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Construction Equipment for the Future and with a Future

Report on Seeding Activities in North America

Global teamwork and expert customers have proven to be a key to product development success.
Jason Anetsberger
Product Manager, Intelligent Machine Control Group,
Komatsu America Corp.
Jason Anetsberger, Product Manager, Intelligent Machine Control Group, Komatsu America Corp.

The adaptation of Machine Control technology is becoming a very important agenda topic of the construction industry today. Along with Australia and Europe, North America is marked by high installation rates of Machine Control technology on customerís machines. With Komatsuís announcement of the worldís first intelligent Machine Control dozer in April 2013, the D61PXi/EXi-23, we were well prepared to introduce the next generation of Machine Control technology for improved customer efficiency and operational benefits. Key to the success of the intelligent Machine Control technology was the incorporation of customer feedback and prompt evaluation early on in the development phase by way of user seeding activities in North America during 2011 and 2012.

Partnering for the future

User seeding activities for our intelligent Machine Control dozers consisted of placing pre-production machines in the hands of actual end users on various jobsites. Overseen by Komatsu America Corp., a U.S. subsidiary of Komatsu Ltd, the jobsites ranged across a wide region of North America. Using the final phase of these activities in 2012 as an example, three different contractors with prior machine control expert experience operated a pre-production D61PXi-23 dozer for two weeks each. Approximately 200 hours of customer operation time by six different operators were logged on jobsites ranging from residential site preparation to large road works to environmental & landfill development. Participating customers were selected based on their high level of prior machine control experience, their ability to place the machine in demanding applications requiring the highest levels of machine performance, and their willingness to partner with Komatsu on this key development activity. Customers were asked to not only operate the machines as they typically would do so with conventional Machine Control, but also to test Komatsuís first fully automatic blade control dozing features which allow automated operation from rough dozing through finish grading.

The pre-production D61PXi-23 at a customerís environmental landfill application in Aug 2012.

The pre-production D61PXi-23 at a customerís environmental landfill application in August 2012. Such jobsites emphasized the importance of high-accuracy slope performance.

Customer feedback improves machine performance

During the user seeding activities in North America, I was able to extensively use over 10 years of industry experience as a degreed mechanical engineer. As the local lead, I would like to emphasize that partnering with our customers in this user seeding activity was a winĖwin scenario for all involved. For our customers, they are now able to purchase a machine with technology and feature sets based on direct end user feedback. For Komatsu, the ability to strengthen the productís capabilities and validating it in real word customer use on actual jobsites, prior to market release, is immeasurable.

One of the key Komatsu takeaways from the user seeding activities was the importance of steep slope performance in specific applications. Komatsu engineers from Japan were able to witness customersí use of the pre-production machine on steep slopes which led to the addition of steep slope performance criteria for the final production machine validation to ensure that customer accuracy and performance expectations were met by Komatsu intelligent Machine Control dozers. Komatsu's Test Engineering Center in Japan was also re-worked to include steep slopes in the configurations encountered during the user seeding activity to ensure this and future intelligent Machine Control dozers meet those same requirements. Being the eyes and the ears at the customerís jobsite daily for the entire Komatsu team was personally rewarding and emphasizes Komatsuís desire to fully understand the customerís application so we can deliver products that become indispensable to all customersí operations.

Steve Ristow, President of Schneider Excavating Inc., operates the pre-production D61PXi-23 at a Milwaukee

Steve Ristow, President of Schneider Excavating Inc., operates the pre-production D61PXi-23 at a Milwaukee, WI residential development jobsite. Steve comments, "I liked it, right on trackÖ great visibility with sloping nose and GPS antenna removed from blade."

Global teamwork speeds development

Reacting quickly to customer requests is very important to keep the user seeding activities progressing. Komatsu and its key development partners leveraged staff across the globe in the development of the intelligent Machine Control technology with personnel participating from Japan, the United States, Australia, and Russia to name a few. In this manner, we were able to make all customer identified improvements in the last round of user seeding activities. While the actual user seeding activities occurred in North America, work load was shared worldwide by the global development team. When a customer requested a change to improve the intelligent Machine Control software or an issue was observed, we were typically able to have that customer evaluating the updated software within one to two days. Just as the sun was setting in North America, our colleagues overseas were able to start working on the updates.

Foundation set for success

To complete the user seeding activities, a final customer focus group and machine performance evaluation were held at Komatsu America Corp.ís customer demonstration and training facility during the fall of 2012. All of the attending customers were expert machine control users: half had previously participated in the user seeding activities, while the other half had not and were acting as fresh independent verification. The success of all the development and improvements made as a result of user seeding enabled the customer focus group to positively conclude the D61PXi-23 was ready for market introduction without further changes. The true measure of success for the user seeding results was shown with the first D61PXi-23 being sold and delivered to a customer in North America without as much as a demonstration. The beauty of the D61PXi/EXi with intelligent Machine Control is that it practically sells itself with its strong value proposition, extensive features and benefits. I canít be more proud of the role Komatsu America Corp. and our customers played in the development of Komatsuís intelligent Machine Control technology. The future for this scalable technology is very exciting.

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