Komatsu America Corp. is a subsidiary of the world's second-largest manufacturer of construction, surface mining, and compact construction equipment. Barbara Kram speaks with product managers from the company's Mining divisions in Peoria, Ill.
Although Komatsu started marketing its products in the 1960s in the United States, its North American operations were established in 1970 with a fresh vision for the industry. The goal was to become more than just a supplier of superior earth moving equipment. The company made a commitment to become a trusted partner that could provide ongoing support. Today, Komatsu is the second-largest, fully integrated manufacturer and supplier of construction equipment in the world, from the smallest compact construction size to the largest mining size. Komatsu has established a reputation for quality and reliability that is second to none.
World-class engineering expertise, quality standards, and operations take place at U.S. mining equipment manufacturing facilities in Peoria, Ill., along with plants in Newberry, SC. and Lexington, Ken. The company has built a network of manufacturing and distribution centers in North America with approximately 2,000 employees, including approximately 600 in Peoria.
Komatsu is well known not just for the quality of its heavy duty mining equipment but for its complete product range including mining haul trucks from 100- to 320- ton capacity, motor graders, mining dozers, front-end loaders, excavators and front shovels. In fact, Komatsu makes the world’s largest mechanical drive front-end loader and bulldozer.
“Truly we are the only full-line equipment provider for the mining industry,” said Director of Product Marketing and Planning Wayne Chmiel.
One of the many stars in its product line of mechanical and electric drive mining trucks is the newly introduced HD 785-7, a 100-ton capacity dump truck. “This model was first introduced more than 15 years ago. With this latest update we’ve made significant changes in all areas of the truck,” said Product Marketing Manager for mining trucks Tom Stedman.
Highlights of the new design include an EPA tier-two-certified engine that meets the stringent emissions requirements that became effective Jan. 1, 2006 for surface mining equipment. Komatsu was the first company to introduce a 100-ton truck that is EPA tier-two certified.
The HD 785-7, dual manufactured in Peoria and Mooka, Japan, also features an ergonomic cab with roll over protection (ROPS), and variable horsepower control. The truck has four horsepower settings depending on conditions. For instance, if empty, the equipment requires less power and the truck automatically operates at lower horsepower, burning less fuel and producing lower emissions. In addition to the two non-load settings, the operator can choose from two loaded horsepower settings to maximize efficiency.
The truck also has four-wheel wet disc brakes and automatic retard speed control – a sort of cruise control for downhill driving. “When driving downhill, instead of using the foot pedal, the operator can easily engage the ARSC (Auto Retard Speed Control). When this system is activated, the truck will automatically maintain the speed as selected, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering,” Stedman said. With speed protection, the truck won’t go too fast for the weight or grade.
The HD 785-7 is perfect for both quarry operations, and surface mining. ” “The HD785 has always been an important machine for Komatsu. We’re quite optimistic that this new revision will provide us continued growth in the market,” Stedman said.
Komatsu bulldozers, made in Osaka, Japan and marketed in the U.S., include four in the mining line: the D375A-5E0, D475A-5E0, D475 SD-5E0 (super dozer), and D575A-3A. These range from 525 to 1150 horsepower on the D575A-3A, which is the largest and most productive bulldozer in the world used in mining. The equipment is primarily used in open pit mining including coal, precious metals, and copper. Other markets include coal stockpiles for power plants, landfill applications and large home site development.
“In Komatsu mining bulldozers we really focus on three key characteristics: reliability, productivity and operator comfort,” said Product Manager for mining crawler dozers Rich Smith, “If you have a reliable machine that is productive throughout the day, a comfortable operator maximizes productivity, and that leads to your lowest cost per yard moved.”
Komatsu mining dozers are highly reliable in a variety of applications. The company has just released the 375A-5 with a tier-two engine to meet all of the emission requirements in North America. Engineering advances to prevent failure are incorporated across the model lines on a continuous improvement basis. For example, Mining Design Guideline (MDG) 15, an industry quality measure, is incorporated into the wiring harness standards in the entire mining dozer line to significantly increase the reliability of the electrical systems and eliminate problems. This Australian standard has been adopted because it is extremely stringent.
“If you have a machine out of operation in the mining industry that’s a significant event because that machine is a primary production tool to move a massive amount of material, 24/7. We work with our product support organizations and our engineering groups to make sure our reliability is industry leading,” Smith said. “As we sit down in new product development the product managers from all over the world discuss applications and improvements in an aggressive problem resolution system.”
An example of an engineering solution to maximize bulldozer productivity is Komatsu’s lock-up torque converter. Torque converter technology can be inefficient because parts rotate through fluids, losing about 15 percent efficiency through the churning of oil. “We have an automatic lock up so when you’re in a consistent dozing push, the machine senses when it is most effective to utilize the lock-up torque converter. At that point we engage clutch plates to give you a direct drive for increased speed to reduce cycle time and increase fuel savings,” Smith explained. It’s like overdrive on a car. Another productivity measure is the auto down shift that allows the operator to doze in second gear until the load increases, then automatically downshifts into first gear.
