We Listen and Learn
Rich Smith, Vice President, Product and Services Division, says direct customer engagement leads to productive changes in Komatsu machinery
Rich Smith has been with Komatsu America for 27 years, beginning his career in manufacturing. He has served a variety of functions at Komatsu, including manufacturing, product support, contract administration, technical support and product marketing. His wide range of experience is particularly valuable in developing new products and expanding business into new markets.
“When I started with Komatsu it was at the forefront of machine technology with autonomous trucks,” recalled Smith. “It remains there today with innovative products such as our intelligent Machine Control excavators and dozers. I remember when I first saw aftermarket, grade-control systems on dozers and thinking that those masts and cables are going to get ripped off, figuratively and literally. Komatsu solved that by integrating grade control into the machines.”
Smith serves on the National Mining Association Board of Directors; is the current President of the National Mining Association Manufacturers and Services Board of Governors; and is also on the Board of Directors of the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Springfield with a degree in Business Administration and Management.
“I started on the shipping dock at our plant in Peoria, Ill., and worked my way up,” said Smith. “I value three things highly: honesty, integrity and work ethic. So does Komatsu, and that’s part of why I've stayed here so long. It’s like a family-owned business inside of a large organization. I can’t imagine ever working for another manufacturer.”
QUESTION: What does the construction market look like?
ANSWER: The market was down slightly last year, but despite that, Komatsu still delivered a lot of machines into the field. This year is off to a good start, and our customers are telling us there may be a bit more strength in the back half of the year.
QUESTION: How does Komatsu meet the demands of a seemingly ever-changing marketplace?
Komatsu Vice President, Product and Services Division Rich Smith says visiting with customers provides valuable feedback. “No matter the market situation, we continue to engage customers directly,” said Smith. “During the past few years we have made more than 15,000 visits to customers, and that’s helped us to better understand the markets and our customers’ needs.”
ANSWER: No matter the market situation, we continue to engage customers directly. We make a concerted effort to get out of the office and into the field. During the past few years, we have made more than 15,000 visits to customers, and that’s helped us to better understand the markets and our customers’ needs.
Further, demonstrations at our Cartersville Customer Center allow us to bring current and potential users of Komatsu equipment to our training and demonstration facility where they can operate our latest machinery and give us feedback. Customers often share ideas on how they can use the machines in ways that we had not considered. One of the benefits is that we are taking this information and driving it back into our development processes. We use it to manufacture machines that are more specific to the North American construction marketplace and customer needs.
QUESTION: Can you provide some examples?
ANSWER: Our Tier 4 Final Dash-11 excavators are performing at a much higher level than the Interim Dash-10s. When the Interim machines were introduced, there was a strong push for fuel efficiency. North American customers appreciate that, but it’s not as important to them as in countries where fuel prices are much higher. Instead, those in North America want to maximize productivity. So, we talked to them directly to find the right ratio of economy and production. For example, the PC360LC-11 is now approximately 12 percent more productive than its predecessor while still being quite fuel-efficient.
Rich Smith recalls seeing the first aftermarket, grade-control systems on dozers. “I remember … thinking that those masts and cables are going to get ripped off, figuratively and literally. Komatsu solved that by integrating grade control into the machines.”
Another example is the introduction of an Advanced Joystick Steering System (AJSS) in our WA500 wheel loaders, something not previously available in that size of machine. Customers told us they sometimes use it in load-and-carry applications, and AJSS allows them to maximize productivity and minimize cycle times. With standard joystick steering, the top speed is limited for controllability issues and comfort. With AJSS you don’t have to do that, so operators can run at top speed in the load-and-carry application.
Some product improvements, such as Advanced Joystick Steering in the WA500-8 wheel loaders, are a result of customer input, noted Rich Smith, Vice President, Product and Services Division. “Customers often share ideas on how they can use the machines in ways we had not considered,” said Smith. “One of the benefits is that we are taking this information and driving it back into our development processes.”
QUESTION: Attendees could see some of these machines at CONEXPO, along with intelligent Machine Control excavators and dozers. What’s on the horizon for those products?
ANSWER: We recently introduced the Tier 4 Final PC210LCi-11 excavator (see related article), and we are developing other products. But, we’re looking well beyond the iron. CONEXPO was our formal launch of Komatsu’s future vision of SMARTCONSTRUCTION, which provides jobsite solutions with items such as 3-D aerial mapping, personnel training for machine usage and optimization, progress and cost tracking, project management and potentially much more. The possibilities are virtually limitless. Again, customers want to be productive and profitable, and we’re implementing ways to further help them from both machinery and support standpoints. Komatsu aims to be their total solutions provider.