April 23, 2019 / by Leah Harnack
This truck is massive. It’s larger than a 3,000-square-foot, 2-story house. That’s how Jim Mathis, manufacturing operations general manager- Peoria, described the largest of the mining haul trucks being manufactured at Komatsu America Corp.’s facility in Peoria, Illinois.
These super-sized electric-drive dump trucks are used for large-scale mining applications. They come in six sizes, ranging from 200 to 400-ton haul capacities. Just how big are they? The 980E-4, the largest of the bunch, stands roughly 26-feet tall and features tires that weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
The mining division is an ISO 9001-certified facility, which has become somewhat of an expectation of modern companies. The thing that makes this operation unique is that the entire business operation is ISO-certified.
“That is not common,” said Mathis. “It’s actually quite impressive to have the entire business adhere to these rigorous guidelines.”
The ISO 9000-family of standards provide guidance and tools for companies that want to ensure their products and services meet customer requirements while consistently improving quality.
“It’s the strongest control check out there,” said Mathis. “Customers are demanding it and they don’t want a company to bid that’s not certified.”
The facility in Peoria is one of Komatsu’s Mother plants, a location recognized by the organization for its development capabilities and positioned as a key contributor to global production.
To support its role as a manufacturing powerhouse, Peoria built a new spare parts warehouse in 2014 capable of housing more than 3,000 components to better serve its customers and create a more efficient workstream by reducing logistical challenges.
When it comes to the production process, Mathis shared an innovation the plant introduced a few years ago: a moving assembly line with a flexible conveying system that uses air to propel pieces of the machinery.
Previously the facility utilized a stall-build assembly process. They would simply park the frame and finish the truck over the next three weeks. The air system, Mathis described, is like an air hockey table from the arcade, flipped upside down. Pinholes of air allow them to glide 40-50 tons of truck along the line with ease, making the manufacturing process much more efficient.
People play the most important role in manufacturing these machines.
“It’s true craftsman that make the frame of the truck,” said Mathis. “Our people are some of the most talented in the industry.”
It should come as no surprise that this workforce is so skilled when you consider the history of Peoria.
“Making things was Peoria’s reason for existence for many decades” said Mathis.
Set on the Illinois River, the city was a destination for a variety of imports and an indispensable point of export when maritime transport was the primary way of moving goods. With an abundance of grains in the Midwest, whiskey and beer were two of the earliest exports.
“Distilleries needed talented welders that could fabricate high-quality,” said Mathis. “As time passed, the goods produced here have changed, but the incredibly skilled workforce has remained. We see it as a real strength of the community and it made Peoria the perfect fit for Komatsu.”
The mining division at Peoria employs about 800 people and this facility is very active in seeking out new recruits who excel in skilled labor, particularly welders and assembly electricians.
To help facilitate an influx of fresh talent, the new business model is to train people in the community and to ensure them a job upon completion.
“Employees are the most valuable asset we have,” said Mathis. “As they grow, the company benefits from their knowledge.”
In 2012, PBS featured Komatsu’s Peoria manufacturing facility in “Heavy Metal Task Force,” as part of its “Raw to Ready” series. The show would go into factories to highlight the craftsmanship it takes to build incredible machines and reveal hidden stories of human ingenuity that transform raw materials into monumental marvels of modern technology.
“It’s crazy when you think about it,” said Mathis. “These trucks are harvesting the raw materials we need in order to build more heavy equipment. It’s not the circle of life, but it is the circle of manufacturing.”