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Construction Innovation and technology

‘Not your old-time bulldozer’: New tech helps drive record attendance at Demo Days

10 min read / July 11, 2022 / Greg Heckart

Komatsu equipment ready for visitors to Komatsu's Demo Days

Komatsu’s 2022 Demo Days was years in the making. Three years, to be exact. Komatsu last held the event -- which invites customers to try its latest machines and tech -- in the fall of 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large gatherings. While events might have been paused, Komatsu innovation wasn’t. During the pandemic, the company released new machines and technologies that many customers were eager to try.

So, when Komatsu announced it was bringing back the popular event at its Training Center in Cartersville, Ga., current and potential customers, as well as their distributors, couldn’t wait to get back. Interest was so high that Komatsu turned Demo Days into a four-day event instead of its usual three.

Ryan Stachowski at Komatsu Demo Days

Ryan Stachowski, lead demonstration instructor and sales trainer

“We could definitely see there was pent-up demand,” said Komatsu’s Ryan Stachowski, lead demonstration instructor and sales trainer, who was the emcee and host of Demo Days. “Our number of available slots were filled almost immediately. It took a lot of work and long hours to put Demo Days together, and the payoff is seeing the smiles on customers’ faces. You can tell that they truly enjoy being here.”

Among them was the D71PXi-24 intelligent Machine Control (iMC) 2.0 dozer that features new technology such as lift layer control, tilt steering control, quick surface creation and proactive dozing control. It’s now the largest of Komatsu’s hydrostatic dozers and maintains the super-slant nose design.


It’s not your old-time bulldozer like I grew up on

Greg Engels, general superintendent

Bob Bergkamp Construction Co. Inc. of Wichita, Kan.

“Everything is programmed in to where it makes the cuts. It will make it look pretty good. Very balanced, nice size, very good visibility and very responsive. It does a smooth job. I was caught off guard with the cooled seat. That’s a really nice feature, especially when it’s hot out like it has been here. People actually get paid to run something like that? Yeah, they ought to love it.”

Attendees could also run a PC210LCi-11 iMC 2.0 excavator with auto tilt bucket control that enables automatic control of the bucket/attachment angle to match the cutting edge of the surface. Like all iMC excavators, the full bucket profile protects against over-excavation even when the machine is not facing directly toward the target surface. With iMC 2.0 and an IMU sensor, the full bucket edge stays on the surface and automatically returns the bucket to a horizontal loading position.

Both iMC machines proved to be very popular with attendees, as well as a PC238USLC-11 tight tail swing excavator equipped with the new Smart Construction Retrofit system, a solution that gives customers an entry-level, indicate-only system and lets operators see where they are in relation to target elevation. It also has a payload system.

Multiple components make Smart Construction Retrofit highly accurate. The kit includes four inertial measurement units (IMU) mounted on the bucket, arm, boom and frame of the excavator. Sensors are installed in the front of the machine, and two GNSS antennas for GPS on the rear. A router provides Wi-Fi to transfer design data to and from the Smart Construction Cloud.

“With grade control, it will make sure that we’re set up on grade for doing sanitary sewer when you have to be within a certain depth,” said Jess Fitzhugh with Tidewater Contractors Inc. of Brookings, Ore., which provides aggregate, redi-mix concrete and asphalt products, as well as highway construction services to its customers. “The display is nice. It’s not much different from other GPS systems that I’ve run. It would save us time and money not having to stake everything or run off hubs.

“The 238 is very stable too,” Fitzhugh added. “It’s nice to have the zero swing so that you’re not hanging anything out there. You can get into a lot of tighter places, which is what we were dealing with on our last waterline job.”

In total, more than 20 machines and haul trucks were available to operate at Demo Days. Komatsu also displayed products from its forestry and forklift lines, as well as provided information on ground engaging tools from Hensley Industries (a Komatsu company). Additionally, attendees could tour Komatsu’s Chattanooga Manufacturing Operation and see excavators and forestry equipment being built.

Komatsu personnel at Komatsu Demo Days looking at dozer equipment

Demo Days attendees could speak with Komatsu personnel about machine features and how they could benefit their business

“I like the fact that it’s got everything — it’s all in one,” said Nic Sanchez with Nelson Pipeline Constructors LLC of Fort Lupton, Col. “We can go check out dozers to excavators to loaders. It’s exciting to watch because I can bring information back home to Colorado and let them know the direction we want to go — here’s what this machine’s going to do.”

Digital solutions information

Smart Construction Retrofit is part of a suite of solutions Komatsu offers to customers to help optimize their job sites. Smart Construction Dashboard, Design, Drone, Field, Remote and intelligent Machine Control are currently available. Demo Days attendees could learn more about these, as well as future solutions such as Smart Construction Office. Komatsu Smart Construction solutions managers were on hand to answer questions and provide information.

