Business Feature, Earthmoving Industry Insight

Komatsu innovates for a sustainable tomorrow

The push to a zero-emissions future won’t be easy, but innovations from Komatsu are helping create a path to a sustainable future

Komatsu’s all electric prototype three-tonne mini excavator

Construction and resources companies are driving change in industry, Komatsu executive manager for construction Dean Gaedtke says, increasingly looking to use equipment and technologies that deliver carbon-neutral performance.

“Contractors, project managers, client organisations, quarries and miners – and the broader community – are all seeking technology innovations and solutions that can help achieve what is essential for the future of the planet,” he says.

“Komatsu is at the forefront of many of these technology innovations that are driving the construction, operation and management of infrastructure and resources projects today – and into the future.”

Gaedtke says Komatsu’s suite of innovations, including its Smart Construction suite of integrated project and fleet management solutions, intelligent Machine Control (iMC) technology, Komtrax remote monitoring offerings and its autonomous haulage solutions, are leading the way.

Smart construction

The Smart Construction suite is a major step forward in improving productivity and safety in the construction, quarrying and  mining industries through the  application of unique technology and integrated products.

It covers critical steps in a project’s development, from initial site survey and design, through to machine control and management, machine interconnectivity and reviewing project progress during the construction phase. Finally, development of detailed as-built information for future construction and infrastructure maintenance.

It’s designed to work across mixed-brand equipment fleets, offering a single “one-stop-shop” service and support solution across all phases of a project’s lifecycle.

With Smart Construction, the technology around fleet productivity management is exciting, with its ability to save customers a lot of time, money and cost per tonne, while helping monitor safety on every applicable machine in a fleet.

Site and fleet management teams can watch every piece of machinery in near real time and see hazards.

They can monitor truck payloads for over- and under-loads, as well as issues such as site inefficiencies, over-revving, overspeeds, excess idle times and more.

Intelligent machine control 

Komatsu’s iMC technology delivers major productivity, efficiency and cost saving advantages to its “intelligent” range of dozers and excavators.

On bulldozers, the fully integrated machine control systems automatically control blade elevation and tilt according to target design data, allowing the iMC dozers to be used at all stages of a project, from initial bulk dozing to precision final finish work.

On excavators, iMC lets operators focus on moving material efficiently, without having to worry about digging too deep or damaging the target surface. It can result in more than a 60 per cent improvement in work efficiency compared with conventional construction processes.

The latest iteration, iMC 2.0, significantly enhances iMC dozer operations on slopes, while new-generation iMC excavator hydraulics include an automated tilt function making them ideal for precise and complex batter and slope works.

Autonomous and semi-autonomous operations

Gaedtke says technologies like iMC are a step towards automating the construction sites of the future – and driving more efficient, and safer, site operations.

“We will also see automated technology that’s now proven in the mining industry making its way into smaller-scale operations such as construction and quarrying in the future,” he says.

In the mining sector, Komatsu now has 520 autonomous dump trucks around the world driving without operators.

“Production is higher and maintenance costs are lower because autonomous trucks are driven exactly as they were designed to be operated. Even tyre costs are up to 40 per cent less due to reduced wear and tear,” Gaedtke says.

“Soon we will see autonomous machines expand into our construction and quarry equipment products as the technology becomes more affordable and scalable.”


Komatsu’s remote machine monitoring system Komtrax can help customers identify potential issues with a machine well in advance of them breaking down.

Komtrax – which is provided free on every Komatsu machine sold in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia – today covers more than 20,000 machines after being introduced in 2008.

The latest versions of Komtrax identifies individual operators working in each machine, allowing site or project management and operators to work together even more closely to improve and develop skills and production levels.

Customers and their operators are using Komtrax to not only identify and fix potential issues before they become problems, but also to improve machine and site performance and productivity, and even operator skills.

“It has evolved into an efficient,  easy system to use, that is invaluable for Komatsu in helping our customers, and helping our customers better manage their investments,” Gaedtke says.

“We can see how a machine performs, how the operators use

it, and even benchmark it against other machines. That’s valuable for customers, allowing them to better understand how to operate the machine more efficiently,” he says.

Ultra-low emissions diesel technology

Komatsu now offers a full range of Tier 4 Final-compliant machines across the construction equipment range.

“Our new technology engines deliver fuel savings of between five and 15 per cent while complying with Tier 4 Final emissions standards,” Gaedtke says.

Compared with previous generation Tier 3 engxines, Komatsu’s new technology engines reduce both particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NOx) levels by 90 per cent, he adds.

“And our Tier 4 Final engine technology is proving its benefits on major underground tunnelling projects, where the company’s products have been outstandingly successful,” he says.

The Tier 4 emissions engines are delivering “significantly” lower emissions in confined underground worksites, Gaedtke says, creating cleaner working conditions by using Komatsu’s advanced engine controllers, new turbo design, exhaust aftertreatment and catalytic converter.

Hybrid excavator technology

As a step on the road to net zero, Komatsu has led the industry in developing highly fuel-efficient hybrid excavators that combine diesel and electric power.

Fuel consumption on a hybrid excavator is as much as 40 per cent lower than a same-sized conventional Komatsu excavator, saving owners fuel, carbon output and operating costs – while still maintaining reliability and production standards.

Komatsu hybrid excavators are based around an ‘ultra-capacitor’ linked to the swing circuit to generate power during operation. This has shown itself to be safe and reliable across millions of hours of operations around the world.

Going fully electric

Gaedtke points out that: “Fully electric is not a commercially viable solution for a construction site or quarry now – especially in higher-horsepower machines.”

Nonetheless, he says he’s confident that he will see it in future, saying the technology needed to be developed and made commercially viable on smaller machines first.

“An example of this is our all-electric prototype three-tonne mini excavator, which is powered by a lithium-ion battery, and uses electrics instead of hydraulics for the arm, boom, bucket, swing and travel functions,” he says.

For the equipment operators wanting to move onto more sustainable machinery, the major challenge will be finding a way to phase out the use of the existing machines while remaining profitable.

To help them do this, Komatsu has been active in a new concept that particularly applies to rigid and articulated haul trucks, known as ‘agnostic technology’.

“This is based around the principle of designing trucks that can be powered by diesel, hybrid, electricity [trolley or battery] or hydrogen,” Gaedtke explains.

“And throughout a truck’s operating life, which typically extends through multiple engine rebuilds/repowers, it may be powered by a mix of these alternatives.”

Gaedtke adds that all original equipment manufacturers were competing to devise solutions, with the competitive tension acting as a strong driver of major technology improvements.

“Certainly, our customers are driving us hard to devise zero carbon power systems in our products as fast as we can,” he says.

“This is something in which we all – manufacturers, end users, clients, governments and communities – need to play our part as we develop our roadmap to net zero emissions.”

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