On April 29, when New Zealand moved from Level 4 elimination strategy to Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, Phil Pritchard, the managing director of Komatsu New Zealand, sat at his computer and watched the Komatsu heavy machinery activity across the country light-up his screen.
The country’s construction and mining industries had been silent for a month, but that morning Mr. Pritchard’s computer, linked to Komatsu’s KOMTRAX system which remotely monitors the activities of more than 2600 bulldozers, wheel loaders, dump trucks, graders and excavators, burst into life.
The remote satellite monitoring, which provides real-time observation of the machine health of vital construction and mining equipment, according to Mr. Pritchard, will lead a post-Coronavirus revolution in greater production efficiency.
For the past two months, Komatsu senior executives across the world have sat on committees planning for Post-COVID-19 recovery with emphasis on helping not only large customers, but smaller plant operators who may need assistance to re-adjust their businesses.
“Protocols which achieve higher work productivity through solutions in supply-chain and machine management are likely to become permanent outcomes of response to the pandemic,” according to Mr. Pritchard.
As the New Zealand government pulled back to Level 2 COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday 14 May, Komatsu forecast the country’s important industries would become more agile, more reliant on e-commerce solutions and even better serviced by sophisticated machine monitoring.
“There is every likelihood that business in the future will be conducted in a different and even more fail-safe manner,” Mr. Pritchard said.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the roll-out of newly introduced systems, which under normal circumstances would have been tested and refined over longer periods of time.
According to Barry Millar, Komatsu’s aftermarket National Manager, customer use of an automated parts ordering portal, my.komatsu.co.nz, which removes the need for face-to-face contact, had almost doubled during the pandemic.
Importantly it had proved robust under the unexpected load.
People solutions ranging from making more use of work-from-home opportunities, through to even safer and more hygienic workplace engagement had been part of the COVID-19 adjustment.
A recently inaugurated ‘Start Safe’ policy intended to meet and exceed workplace safety requirements had adapted well to the COVID-19 challenge.
“Meticulous process detail goes right to the heart of good customer relations,” Mr. Pritchard said.
“Once a machine has been serviced and cleaned, a tag indicates its condition and gives customers confidence that every consideration has been taken to ensure the health of their employees.”
Komatsu’s technicians who had geared-up for an additional work-load on return to duties, had been COVID-19 trained and certified.
Protocols had been introduced ranging from separated workplaces and smoko rooms through to dedicated machinery sanitised time between major operations.
Work-from-home had shown great promise in reducing unproductive travel time, especially in congested areas and could well form part of a new Komatsu workplace discipline.
Mr. Pritchard said further improvements in supply chain management would be a major gain from the company’s pandemic response.
Four years ago, Komatsu New Zealand had moved to streamline the sourcing of components directly from Japan with its Australian operation as an important back-up.
The New Zealand lockdown which prevented access to local warehousing triggered an immediate move to provide parts from Australia’s Wacol, Brisbane-hub supported by an efficient freight forwarding network.
“The pandemic has prompted us to re-evaluate and improve predictive modelling techniques to optimize the relationship between regional branches and distribution centres,” Mr. Pritchard said.
Komatsu’s KOMTRAX on-board remote monitoring telemetry, now fitted to most of its machinery, was integrated into the modelling to ensure that parts were available in advance of requirement.
Mr. Pritchard said the company would continue to plan its reaction to potential future pandemic scenarios to ensure that its response time is minimised.
“We are learning a lot, and will continue to do so,” he said.
“Our findings are being translated into new training programs that are passing into our network.”