Reversing a decline in productivity growth in the construction industry won’t happen overnight, but Komatsu customers are ahead of the curve, thanks to its technical advances and comprehensive customer support.
As slow labour productivity growth continues to sting parts of the construction industry nationwide, Komatsu is actively delivering solutions to ensure its customers can reap the benefits of its technologies today.
Komatsu General Manager – Smart Construction James Muir has a wide breadth of experience in the construction technology space. His over 30 years’ experience has seen him work in leadership roles across the United Kingdom and Australia before joining Komatsu in 2019.
Now leading the company’s Smart Construction Division, Muir says new technologies mean the time to improve labour productivity growth in the Australian construction industry is now.
“Komatsu’s Smart Construction range is a game changer for construction productivity,” says Muir. “Through the application of our unique technology and integrated products, businesses can improve the entire construction process by utilising accurate and instant data, and insights.”
Among the solutions in Komatsu’s growing Smart Construction range are the Intelligent Machine Control (iMC) 2.0 system for the latest model ‘intelligent’ dozers and excavators as well as Komatsu iSite, a fleet management solution that gives the user a complete, real-time overview of all of their machines throughout the working day. Also in the Smart Construction range, Komatsu’s Dashboard combines 3D design data with aerial mapping and intelligent machine data, providing operators with a digital view of their job site.
Smart Construction utilises Internet of Things (IoT) technology to gather data, software to analyse it and to create information, and then uses that information to optimise and improve the processes for the customer. It makes full use of Komatsu’s Intelligent Machine Control technology and provides comprehensive project planning and logistics – for a stunning improvement in productivity. At the heart of the concept lies a central operation control system, a cloud-based platform, that creates a flow of real-time information across the entire network. This is IoT applied to the construction industry.
“Management of the entire construction project, from planning to completion, is seamless through our connected workflow technologies,” says Muir.
The Smart Construction range has been credited with helping to reduce inefficiencies at worksites around the world, and as part of a company spearheading solutions in this area, Muir says the industry has a major opportunity to find a solution to its productivity challenges.
But many companies are reluctant to embrace the changes, he says, and a great deal of government and industry are still putting this issue on the backburner.
According to McKinsey & Company’s 2017 report, Reinventing Construction: A Route to Higher Productivity, construction-related spending accounts for 13 per cent of the world’s GDP, but the sector’s annual productivity growth has only increased one per cent over the past 20 years. Further, the report finds $1.6 trillion of additional value could be created through higher productivity – that would meet half of the world’s infrastructure needs.
In 2023, the statistics have barely improved, if at all. “There’s a number of different elements to how this can be addressed and applying technology is at the top of the list,” says Muir. “If we were to achieve technology adoption across the industry, our taxpayer dollars would be better spent because we could build more with less.”
Today the entry point to apply technology in construction is lower than ever before, as increased competition and innovation have lowered the cost of investment, opening up more opportunities for more businesses to take the technology leap.
Muir says the gains of technology far outweigh the initial investment cost.
“Whereas a traditional machine would dig and rely on the skills of a very good operator, now you can have a machine that does the majority of the work for you,” says Muir. “It eliminates human error in the way that it won’t allow things like over-digging resulting in rework.”
“Our smart machines mean a business can hire an operator that doesn’t have 20 years’ experience who ordinarily would cost further dollars to upskill, because even newer operators can be brought up to speed very quickly on our intuitive and user-friendly technology.”
Komatsu’s digital monitoring technology (digital twin) can be adopted by the industry right now, explains Muir. A digital twin is an accurate, virtual representation of a real-world physical object such as a piece of equipment or even an entire building. These exact replicas allow the operator to measure things like project progress and cost in near real-time to better manage resources, make accurate predictions and estimates, and improve safety onsite.
When it comes to technology adoption in the construction industry, government action could inspire positive outcomes, Muir says. “We need a fundamental government policy change within the construction and infrastructure sectors to encourage the adoption of technology,” he adds.
“These policy changes need to address, at the very least, risk sharing to allow contractors and various entities to utilise more capability into applying technology rather than having to worry about the ‘all on them’ cost if something goes wrong on a project.”
Muir explains that in Japan, the government is working together with the construction industry through the i-Construction initiative. Introduced in 2016, the initiative promotes the use of automated machines and information and communication technologies (ICT) on construction sites to improve productivity across the local industry. The Japanese Government provides concessions to the engineering firms and contractors that adopt more ICT or semi-autonomous machines within their business.
“The successful implementation of the i-Construction initiative in Japan is proof that with more government support, the industry can thrive,” says Muir. “It’s not that the technology doesn’t exist, the technology is absolutely there, it really comes down to why we haven’t applied it.”
“There used to be an argument that technology can’t be applied into the infrastructure or construction industries because we’re out in the elements and there’s too many variables that we have to factor in.
“That used to be a valid argument probably 20 years ago – now we have machines that are so intelligent, in terms of their ability to operate in the field, that we can measure a job down to the millimetre.”
Muir explains that it comes down to enabling the industry to benefit from these technologies and encouraging the application of that technology in the field.
Another challenge contributing to low labour productivity is attracting and retaining people in the industry, a challenge Muir says technology can play a huge role in addressing. “We don’t want to be putting people into construction roles that are not going to interest them and technology itself helps with that,” he says. “If a business applies new solutions and technologies across its operations, it makes employment opportunities that arise within the company more interesting to current and future generations.”
