100 years of Komatsu: A Company History

Komatsu is a Japanese manufacturing giant, focusing on construction, mining and compact equipment. Komatsu is the world’s second largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, following Caterpillar. The company was an offspring of the Takeuchi Mining Company, which was a Japanese company established by Meitaro Takeuchi in 1894, focusing on mining. The story of the Takeuchi Mining Industry began in a copper mine near Komatsu City in Ishikawa Prefecture over a century ago, where the once flourishing mine was forced to close in 1920. The closure put the community at risk of mass unemployment, yet Meitaro Takeuchi, as owner of the mine, took the initiative to create Komatsu Iron Works and ensured the job safety of the local people. The idea that innovation and technology is able to sustain communities became key to the company’s philosophy to this day.

The beginning

First established in 1917, Komatsu Iron Works manufactured machines and mining equipment for in-house use; they separated from Takeuchi Mining Company in 1921, becoming the brand we know today. 1924 was a key year for the expansion of Komatsu’s manufacturing catalogue, as they commercialised the first 450-ton sheet-forming press.

The early years

The company’s range and employees expanded exponentially during World War II and the Korean War; Komatsu also supplied the Japanese navy with anti-aircraft artillery shells and bulldozers. In 1943, they developed bulldozers for the first time in Japan. In the late 1940s, the company shifted their focus towards construction equipment, and manufactured a redesigned bulldozer, with the beginning of the following decade seeing the range expanded further with forklift trucks and dump trucks. 1955 was a time of major international expansion, as Komatsu began to ship construction equipment and presses began outside of Japan.

Competition with Caterpillar

By 1961, Komatsu were acknowledged to have achieved global quality standards on par with their U.S. counterparts. 1967 saw the Japanese company open their first overseas subsidiary, N.V. Komatsu Europe S.A., established in Belgium. Komatsu America Corp. followed suit in 1970. The company president Ryoichi Kawai established that Komatsu’s goal was to overtake Caterpillar, as they monitored Caterpillar’s performance and sought to recreate the level of success for Komatsu. In 1985, the company opened their first US manufacturing facility, challenging Caterpillar on their home turf. Their strategy was a success, and the company continued to expand their reach further.


Establishment of a global brand

The 1970s saw Komatsu begin overseas equipment production with the D50A bulldozers in Brazil. Komatsu continued on a trajectory of overseas expansion from 1985 in North America and Europe, and from 1995 in China and India. In the late 80s, the company oversaw the establishment of a new subsidiary, Komatsu Trading International, in order to increase imports into Japan due to the nation’s commitment to reduce the trade surplus. As a result, Komatsu built relationships with companies from various countries to bring in more foreign products. Komatsu’s continued growth throughout the latter part of the 20th century can also be attributed to the company’s diversification into other markets. However, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 affected the company’s profits for years to come, leading the company to make many restructuring changes.

Komatsu’s legacy

Komatsu made the largest and most powerful production bulldozer in the world, the D575, primarily used as a coal mining dozer. First produced in 1991, it continues to be famous in the industry for its sheer size and might. The D575A tractor crawler version boasts 1,150 horsepower and is available as a bulldozer or ripper. The D575A-3 SD Super Dozer weighs 157 tonnes and can move an astonishing 125 cubic yards of material per pass, if it is equipped with an optional blade. The dozer is a neck-craning 16 feet tall, 41 feet long, and fitted with a 24-foot-wide blade. Whilst the model is now discontinued, this iconic machine is the subject of a fan group on Facebook, and is truly a sight to behold for any heavy machinery enthusiast.

Image courtesy of Komatsu EU

Komatsu in the 21st Century

This year is Komatsu’s 100th anniversary. In the space of a century, Komatsu have defined themselves as a brand answering to the challenges of the time. In the 2000s, Komatsu focused on improving safety, reducing costs, and streamlining productivity, with the highlight of launching the Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) on the market in 2008. The past five years have seen the company focus on Smart Construction: a package of solutions which helps businesses evaluate and manage manpower, machines, and material, improving working conditions and productivity. What seems to be next on the horizon is the pursuit of infrastructural and product development with environmental friendliness and safety in mind. To commemorate their centenary anniversary, Komatsu has launched a special film portraying their vision of the workplace of the future: safe, highly productive, smart and clean.

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