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Mining & Resources

Keeping the earth moving – how Komatsu has altered its business model to relieve pressure on coal producers

4 Mar 2024, by Amy Sarcevic



The last few years have seen significant pressure on Australian coal producers, with inflation, extreme weather, and government royalty hikes adding further weight to the industry’s labour, financing and energy costs.

While the sector makes necessary adjustments to preserve profit margins, Komatsu – a global manufacturer and distributor of earthmoving and mining equipment – has also altered its business model.

“We are still committed to the cause and will do what it takes to keep coal operators moving forward,” said Ron Vasey, Komatsu’s Director of Longwall Systems.

As part of this effort, Komatsu has a three-pronged strategy – details of which Mr Vasey shares with Informa, ahead of the Australian Longwall Mining Conference 2024.

Sourcing strategy

Widespread demand for high technology has brought a range of Western suppliers to the market in recent years. But, with the coal industry’s fiscal pressures, extensive equipment upgrades can be prohibitive.

To make end products more saleable, Komatsu has changed its modelling. It now has dual sourcing and manufacturing capabilities, including collaborative partners, instead of a single source supplier.

“We have a partner in China and another in Eastern Europe that manufacture roof supports and shearers on our behalf. Komatsu’s design team still designs the roof support to Joy exacting standards.

“This means it can also be manufactured at the client’s own pace, and at a more reasonable price-point. China is a particularly good prospect as it’s an easier delivery for the Australian market. For other products we still retain our US design and manufacturing expertise,” Mr Vasey said.

This sourcing strategy is also designed to weather geopolitical challenges, he added.

“We were concerned that, with the current states of affairs in warring nations, a single source strategy could easily close in on us. But, by diversifying our manufacturing environment, we can limit risk to the end user, once an order has been placed. If a nation were to close off a supply route, we could pull equipment from elsewhere and keep the wheels turning.”

While its sourcing strategy may have changed, Mr Vasey says it won’t alter its direct to market approach.

“Even during our acquisition in 2017, we’ve steered away from dealership models. We know our customers want to deal directly with the Komatsu underground product and supply group, and so we’ve embedded that in our business. In doing so, we’ve been able to retain over 500 design engineers worldwide.”

Automation strategy

Komatsu is also pushing ahead with its automation journey, investing heavily into new products and future-proofing its designs.

“Komatsu isn’t going anywhere as far as coal goes – we are still 100% invested in that commodity and will move forward with new automated designs as quickly as operators require us to.

“We are rolling out new control systems that can give more bandwidth and accommodate more peripherals – so as new tech comes out, it will be integratable with our designs.

“All of this with a view to helping operators thrive without people on the coalface,” Mr Vasey said.

Integration strategy

In a similar vein, Komatsu is focussed on its broader integration strategy. Beyond individual products, Mr Vasey says the company has always taken pride in its prowess as a system provider.

“Whether it’s an electrohydraulic control system, or a longwall shearer, as long as you bought it from Komatsu, you can be sure it will be integrated,” Mr Vasey said.

“Longwall mines are an assembly of discreet technologies, so it’s vital they can all talk to one another. That’s an experience we will continue to bring to market.”

Further insight

Sharing further details of Komatsu’s strategy, Ron Vasey will present at the 22nd Annual Australian Longwall Mining Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held 12-13 March at the Rydges Resort Hunter Valley.

Learn more and register your place here.

About Komatsu Australia

Komatsu provides essential equipment, technologies and services to the construction, mining, energy, government, waste and quarry industries.

Its purpose is to create value through manufacturing and technology innovations, to empower a sustainable future where people, businesses and our planet can thrive together.

About Ron Vasey

A Chartered Mining and Mechanical Engineer, Ron Vasey began his mining career as a mechanical engineering apprentice with British Coal in 1982.

Over four decades in the industry, he has been both an operator and a major equipment supplier, 27 of those with Joy/Komatsu starting as a service engineer and now as Director for Longwall systems.

He has mining and mechanical engineering degrees, a masters in business and is a Project Management Professional.


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