“Whereas if we’re still using antiquated methods and policies, people are just not going to be interested in joining our industry.”
Comprehensive customer support
Further to its range of technology, Komatsu’s approach to supporting the customer is paving the way for improved labour productivity across the industry.
“We believe support of the customer is paramount,” says Muir. “We have a whole series of support layers that we introduce now as part of our smart technology, because it’s not good enough to just deliver the technology to our customers – we need to be there to help them apply it or else we believe it’s not going to be applied to its full potential.”
As well as ensuring every piece of smart technology is easy-to-use, Komatsu has cultivated a dedicated support team of Smart Construction consultants available 16 hours a day to instantly assist customers. These experts can dial into the screen in the cab of a machine and show the operator in real-time what buttons to press, propose solutions using ICT and, as a result, improve productivity and safety across the workplace. This provides customers immediate guidance without them having to visit a support centre.
“As well as having that frontline support, Komatsu has technology advisors on call to visit customer sites when needed,” says Muir. “Our Smart Construction machines connect to satellites and base stations, so if the customer needs support outside of their machine, we can have a Komatsu technology advisor to their site within hours.”
But the support doesn’t stop there. Komatsu has a team of customer technology advisors that can join a business as part of the team. The difference being, a technology advisor is a troubleshooting expert who will visit a customer’s site to assist with the immediate problem or challenge at hand, whereas a customer technology advisor is an expert Komatsu customers can hire into their team.
Whether they’re needed once a week or once a month, a customer technology advisor can be embedded into the team to teach and help direct the company towards technology adoption and improved productivity.
“For an earthmoving contractor for example, a Komatsu customer technology advisor can help move the business into the digital era,” says Muir. “They will help integrate Komatsu technology, assist with training, help with application and strategy, and ensure overall the business’s journey to technology adoption runs smoothly and efficiently.”
The construction industry has the capability and capacity to step up to the productivity challenge, but even more so with a high level of support from construction technology providers. Komatsu’s customer-centric approach proves that with the right support, improved labour productivity is more achievable than most realise. Rather than simply introducing Smart Construction technology to the market, Komatsu is making the path to new productivity gains seamless and inviting by not only providing the latest in intelligent technology and products, but also supporting its customers into the digital era.
“Unlike some companies that will look to outsource support, we find that providing multiple layers of support and services in house is vital to helping our customers throughout the entire process of technology adoption,” says Muir.
Environmental, Social and Governance
Adding to the labour productivity challenge, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards play a huge role in the success of a construction business. The impact a business has on the environment and society is becoming ever more important. Owners, investors and project owners are placing an increasing importance on ESG factors, and it is something that business operators need to keep top of mind in order to be competitive.
With a vision of reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry worldwide, Komatsu is looking at multiple different power generation opportunities and methods, from electric to hydrogen cell, to keep its equipment on the move.
“There are many ways in which technology coming into the industry can improve overall ESG,” says Muir. “On the environmental side, our Smart Construction machines reduce rework, they reduce the amount of fuel you’re burning and therefore the amount of carbon you’re emitting, and they get the job done in two thirds of the time.”
“The ESG benefits of our smart machines are tremendous, especially in the environmental space.
“Helping with ESG is the ability to measure it – our Dashboard can measure litres per tonne, emission clouds and can show you, depending on the number of machines which we track by satellite, what the emissions balloon would look like all the way down to the type of engine that it’s running.”
On the social side, Komatsu’s Smart Construction machines improve workplace conditions by strengthening employee health and safety. By improving efficiency, the technology enables the operator to get the job done quickly and reduces the need for manual labour. Machine surround cameras can alert operators if someone is standing too close to a machine and eliminate oversights that may have resulted in an incident. Further, new generation electric excavators emit next to no external noise emissions ensuring minimal impact to society.
“Our Smart Construction machines get the job done in less time,” says Muir. “We’ve seen instances where a project has gone on for more than five years when our technology could have helped the contractor complete it in three.”
Moving into the digital era
Though the future of the Australian construction industry is uncertain, Muir says he is confident that over the next five years we’re going to see an uplift in overall labour productivity.
“We’re already seeing an increasing adoption of machine control and machine guidance as well as design tools and digital twin technology,” he says. “I believe in the near future we’ll see an upturn in technology application.”
In the next 10 years, Muir says the productivity benefits of technology could be exponential. “Technology adoption needs to become the norm across the construction industry if we want to tackle the labour productivity challenge,” he adds.
“We believe there’s a market here for the technology, and innovation investment in the construction industry is climbing rapidly – it’s a key indicator that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Looking again at McKinsey & Company’s Reinventing Construction: A Route to Higher Productivity report, it names seven levers to drive improved labour productivity across the construction industry. Komatsu’s smart technology and approach to customer support bolsters two of the most important levers: the improvement of onsite execution; and the infusion of digital technology, new materials and advanced automation.
The report names four key methods of improving onsite execution – the introduction of rigorous integrated planning, implementation of collaborative performance management, the effective mobilisation of projects, and collaboration to reduce waste and variability. From a customer support perspective, Komatsu readily enables these four courses of action.
In terms of infusing digital technology, new materials and advanced automation – Komatsu goes above and beyond to ensure its consistently innovating its technology offering to provide forward-thinking solutions to the construction industry. The company’s ever evolving Smart Construction range is a testament to Komatsu’s goal of improving productivity, efficiency and safety for its customers.
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