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100 years of manufacturing P&H shovels

5 min read / November 23, 2020 / Leah Harnack

This year, we celebrate 100 years of the P&H shovel, recognizing the innovation driven by our employees to provide the highest level of quality and service support. That innovation was first started by P&H founders Alonzo Pawling and Henry Harnischfeger, who began a partnership in 1884 under the name Pawling & Harnischfeger, known as P&H. The company would go on to become Harnischfeger, and then Joy Global, before ultimately being acquired by Komatsu in 2017.

The foundation of Pawling and Harnischfeger’s business became the backbone of the shovel’s success today. As the partners expanded their company before the turn of the century, they began making DC and AC motors in 1893, required for the cranes they were building. P&H AC and DC motors continue to be the prime motors on virtually all P&H machines.

While the foundation of P&H’s machining and manufacturing was built more than a century ago, developments over the years enhanced the company’s shovels to better meet the needs of the industry it served. The cornerstones of that being to increase productivity, maintainability, availability and reliability, all while decreasing overall total cost of ownership.

Evolution of the P&H shovel

The Roaring ‘20s brought rapid developments of roads, pipelines, airports and other infrastructure across North America. To provide customers with a machine that could move more, in 1920 P&H pioneered the gasoline-powered shovel, the P&H 206.

Gasoline shovels were a one-man-operated heavy-duty machine and could perform at an extremely low cost per yard. The feature most responsible for its success was the positive chain-driven crowding motion, operated from a set of planetary gears. The crowding motion made it possible for the shovel to dig in the most stubborn soils and to shake earth and clinging material loose from the dipper.

To meet additional demands of rapid development, contractors were looking for versatile pieces of equipment that could be used across multiple projects. P&H created a machine that could serve more than one purpose, the P&H Model 300 8-in-1 Convertible.

To provide increased machine strength and payload capacity, P&H began to replace the riveted-construction machinery with an all-weld design in 1930. P&H was the first manufacturer to do so and became so well-versed in welding technology that the company began to develop and manufacture its own line of welding machines and consumables.

From moving roads to moving mountains

Post-war reconstruction and global economic growth drove the need for bigger, more efficient digging machines in the 1950s.

As truck sizes increased, customers were looking for bigger machines that could keep up to match their capacity and production needs. Several excavator models during this time featured a new friction-free Magnetorque electromagnetic clutch drive on the hoist. It made possible smooth, rapid dipper passage through the bank without stalling, and generated increased dipper fill performance.

Along with the mechanical innovations came electrical innovations. The 2800MkI debuted with a solid state “electrotorque” control system that eliminated the double energy conversion, and Joystick control for the swing function that eased the machine operation. 

Combining the advantages of a rope shovel and a hydraulic face shovel, in 2016 the P&H 2650CX hybrid shovel was introduced. Powered by dual diesel engines and electric drives, it utilizes hydraulics on the crowd system to enhance digging selectivity and enable bucket curl while delivering traditional P&H dig performance and helping to achieve a reduction in total cost of ownership.

Several new technologies provide insights to get the most from the machines. Online Vibration Monitor 2 enables operators to realize the power of predictive diagnostics, helping limit lost production from unplanned shutdowns. Adaptive Controls 2 helps improve productivity by the intelligent application of power — a first step toward shovel autonomy.

The backbone of manufacturing, then and now

Manufacturing the highest quality equipment is a challenging and complex undertaking that requires a diverse team of skilled employees. It takes the hard work and dedication of all our employees, throughout the entire organization, to make us successful.

In 1985, Henry Harnischfeger (grandson to the founder), then president of Harnischfeger, stated: “… some look at this company as products and plants, or as budgets and balance sheets. When I look at the company, I see people — particularly employees, in Milwaukee and all over the world, who have devoted their active professional careers to Harnischfeger. They have pursued a common goal of excellence and they have always been our most essential resource.”

A bright future for the P&H shovel

The challenges of mining today are driving advanced technology and automation to help improve safety, sustainability and increased production while reducing costs. To ensure customers are equipped to meet those demands, we are actively moving toward the future with our line of P&H rope shovels.

“Pawling and Harnischfeger would be really excited about what the business has become today,” said John Koetz, president of surface mining for Komatsu. “Excited about the endurance of the brand, the breadth and the scope of the business as we've expanded, and with the continued legacy of support and reliability.

“I think they'd also be really excited, as we are, in the South Harbor Campus development, that remarkable workplace for the next century for this business.”

Located in Milwaukee’s Harbor District near the site of Pawling and Harnischfeger’s original Machine and Pattern Shop, our new South Harbor Campus will house a state-of-the-art facility that will serve as the new home for the design, large gearing and heavy fabrication of P&H mining shovels, as well as engineering and test manufacturing for surface drills. It will be a space to innovate and collaborate, host training and customer visits, and proudly display our manufacturing and technological capabilities.

“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity in front of us as part of Komatsu and as part of those 60,000 employees of Komatsu worldwide and their investment in this business,” said Koetz. “It's a tremendous opportunity for us to not only create the physical campus for the next century but to create the innovations, the automation, the technology and the people who will lead us there in the future.”

Explore the possibilities at Komatsu at komatsu.com/careers.