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Komatsu’s tech-enabled hydraulic excavators mean business

Tony Clear showing the quality components of Komatsu’s Smart Construction Retrofit Kit (RFK) hydraulic excavators.

Komatsu’s Smart Construction range offers two distinct paths for construction businesses to transform their excavation projects – Retrofit Kit (RFK) and Intelligent Machine Control (iMC) 2.0 excavators. Designed to support operators to achieve higher levels of precision, efficiency and safety, these technology-enabled machines are each ground-breaking for construction professionals in their own right. Inside Construction caught up with Komatsu Australia national business development manager Tony Clear to learn more about each of these machines’ unique capabilities.

Tony Clear, national business development manager, Komatsu Australia.
Tony Clear, national business development manager, Komatsu Australia.

The Smart Construction RFK is a guidance only solution equipped with a 3D global positioning system, says Clear, which provides information and communications technology (ICT) functionality to any excavator, new or existing. It provides a cost-effective way for construction businesses to bring intelligence to their existing fleet.

RFK allows the operator to put a 3D model into the system, which is displayed on a tablet device in the cab. The 3D model can either be a complex design provided by a surveyor or a simple flat pad, slope or trenchline easily created in the field by the operator. The 3D machine guidance function, through a global navigation satellite system, defines the machine’s location, allowing the operator to see where the excavator bucket teeth, left and right, are in relation to the model in real-time. The operator can then accurately dig to the design model without having to use surveyors.

Further, RFK includes a payload function. The Payload Meter, unique to the market at its price point, enables the operator to optimise loading by accurately measuring the weight of each bucket load. Overloading a truck can come with legal and safety ramifications, which can include large fines. There’s a chain of legal responsibility for a truck’s load, meaning everyone from the loader to the truck driver to the business owner, is liable.

If a truck driver turns around a corner too quickly and the truck is overloaded, there’s a higher chance of that load being lost, posing safety risks for the driver and the public.

“Consequently, people want to make sure they’re not overloading their trucks,” says Clear. “The traditional method of loading a truck involves a lot of guesswork, so operators would load the truck way under the load limit.”

One of Komatsu’s Smart Construction iMC 2.0 hydraulic excavators on display at the 2023 Inside Construction Expo.
One of Komatsu’s Smart Construction iMC 2.0 hydraulic excavators on display at the 2023 Inside Construction Expo.

“Using the Payload Meter, the business can move more materials with the same amount of truck cycles, which is profitable for all parties, improves onsite productivity, and reduces fuel consumption and therefore emissions.”

The iMC 2.0 offers similar GPS functionality to the RFK but adds significant productivity benefits through semi-autonomous functionality and is integrated. In its range of excavators, Komatsu has four iMC 2.0 enabled models – the PC210LCi, PC290LCi, PC360LCi, and PC490LCi. “The iMC 2.0 excavators unleash the full potential for productivity gains via semi automation,” says Clear. “The integrated GPS means that the machine’s control of its own hydraulics will not let the machine dig through the design model.”

Rework is a word that construction professionals don’t want to hear when delivering a project. It can be costly and affect productivity and workflow yet continues to be a common issue in the industry. If an operator over-digs material that they shouldn’t have, for instance, they have to put it back and then compact it, resulting in additional costs, time and fuel usage. With an iMC 2.0 enabled machine, regardless of the experience of the operator, they can’t overbreak the model – the machine won’t let them do it.

“In the case of pulling a batter with a normal machine without GPS, the operator would generally face the machine to the batter wall, look at the top where the surveyor has put a peg marking the breakout point, and scratch around with the excavator bucket to create a starting point,” says Clear. “Then, they look at the bottom peg, scratch around it and, if they’re a skilled and experienced operator, pull a straight line between two points.”

“Whereas with an iMC 2.0 machine, the operator can face the wall and throw the excavator arm at it, but it won’t allow it to go through.”

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During boom, arm or bucket operation, the auto-stop control feature of the iMC 2.0 stops the excavator bucket edge on the design surface. As the operator approaches the model, the machine will automatically tilt the bucket to match the design. No operator input is required. The bucket edge is exactly on design as the operator pulls down the batter.

“With an iMC 2.0 machine, the operator can just go for it,” says Clear. “The time savings are unbelievable, not to mention the productivity benefits.”

Komatsu’s RFK defines the machine’s location, allowing the operator to see where the excavator bucket teeth, left and right, are in relation to the model in real-time.
Komatsu’s RFK defines the machine’s location.

What Komatsu is trying to do with regard to its technology is make it easy-to-use for operators of all levels. The skilled labour shortage continues to put pressure on contractors, with experienced operators in high demand, so Komatsu is delivering user-friendly technology that makes operators more productive to help take the pressure off.

“We’re improving productivity for construction businesses in every way we possibly can,” says Clear. “Komatsu is constantly evolving the machines themselves, but another way we can make the operator more productive is with technology.”

Komatsu’s iMC 2.0 hydraulic excavators are technologically advanced, with features that eliminate over-digging and rework, reduce the need for surveyors, remove manual intervention and boost ease of operation.

“Using my example of the batter wall, the operator is more productive, not only because of the machine itself, but because of the technology that’s in the machine,” says Clear.

Depending on the construction business’s requirements and preferences, both RFK and iMC 2.0 hydraulic excavators provide huge value in regard to productivity, precision, efficiency and safety. As the construction industry continues to endure low margins and productivity, it’s solutions like RFK and iMC 2.0 from Komatsu’s Smart Construction range that can help businesses turn the tide and thrive in what is a competitive and demanding market.

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