Komatsu has collaborated with one of New Zealand’s most innovative machinery contractors to build an excavator that has become universally known as the Swiss Army Knife.
The Komatsu PC220 has been equipped with a Can Bus system that allows interchangeability between up to 10 attachments – each capable of being installed and operational within five minutes.
The innovator is Brandon Whiddett, one of two founders of Auckland’s Treescape, a specialist arborist business with branches throughout New Zealand and on the east coast of Australia.
But while Brandon is the co-founder of the now 650-person strong business, he prefers to be known as the Chief Engineering Officer, and he works from a small office at the core of a workshop of 14 people whose task it is to make all their equipment more efficient.
Brandon’s piece-de-resistance is his PC220.
The one machine is capable of fitting and using within minutes, a high-speed mulching head, a vertical tree-grab sheer, a chain-saw felling head, a high-speed hydraulic stump grinder, a hydraulic tree transplanting spade, a rotating grapple with pusher bar and a winch bucket.
“I’m not an engineer, just someone who thinks about practical improvements,” Brandon said. “I come up with ideas and Komatsu does the design to my request. “There isn’t a machine built yet, that isn’t so perfect it can’t be made to work better.”
Brandon and his business partner Ed Chignell started Treescape more than 35 years ago; their plan was to pioneer the concept of ecologically sustainable arbo-culture in a world which was only just coming to terms with what that meant.
For Brandon, right from the start, success was all about efficiency.
While competitors were felling portions of forests and creating environmental waste, Brandon saw immense improvement in designing and purpose building a 3.5 tonne trailer to remove felled material.
A decade on, still seeking efficiency, he bought his first Komatsu excavator. The purchase of the PC130 was unusual if not unique in the arbo-culture industry which was still employing manual labor. But it wasn’t only the machine he was after as much as the opportunity to collaborate with a major international company that could help turn his ideas into reality.
“He’s made us part of his think tank,” Komatsu’s New Zealand product support manager Brent Hepple, smiles about the customer who’s become a colleague, and a friend.
“He’ll ring-up and say let’s go hunting and we’ll go and sit in his blind in the forest and we’ll talk about his new projects.”
It’s a partnership that has led to Treescape having 45 Komatsu excavators and wheel loaders across its network – one of several long terms supply arrangements, Brandon has nurtured with key business associates.
Brent’s job is to make Brandon’s ideas work within Komatsu’s operational guidelines to maintain his own company’s product integrity and importantly, to help grow Treescape’s reputation at the forefront of innovation in green management.
The multi-tool concept, powered by Komatsu’s ability to devise a system with easily identifiable graphics, which allow an operator to switch hydraulic flow from within the cockpit, has been a major triumph of the association.
“It’s the most extraordinary sight,” Brent said. “You can arrive on a Treescape job and find a multitude of attachments all neatly laid out, waiting to be used in sequence with a minimal change over between them. Comparatively there are people, especially overseas, who use one machine with one attachment permanently fixed, losing so much flexibility and potential profitability.”
The collaboration between Brandon and Komatsu has been exceptionally successful. Clear understanding between them has allowed Brandon to make improvements which place minimal stress on the machines, and their operators, leading to greater productivity from both.
Recently Komatsu went one-up on Brandon. It delivered him a new excavator resplendent with its own logo – a Swiss Army Knife design symbolizing his pioneering work.