As featured in Australian Earthmoving Magazine January/February 2014 issue:
Many companies claim to be pioneers in the construction industry but few have the pedigree as exceptional as Kobelco’s. Since its formation in Japan more than 80 years ago, Kobelco has been at the forefront of technological development and advances in the international construction industry.
A History of Innovation and Global Outreach
Kobelco began operations in 1930 in Japan as a division of Kobe Steel Ltd, which was founded in 1905 and moved into the construction machinery field in the 1920s.
In the recession that followed World War I, Kobe Steel moved to grow their business by developing an electric mining shovel. At that time American and European machines dominated the field but the company firmly believed the future of the Japanese industrial development depended on opening up new markets.
By 1930 Kobelco engineers had produced the first Japanese electric shovel. It proved popular and was soon followed by larger models.
The 50K electric mining shovel was the first piece of construction machinery to be manufactured in Japan.
“Since then, Kobelco has shaped its own future through our spirit of strength and innovation. We have gone on to develop construction machinery products and technologies like no other in the industry,” said Doug McQuinn, Kobelco Construction Machinery Australia General Manager Sales and Service.
Kobelco persevered through the difficult years that followed the end of the Pacific War in 1945 but made the most of opportunities that arose after a major earthquake in Japan’s Fukui Prefecture in 1948. This prompted the development of a small diesel shovel, the 15K.
In 1954 Kobelco released the first diesel pile hammer manufactured in Japan. This was followed by its first diesel excavator in 1956 and Japan’s first wheel excavator in 1963. Kobelco developed a crawler hydraulic excavator in 1967.
In 1988 Kobelco entered the mini excavator business and founded a production base for hydraulic excavators in Calhoun, Virginia USA. A European sales company was soon founded in Holland in 1990.
The company continued to grow rapidly through the 1990s, and in 1994 entered the Chinese market where they expanded production capability and procurement network, and built human resources.
The past 20 years have seen the formation of various new manufacturing, sales and service companies throughout Europe, America and Asia, as Kobelco’s customer base and range of machinery has continued to grow.
Kobelco is now a global business that markets excavators and other machines throughout the world, including North and South America, Europe and Africa. It has manufacturing plants in Japan, China, Thailand and India and plans to build a new factory in America within the next few years.
They offer a range of hydraulic excavators to cover every requirement, from the construction and civil machines with a one-tonne to 80-tonne operating capacity through to the specialist car dismantling/scrap handlers and demolition machines.
“We have strived to expand our production base and strengthen the sales and service system in the rapidly-growing Southeast Asian region. Our Thai factory is an important production base and it has enabled us to efficiently export our products to neighbouring nations,” says Doug McQuinn.
“We built up our sales and service base in India in 2006 and added the production base for hydraulic excavators in 2010. We now produce highly competitive products by developing our manufacturing capabilities that we cultivated in Japan.”
To ensure a rapid response to changing needs, Kobelco Construction Machinery became an independent subsidiary of Kobe Steel in 1999.
Kobelco recognises that Australia is one of the most resourceful countries in the world and has met customers’ diversifying needs with broad machinery line-ups, from one tonne-class mini excavators to 80 tonne-class large hydraulic excavators. The company has also launched recycling machines into the market to develop new market areas.
Kobelco Construction Machinery Australia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kobelco Construction Machinery Japan who distributes Kobelco excavators through a national dealer network that also supplies to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia.
With a nationwide dealer support network and 24 hour emergency parts access, Kobelco Construction Machinery Australia provides their Australasian customers a support network that makes productivity a top priority.
Global Engineering Centre
In March 2012 Kobelco completed construction of its Global Engineering Centre (GEC) and Itsukaichi Factory in the town of Itsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture, to strengthen their global network and double production levels.
By improving productivity and reducing production lead times, Kobelco can supply customers with the products they need more quickly.
The huge new production base has streamlined international development and production, while the GEC acts as a control centre to create new products and develop technologies in Japan before they’re transferred to overseas production centres.
The Itsukaichi factory is one of the most efficient plants in the world. “The GEC has enabled the plant in Itsukaichi, Hiroshima to attain one of the world’s highest levels of productivity and now serves as a command centre, functioning laterally across the Kobelco Construction Machinery Group,” said Doug.
“We have optimised development and production of the group and it has enabled us to integrate development, procurement, production and quality assurance.
This enhances our ability to act as a global enterprise that is capable of handling changes in the business environment quickly and flexibly.”
The main Itsukaichi factory manufactures hydraulic excavators ranging in size from 7 to 85 tonnes. The manufacturing lines are laid out for optimal efficiency and minimal down time. Because the factory designers focused on standardising the overall load by calculating time use, individual lines are not limited to any particular product model. Instead, parts for various models go through the lines in a rigorously determined order.
Quality a Key Focus for Kobelco
Kobelco continues to prove itself a leader in manufacturing technology and is associated with the highest quality products available in the construction market.
Across all its manufacturing plants, Kobelco has adopted state-of-the-art robotic welding and machining tools; however, their staff is still a key part of the manufacturing system. Kobelco prides themselves on their expert staff and takes great interest in developing their futures, investing in extensive training and development programs. Kobelco operates under a stringent quality control system to ensure consistency of products manufactured across all of their locations world-wide.
This quality control system ensures that materials and supply parts are thoroughly inspected and tested at each step of the manufacturing process.
“Our commitment to our customers is to continue to provide high-quality products and excellent service and support through our national dealer network of excavator specialists,” said Doug.
Leading Environmental Products
Kobelco has embraced market demands and constantly strives to develop more fuel efficient and lower emission machines that cost less to run and are more productive.
Environmental sustainability and global warming have been a key focus for the company, particularly since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
Regulations to control exhaust gases have been tightened all around the world to cut emissions of CO2 and nitrogen oxides.
In Japan’s competitive construction machinery field, Kobelco won the 2010 Minister of the Environment Award for the Prevention of Global Warming (technology development and commercialisation) for its SK80H-2 hybrid excavator. This award is given once a year to individuals or enterprises that have distinguished achievements in the prevention of global warming.
The Kobelco SK80H-2 reduces fuel consumption by 40 percent and was the first hybrid excavator to receive this award. The hybrid technology of the SK80H-2 represents the quality of Kobelco’s low-fuel consumption technology.
The Kobelco Philosophy
Kobelco is dedicated to providing customers with excavators that hold true value through market leading design and technology.
These include the Acera and Geospec series that delivers unbeaten low fuel consumption, and the iNDR system for optimal noise reduction – all part of the True Blue Kobelco Evolution.
In recent years the business environment surrounding construction equipment has changed rapidly. Tighter regulations and advances in electric and hybrid technologies have shifted the global demand for hydraulic excavators away from the once predominant developed nations toward developing nations, especially in Asia.
The Kobelco Construction Machinery Group has been quick to concentrate their management resources on these rapidly growing markets in order to propel global development.
Wherever Kobelco operates, they prioritise their operators, and a primary mandate is to satisfy customers with high value products and services.
They do this by focusing on three concepts: simplicity, speed and openness.
“We will continue to listen carefully to our customers to identify exactly what they want and expect from the machines they use, and look out for anticipated emerging trends,” said Doug.