Komatsu’s technology innovations for tomorrow

Komatsu’s ‘power-agnostic’ prototype haul trucks could be powered by a mix of diesel, hybrid, electricity or hydrogen energy throughout their lifecycle.

As the world moves towards net zero emissions, the construction and resources industries will be expected – and are looking – to play their part in using equipment and technology that deliver carbon-neutral operations.

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

Komatsu is part of many of these innovations which are driving the construction, operation and management of infrastructure and resources projects today, and into the future.

Komatsu’s SmartConstruction suite of integrated project management solutions, including intelligent Machine Control (iMC) technology, the Komtrax remote monitoring offerings, and Komatsu’s autonomous haulage solutions, are all examples of such innovations.

In moving towards a more sustainable future, Komatsu is leading the way in low emissions engine technology, as well as in moving towards zero emissions technology via an all-electric future.

SmartConstruction

SmartConstruction 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, machine and project management, machine interconnectivity, review of project progress throughout the construction phase, and finally development of detailed as-built information for future construction and infrastructure maintenance.

As Dean Gaedtke, Komatsu’s Executive Manager for Construction explains, Komatsu’s SmartConstruction solution is designed to work across mixed-brand equipment fleets, offering a “one-stop-shop” service and support solution across all phases of a project’s lifecycle.

“With SmartConstruction, 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 machine in a fleet,” he says.

“Site and fleet management teams can watch every piece of machinery in near real-time and see where any hazards may be. At a detail level, they can monitor critical factors such as truck payloads for over and under-loads, as well as issues such as site inefficiencies, over-revving, over-speeds, excess idle times and more.”

intelligent Machine Control

Komatsu’s iMC technology delivers major productivity, efficiency and cost saving advantages to the company’s ‘intelligent’ range of dozers and excavators, as Gaedtke explains.

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

“On excavators, iMC lets operators focus on moving material efficiently, without having to worry about digging too deep or damaging the target surface.”

According to Gaedtke, this technology can result in more than a 60 per cent improvement in work efficiency compared with conventional construction processes.

“Our 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,” he says.

Autonomous and semi-autonomous operations

Technologies such as iMC are just one step towards automating the construction sites of the future – and driving safer, more efficient site operations.

Komatsu now has 400 semi-autonomous dump trucks globally driving without operators.

Gaedtke says Komatsu’s automated technology ­– already proven in the mining industry – will soon be making its way into smaller-scale operations such as construction and quarrying projects.

In the mining sector, Komatsu now has 400 semi-autonomous dump trucks globally 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,” says Gaedtke.

“In the near future, we will see semi-autonomous and autonomous machines expand into our construction and quarry equipment products as the technology becomes more affordable and scalable.”

Komtrax

Komtrax is Komatsu’s remote monitoring system, which the company supplies free of charge with all new and Komatsu Premium Used equipment sold in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.

“Our Komtrax remote machine monitoring system gives us and our customers the ability to identify potential issues with a machine, well in advance of them causing a breakdown, so they can be rectified and repaired in a timely manner,” says Gaedtke.

Since it was introduced in late 2008, Komtrax now covers more than 20,000 machines.

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

“[Using Komtrax] we can see how a machine performs, how operators use it, and even benchmark it against other machines. That’s valuable for customers, allowing them to better understand how they can operate the machine more efficiently.”

Komatsu’s 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.

The latest versions of Komtrax identifies individual operators on a given machine, allowing site or project management and operators to work together closely to improve and develop skills and production levels.

Ultra-low emissions diesel technology

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

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

“These slash diesel emissions and a machine’s carbon footprint, while at the same time giving outstanding performance, efficiency and reliability.”

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

Gaedtke says Komatsu’s Tier 4 Final engine technology is proving its benefits on major underground tunnelling projects, where the company’s products have been very successful.

“Komatsu machines equipped with Tier 4 engines are delivering significantly lower emissions in confined underground work sites, resulting in far cleaner working conditions,” he says.

“Emissions levels from these Tier 4 Final machines are much lower than a previous generation Tier 3 machine, by utilising Komatsu’s advanced engine controllers, new turbo design, exhaust aftertreatment and a catalytic converter.”

Hybrid excavator technology

As a step on the road to net zero, Komatsu has also developed fuel-efficient hybrid excavators that combine diesel and electric power.

Komatsu’s hybrid excavators combine diesel and electric power.

Gaedtke says 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 emissions 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

Fully electric machinery has traditionally not been commercially viable for construction sites or quarries – especially in higher horsepower machines. Will we see this happening in the future?

Gaedtke is positive. “The technology will be developed, proven, and then needs to be made commercially viable, initially for smaller horse-powered machines,” he notes.

“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.

The prototype is currently on display at Komatsu’s new Innovation Hub in Wacol, Brisbane, and is a pointer to how this technology will develop.

What we are likely to see far sooner, however, is power source blends – diesel and electric battery, hydrogen power systems, and kinetic energy systems, Gaedtke says.

“The major challenge for many equipment operators will be how they phase out existing machines, while adapting to net zero and running sustainable businesses – and at the same time remaining profitable,” he observes.

“Take the case of an operator with 200 machines in a fleet across the country. If they wanted to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a significant amount, they would have to replace a large percentage of their fleet. How do they do that?”

One way to do this, he notes, is through a new concept that Komatsu has been active in, known as ‘agnostic technology.’  It’s an option that particularly applies to haul trucks, whether rigid or articulated.

“This is based around the principle of designing trucks that can be powered by diesel, hybrid, electricity (trolley or battery) or hydrogen. Throughout a truck’s operating life – which typically extends through multiple engine rebuilds/repowers – it may be powered by a mix of these alternatives,” he explains.

A key part of meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets will be staged replacement of fleet with lower emitting machines, while operating current machines to achieve optimum efficiency.

“This is where Komatsu can really add value for our customers through our integrated offerings of technology solutions.”

Gaedtke says competition between original equipment manufacturers to devise these solutions would also be 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. 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.”

This article was originally published in the April edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.


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