Displayed at the recent Inside Construction Expo, Komatsu’s Retrofitkit from its Smart Construction range is bringing conventional hydraulic excavators into the digital age.
Komatsu’s Smart Construction range has taken the industry by storm, enhancing the management of jobsites around the world through technology. A Foundation Exhibitor of the 2023 Inside Construction Expo, Komatsu displayed the latest in its smart range at the event, including the Retrofitkit for hydraulic excavators.
The Retrofitkit solution from Komatsu is a 3D global positioning system that includes payload – a function that measures bucket capacity – and increases the effectiveness and productivity of hydraulic excavators. Once a hydraulic excavator is equipped with the Retrofitkit, it enables the machine to perform digital construction.
A well-established construction professional, Tony Clear joined Komatsu in November of 2022. Throughout his career he has gained a wealth of experience in machine control – including a notable role heading up sales for machine control construction for Leica Geosystems in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Clear says machine control and guidance is one of the fastest growing solutions of the Komatsu business. “A major part of growth in any machine, from dozers to excavators, in the last 10 years is technology,” he says. “Our Retrofitkit is fitted with 3D machine guidance, Payload Meter and enables the operator to acquire 3D construction data which can be visualised on the Smart Construction Dashboard – all functions that truly change the landscape of a construction site.”
Machine control has traditionally only been utilised by larger companies for high-end and complex functions, but Komatsu is changing the game.
“We’ve ensured the price point of our Retrofitkit system is advantageous to any size business, from the small family-owned builders and farmers using it for drainage and dam rectification to the top tier building contractors,” says Clear.
The true value of the Retrofitkit comes to the fore with its 3D machine guidance function. It not only improves efficiency and productivity but also dramatically improves safety onsite. The global navigation satellite system 3D machine guidance defines the machine location and inside the cab a tablet device provides a visual depiction of the difference between the design data of the construction area and location of the excavator bucket.
In the case of delivering foundation works, for instance, the 3D machine guidance function replaces the need for surveyors to set grades with a laser level, providing instant cost savings in surveying works and improving safety by reducing the amount of people needed in the machine work area.
“Using 3D machine guidance, the operator receives real-time feedback for their bucket position against the surface, vastly reducing the possibility of over-digging, digging into boundaries or hitting services below the surface,” says Clear. “It enables the operator to visually dig to the exact digital plans in-built into the cab tablet screen.”
This in turn optimises labour productivity, as the operator doesn’t have to leave the cab to check the digging is accurate or wait for the surveying team to re-set lines. The operator can simply look at the screen and see exactly what they’re doing.
Further improving safety, efficiency and productivity, the Payload Meter function enables the operator to see the weight of the material in the hydraulic excavator bucket. This proves particularly useful when loading a truck, as trucks have to be under a certain load limit as stipulated in state and national guidelines.
Without the Payload Meter function, says Clear, operators generally fill the truck underneath its load limit using an educated guess based on the bucket’s capacity. “The Payload Meter on the other hand allows the operator to load to the target bucket weight getting the job done quicker, reducing material and haulage costs and increasing the effectiveness of the machine, ultimately resulting in less fuel consumption and emissions,” explains Clear.
Adding to its capabilities, the Retrofitkit collects data from the machine to generate a history of payload reporting as well as 3D as-built data for processing. “With the addition of Komatsu’s Smart Construction Dashboard, this data can be visualised, allowing automatic updating of design surfaces,” says Clear.
“For the construction businesses wanting to take their operations to an even higher level, a number of other Smart Construction solutions can also be integrated with the Retrofitkit.”
Support of its solutions is equally high on the agenda for Komatsu. Clear says while outsourcing support seems to be rife throughout the industry, Komatsu provides all of its support in-house.
“We’re leaning into support,” says Clear. “Our first level of support that we have is our dedicated phone number for Smart Construction users that’s on a sticker inside the machine cab.”
“A person picks up at the end, not some automated message, and we’re able to resolve issues raised in the call for around 80 per cent of our customers over the phone.”
The second layer is Komatsu’s dedicated team of Smart Construction Technical Advisors which are available to head out to the customer and rectify any challenge or query onsite. On top of that, Komatsu’s Customer Technology Advisors (CTA) can be hired by the customer to work on the customer’s site. These experts can deliver a range of works including setting up base stations and recalibrating machines.
“We can also do a drone flight every month and, for example, compare those drone flights so that the customer can see the exact amount of material that’s been moved onsite,” says Clear.
Combined with the company’s multi-layered customer support, Komatsu’s Smart Construction range is offering active solutions to construction industry challenges.
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