“Smart Construction is a foundation for what’s coming in the future,” said Bryce Satterly, Smart Construction solutions manager. “If you have Field, Office is the next logical progression of digital solutions. The integration of Office and Field offers great time savings because it reduces or eliminates the need to manually update scheduling and cost analysis, which is typically done weekly or monthly. Project managers always have the most current information, so they can make faster decisions.”

Smart Construction Office is a scheduling and project management platform with real-time job site cost tracking. As field personnel input project data into Smart Construction Field, the Office file associated with the job instantly updates, giving project managers current, actionable information without the need for phone calls, job-site visits or reams of paper.

Smart Construction Design was the first solution Komatsu introduced. It saves time and eliminates the headache of converting paper plans with digital design files provided by Komatsu’s 3D data generation service.

See Komatsu’s designers at work below:

“In order to build anything on a construction site, you have to have plans,” stated Maria Henry, Smart Construction project modeler. “Customers generally have a PDF version and they need a DWG or AutoCAD file. They contact us to build a model. The detailed scope will determine how long it takes, and we will work with any size of project. In the end, the customer is getting a high-quality file.”

Smart Construction solutions are available through My Komatsu, which is free and provides several features including Komtrax telematics and other fleet management tools such as online parts ordering.

“We use My Komatsu daily to verify locations of machines, idle hours and fuel consumption, and our shop uses it to look for fault codes right away,” said Lucas Masica, vice president of operations at Kevitt Excavating in Minneapolis, which does civil construction and owns several pieces of iMC equipment, according to Masica. “Our parts ordering has increased with that. There are no more telephone calls. You just click and it shows up in a day or two.

“We enjoy coming down here and seeing everything and spending some time with the Komatsu people,” added Masica. “We were one of the first people to really utilize iMC in Minnesota, so meeting the people behind the scenes that made that happen over the last couple trips we have been here is really neat.”

Contestants have fun

Ryan Stachowski emphasized that in addition to being able to operate equipment, attendees were eager to learn.

“They had really in-depth conversations with our experts, and really challenged them for real solutions,” said Stachowski. “What I hope they take away from an event like this is that they learn a little bit more about Komatsu that they didn’t know before, and that this is a place they can get their questions answered by the people that work day in and day out to develop these machines for them.”

People in safety vest and hard hats discussing Komatsu Smart Construction

Smart Construction personnel were on hand to answer questions about how the solutions can transform attendees’ businesses and make them more efficient

He said they were also ready for some fun, and one way they got it was by participating in the excavator challenge. Using a tight tail swing PC88MR-11, attendees were timed while picking up three objects and placing them in a bucket. The overall fastest time — 28.59 seconds — and first-day winner was Greg Bostwick of Middleton Construction.

The end of an era

Thirty-two years ago, Rich Smith began his career with Komatsu on the shipping dock at the Peoria Manufacturing Operation. He worked held several other positions in manufacturing including mechanical assembler, transportation and machinist. He was even a union steward for part of that time. This year’s Demo Days marked the end of his full-time tenure with Komatsu.

“My best friend worked for Komatsu, and he told me how great of a company it was to work for; I applied and was lucky enough to get selected to join the team,” Smith recalled. “I always tell people who are interviewing with us that if you have honesty, integrity and work ethic, Komatsu will give you every opportunity to be successful. And they don’t put you in one location and say that’s where you are going to be forever. Komatsu wants you to go out and get varied experience.”

Smith is a prime example. He’s worked in field service, technical support, machine and parts sales, and product marketing. Smith helped launch Komatsu’s iMC and Smart Construction. His final official role was vice president of product and aftermarket support.

“I’m not leaving completely; as I move into semi-retirement, I will contribute to the company on a part-time basis,” said Smith. “I’ll focus on a couple of key projects. One is improving Reman customer satisfaction by continuing to improve our quality and offerings to meet the customer needs. The other is working on on-time delivery that involves helping with supply chain challenges. It’s about making sure we get our parts and machines with the desired options to customers where they need them and when they need them.”

One of Smith’s proudest accomplishments wasn’t machinery related. He was part of a joint company/union team to develop a program designed to help workers overcome substance abuse.

“We put together education and rehabilitation programs,” Smith reflected. “I’m confident that we saved jobs, I’m confident that we saved families, and I’m confident that we saved lives by getting involved and treating people not just as employees but as family members.

“I think I’ll miss the time with customers the most,” he added. “I have spent a lot of time with them over the years. Nothing is more satisfying than helping a customer be more productive. Now, it is time to think about what is next. In my travels, I have built up quite a bank of airline miles. I like to say that I’ve been everywhere and seen nothing. So, my wife and I will take some time and travel. I think during this next year we will visit some of my Japanese friends and my wife, Lynn, can experience Japan. I hope to climb Mt. Fuji, which is something that I’ve been planning to do for about 20 years.”

Komatsu’s Training Center was built during Smith’s time at the company, and he’s seen it and Demo Days grow over the years. Smith’s last “official duty” was cleaning tracks on a dozer. Komatsu staff presented him with a golden shovel to complete the task.

See more of Rich’s comments here.