more attuned to new equipment sales into the aftermarket for optimising asset expenditure, I am keen to reintroduce this approach to the equipment side of Komatsu’s construction business.”

Entering this new role, Small’s focus extends to helping Komatsu’s customers integrate technology, specifically smart construction, to enhance equipment performance. The synergy between Komatsu’s technology and equipment, he emphasises, serves as a force multiplier for customers – an area he is particularly enthusiastic about driving forward.

For instance, Komatsu recently acquired iVolve, a technology company that provides fleet management solutions for small to mid‐tier construction, quarry and mining operations. This addition complements Komatsu’s existing fleet management offerings, such as Smart Quarry Site, a fleet management system that enhances safety, increases productivity and optimises machine performance for quarry operations and large civil construction projects.

“Komatsu is continuously expanding and optimising its product range, underscoring our commitment to assisting customers in maximising the performance of their equipment,” says Small. “We aim to provide a comprehensive package that transcends individual solutions, reinforcing our dedication to delivering value beyond expectations.”

“To ensure success in bundling and packaging these solutions, attention is also directed towards training our local service teams and providing them with the necessary resources.”

In recent years, Small says the industry has witnessed the surging development of smart machines that enable monitoring, diagnosis and predictive maintenance, with Komatsu at the forefront of this evolution. Although machine components may still encounter failures, the purpose of these advances is to facilitate planned interventions, minimising the impact on adjacent parts and systems.

“Additionally, we are delving into smart learning, leveraging data to predict market size, market direction and enhance our forecasting accuracy,” says Small “This enables us to better predict equipment needs, resource scheduling and parts requirements.”

The challenges of the past few years, including the impact of COVID‐19 and global supply chain disruptions, have highlighted the importance of proactive measures, such as those implemented by Komatsu. Through leveraging predictive analysis, the company is actively investing in expanding its product and parts inventories. Simultaneously, Komatsu is exploring alternative processes and building additional distribution centres with advanced technology for quicker product processing.

“Komatsu’s commitment to supporting our customers remains unwavering, and we are constantly evolving to meet changing market environments, address global challenges and ensure our customers have access to required equipment and parts precisely when they need them,” says Small.

Understanding the needs of customers, especially smaller contractors, remains a guiding principle for Komatsu. With electrified solutions starting to enter commercialisation, continuous improvement in support strategies from equipment partners becomes increasingly vital.

New challenges will come with the electrification of equipment, and Komatsu is diligently preparing for the changing skill sets and regulatory requirements through its training academies.

As these solutions become commercially available, there is a growing enthusiasm among people to adopt them. Organisations are increasingly conscious of their ecological impact and footprint, prompting a search for offerings, such as electric machines, that can help minimise these effects.

“Customers in the Australian and Oceania market, including New Zealand, are early adopters of new technology,” says Small. “We saw that with guidance control and smart construction.”

“They actively seek the latest advancements and challenge us to bring innovations forward – hence, our focus on electrified solutions will intensify in the coming years.

“We are witnessing a demand for electric solutions, and while we are introducing new models, commercial viability and price points are critical considerations.

“The market, driven by both regulatory mandates and commercial incentives, will determine the pace of adoption.”

In response to this increasing demand, Komatsu is trialling several battery electric models in Australia, including the 3 tonne PC33e Electric Mini Excavator and 20 tonne PC210 Electric Hydraulic Excavator. These machines are being put to work with a select group of Australian construction customers, generating valuable data for Komatsu’s engineering teams. This data will be used to optimise the machines for the unique and harsh conditions of Australian applications. This marks just the beginning of Komatsu’s expanding electric portfolio.

Small, who led the construction team during Komatsu’s pioneering launch of hybrid excavators over 10 years ago, emphasises the company’s innovative approach and commitment to sustainability.

“Since launching our first hybrid in Australia, we have expanded the range considerably to cater to the unique requirements of the Australian customer base, including the quarry sector, where reported fuel and emission savings reach up to 40 per cent,” says Small. “Our customers tell us that hybrid is a great stepping‐stone technology, and with over 35 million hours globally, it is a proven technology that is available right now.”

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Komatsu’s Smart Construction range utilises advanced data analytics to enhance the performance of customers’ machinery. (Image: Komatsu)
Komatsu’s Smart Construction range utilises advanced data analytics to enhance the performance of customers’ machinery. (Image: Komatsu)

Small anticipates a trajectory similar to the rapid advances seen in computer technology, foreseeing parallel progress in battery technology driven by substantial investments across various industries. This evolution is expected to contribute to the broader adoption of electric solutions in the equipment sector.

“Our commitment persists in striking a balance between environmental considerations and commercial viability,” says Small. “We remain mindful of the unique challenges posed by the electrification of equipment and are proactively working to address them.”

Over the next 12 to 18 months, Small expects to see the release of more electrified machinery by various global companies. The transition from conceptualisation to commercial availability is imminent. However, he emphasises it’s crucial to consider the skill sets required for working on electric construction equipment.

“Merely unwrapping the product won’t suffice; a comprehensive understanding of maintenance requirements, parts consumption and the ability to troubleshoot faults promptly are crucial,” says Small. “Assessing the availability of local skills becomes essential for a swift response to issues that may arise.”

As these advancements materialise, they will pave the way for a more defined trajectory in the evolution of electrification, shaping the industry landscape. This phase is instrumental in enabling a rapid shift towards the essential support and expertise needed to actualise fleet electrification, with Komatsu leading the way.

Electrification is not the only power innovation explored by Komatsu. The company is also conducting advanced trials with its mid‐range concept hydrogen fuel cell hydraulic excavator. This excavator emits only water and air while generating the energy needed for efficient operation.

“In essence, what I observe is Komatsu excelling in finding and implementing innovative ideas sourced from different corners of our global network,” says Small. “This collaborative effort ensures that we stay at the forefront of industry trends, such as electrification and smart construction, providing our customers with cutting‐edge solutions and an enhanced user experience.”

As the industry witnesses the unfolding of electric, hydrogen and smart construction solutions, Komatsu stands ready to provide seamless adoption, comprehensive support and unparalleled expertise, ensuring a future where innovation meets excellence in construction and utility.

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