But perhaps the most exciting advances have come in terms of operator ease and comfort. “We are taking some of the repetitive operation out of the operator’s hand; let him or her keep the blade fully loaded and reduce the need for upshifting and downshifting.” Auto speed selection will upshift into second when the dozer is put into reverse since an operator may be dozing in first but want reverse in second gear. Track shoe slip control automatically senses if the tractor is slipping and works like traction control on a car to allow the machine to regain traction. This means the operator does not need to step up and down on the decelerator pedal. “If you’re spinning your tracks, you’re not producing, you’re burning fuel,” Smith said.
(Note: Dozers don’t have accelerator pedals, they are always in high idle; the equipment is controlled by decelerating.)
An air suspension seat is standard in all machines and the 475-5 cab sound level is just 70 decibels, about as quiet as a good car on the highway, even though it’s a 340,000-pound, 890hp machine. That’s well below industry standard and best in class. Palm Command Controls are also ergonomic to reduce operator fatigue. Cabs are spacious with large windows for visibility and thermostat-controlled air conditioning.
“As operators want improved visibility you put more glass in the cab but you are creating a greenhouse, so we put in highly efficient, high-air flow air conditioners to keep it comfortable,” Smith said. “We are firm believers that a comfortable operator is a productive operator, particularly since they can work 10- to 12- hour shifts.
Safety options include 40 psi high-strength glass. In case a machine were to fall into a hopper and coal pour on top, it keeps the coal out of the cab to protect the operator.
“Because of the commodities prices there’s a lot of expansion in mining and a big push to get as much product out of the ground as you can, as cheaply as you can. To use the economies of scale, more companies are utilizing these larger machines,” Smith said. Larger machines require fewer operators than smaller equipment, as well as less fuel than using several smaller pieces of equipment.
The breadth of the Komatsu loading equipment lineup spans a full line of front-end loaders, shovels and excavators. Front-end loaders are emphasized when mobility and flexibility are required in a primary production tool. Focusing on the front-end loaders, the line runs from the smaller WA800 with a 14.4 cubic yard bucket up to the WA1200, with a 26.2 cubic yard bucket, the largest mechanical drive loader in the world. This machine has tires over 12 feet in diameter.
Here again, the trend is toward the use of larger equipment for economies of scale. “Smaller operations are getting larger or being acquired by larger companies, so they become more sophisticated in their needs, begin to consolidate their equipment fleets, and go to larger pieces of equipment,” said Paul Dawlearn, Product Manager for loading equipment. “Where they may have been running 50- to 70-ton trucks they’re now running 100-ton trucks. So to load those trucks on four to five passes you’re looking at a WA800 or WA900 front-end loader.” (Loaders are optimally matched to trucks so they are loaded efficiently.) “Ideally you want to be able to load a truck in four to six passes so the equipment is compatible.”
The triple priorities of reliability, productivity and operator comfort drive the loading equipment as well as the entire Komatsu fleet. Loaders, like trucks and dozers, feature expanded cabs, critical information displays and alarms, an advanced electronic vehicle monitoring system, and many of the comforts and diagnostics found on luxury passenger vehicles.
Hydraulic shovels and excavators are often the popular choice as primary production tools, valued for their capability in hard digging applications where mobility isn’t a concern.
Komatsu’s hydraulic shovel and excavator lineup reflect the same values inherent in Komatsu’s other mining equipment offerings. Ranging from the newly introduced PC2000 (200-ton) to the behemoth PC8000 (720-ton), Komatsu offers five models (PC2000, PC3000, PC4000, PC5500, PC8000) to optimally load trucks ranging from 100 ton to 320-ton payloads. Whether working in the coalfields of Appalachia, the Minnesota iron range, or the diamond fields of Northwestern Canada, Komatsu’s shovels and excavators are known for their productivity, reliability, and durability. Ease of operation and maintenance accessibility are emphasized in the design of these highly productive machines. When relied upon to work 24/7, these machines must be as user friendly as possible. Although the sheer size of these machines may be intimidating, that’s where it stops.
The PC2000 most reflects Komatsu’s commitment to user friendliness. Komatsu’s newest model features a spacious cab with climate control, exceptional visibility, and seven-inch monitor. It is also regarded as a technician’s dream, allowing diagnostics from the comfort of the operator’s cabin and superior accessibility to the engine and hydraulics. The PC2000’s 15.7 yard bucket makes it the perfect match for 100-150 ton haul trucks. And this is all done with environmental friendliness in mind as well. The PC2000 features a tier two engine and runs quietly, an exceptional 65 decibels at the operator’s ear. The cab environment is so quiet Komatsu has installed an engine running indicator lamp to inform the operator the engine is running. If it sounds “unequalled and unrivaled,” that’s exactly what it is. This machine qualifies as a “Dontatsu” design, a Japanese term used by Komatsu to signify machines that are “unequalled and unrivaled.”
“If you look at mining equipment today, it is a marvel to think of the diagnostic capabilities, the comfort level of the operator, and all the bells and whistles. But then again, considering the kind of production that these machines are responsible for, you can’t let these things slip through. Reliability is the key to productivity. We are getting more sophisticated because it’s what’s necessary,” Dawlearn said.
“It’s a boom time for mining and a good time for us,” he added. “Mining goes through its ups and downs. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and it looks to be a promising 2007.”