Powering the open, interoperable ecosystem of the future

Komatsu global sustainability lead, Michael Boehm spoke to Mining Magazin's editor, Beth McLoughlin


Komatsu, a global provider of equipment and technologies, is well-known for the trucks and dig units it has been providing to the mining industry for more than a century. Many will also be familiar with the Dispatch fleet management system, created by Modular Mining, a company which is now owned by Komatsu. Dispatch, which helps mining companies optimise their operations, has about 60% of global market share – but collaboration is key for Komatsu now the sector is embarking on its sustainability journey.

Komatsu global sustainability lead, Michael Boehm, said: "One of the best things Komatsu does is understand its limitations. We bring in third-party experts at the top of their field for battery chemistry, for example." The goal is to learn fast and help customers achieve their sustainability aims – a challenge which Boehm regards as the greatest since the rise of automation in the industry.

The cost of not meeting that challenge can be as severe as losing a licence to operate. Companies are under pressure from shareholders and customers alike to have a positive impact on communities while meeting their extraction goals. "We have seen multiple tier one operators come out with carbon neutrality goals by 2050, some by 2040. These are tough targets," Boehm said.

In some cases, technology has not matured quickly enough to reach these goals, while in others, he said, the prohibitive cost has slowed down progress. However, optimising processes by minimising waste and adopting cleaner technologies can also have a positive impact on the bottom line. Komatsu is working on tools that will help companies measure performance and optimise operations in the electric mine, using dynamic routing to calculate fields such as how much power a BEV has left. Factors such as temperature, incline and speed can have a huge impact on range for BEVs. Optimising how the fleet works together and testing scenarios in simulation environments means Komatsu can ultimately help customers reduce the number of trucks carrying the same tonnes, allowing them to cut costs.

The company's way of meeting the electrification challenge is to build an industry ecosystem of experts in all aspects of electrification, from electric wheel motors to batteries, collaborating to move forward. Komatsu now has a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Alliance with 11 customers working together to deliver electric trucks to the specifications of operators in the field. Refining products with customers and other providers produces more effective results than single-source solutions, Boehm said. This is because relying solely on one provider limits the range of solutions available and can lead to prolonged development cycles that fail to keep pace with rapidly changing industry demands. It makes sense for Komatsu to work in a more agile way.

Komatsu now has a proof-of-concept electric truck with a pantograph for overhead trolley lines which works on an angled curve and goes uphill. "As a business, we have invested a lot in this and we have put a lot of man hours into this across the globe, as have our customers," Boehm said. The first testing and trials with customers will begin in 2026.

For these new technologies to work, interoperability is crucial, he said. Electric vehicles and equipment may be introduced alongside existing diesel and autonomous vehicles, and all systems must talk effectively to each other. "The way forward for sustainability is a fully optimised autonomous vehicle," Boehm said, pointing out that these vehicles are safer as well as more efficient when it comes to factors such as recharging at the right moment. When operators no longer need to be in the cab itself the job becomes more comfortable. "It's hot, dusty, dry, cold, wet and windy in there," Boehm said. "There's vibration, there's noise. And there is the danger of collisions, or trucks rolling down embankments. It's a challenging environment for people to work in, so the more we can remove people from it the safer they will be."

Komatsu also offers a standard interface for all users, adding functionality and data from third parties in the ‘back end'. This not only reduces time spent training new operators, but it increases productivity, and happier employees are less likely to leave, Boehm said. "Having a secure platform that an operator can trust is paramount," he said. "People learn at the right rate and can make sound decisions because the right information is coming towards them." Cloud-based data analytics facilitates planning and accelerates the uptake of new technologies and innovations, he added.

While electrification technology is still developing and Komatsu is working towards a future that is by no means yet written, Boehm is certain of the best approach to get the mining industry there. It is one based on breaking down silos to reach sustainability goals together. "Ultimately, an open ecosystem benefits not only individual operators, working in that pit environment, but an industry as a whole driving greater efficiencies," he said. "And that also means greater sustainability and a little bit of competitiveness in the global marketplace, because competition drives change."


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