Komatsu’s new Electric Drive Innovation Center focuses expanding the capabilities of SR Technology

by Glenn Roepke

Tagged Under: Innovation and Technology Sustainability

Categories: Surface Mining Wheel loaders

P&H L-1350 wheel loader

Electric drive technology is at the forefront of innovation in Longview, Texas

When we think back over the course of our lives, most of us can remember an invention, a product or an improvement that changed the way we did things. It’s strange to think that one day something just appeared, and as a result, nothing was the same. Although it may seem like these breakthroughs came out of nowhere, they certainly did not. They are born out of years of hard work and they happen in places like Komatsu’s new Electric Drive Innovation Center located in Longview, Texas, U.S.

A legacy in electric drive technology

Komatsu has decades of experience when it comes to developing SR (switched reluctance) technology. That’s no small feat and it is something that should not go unnoticed. Earthmoving industry pioneer R.G LeTourneau Inc., acquired by Komatsu, led the way in development of diesel-electric design. This progressive tradition inspired our Longview team to introduce SR technology on wheel loaders in the mid-90s.

A unique feature of our SR technology system is its capability to handle bidirectional power flow. Incoming voltage from the energy source is converted to power the motors. Bidirectional power flow means the system also manages the power when it goes into braking mode and that energy is directed back to the generator.

The decades of experience possessed by the SR team are invaluable when it comes to perfecting current products and innovating future ones.

As the applications of SR technology continue to grow, so did our team and its needs. For the past 70 years, our innovations in electric drive have taken place at the same location ― the Longview facility.

The Electric Drive Innovation Center

The new state-of-the-art research and development facility is an engineering hub focused on ushering the mining industry into a new era of efficiency and productivity. It was purpose built, with a design tailored to accommodate the pursuit of new innovations in electric drive technology. 

“The new Electric Drive Innovation Center is representative of our desire to push the boundaries of what is possible,” said Mark Barr, director of Engineering at Komatsu. “We’re taking our 100 years of experience in working with SR technology and we’re really ratcheting up the scope of the work we are doing.”

Space was a huge factor in the decision to build this lab and rest assured, there is plenty. The structure is nearly 25,000 square feet and the center includes an additional 6,000-square-foot covered area outdoors. The unique facility provides the team with multiple electric drive train cells, as well as the capability for full drive line testing for mining vehicles of all sizes. There are also bench test rooms, where engineers can examine how these machines will fair in simulated conditions by utilizing humidity chambers and freezers to ensure production in the harshest of climates. 

“We want to have everything we need to help our customers,” said Barr. “The goal has always been to improve cost per hour and cost per ton and we’re addressing that issue for operations around the world. This facility shows that we have a dedication to providing them with the things that matter most to them.”

Currently the team is hard at work improving current product lines, which include P&H electric rope shovel motors, the P&H L-1350 Wheel Loader and the Joy underground LHD (load haul dump) battery hauler.

Focusing on customer needs to evolve electric drive advancement

It’s obvious that the Electric Drive Innovation Center is home to gifted employees who hold an incredible amount of knowledge and experience. Despite everything they’ve already achieved in the field of SR technology, they are most excited about what’s to come.

“For us, the question isn’t so much about how we can add electric drive to machines,” said Barr. “What we want to do is find ways to make this technology smaller and more compact. Despite the size of these machines, the space on them is very much at a premium. We’d rather help the customer find a way to utilize our technology while being able to devote every inch of real estate that they can to payload.”

Mark Barr and Jesse Dubberly of Komatsu

Director of Engineering Mark Barr (left) and Jesse Dubberly, wheel loader product director, discuss capabilities of the Electric Drive innovation Center.

 In addition to a more compact design, Komatsu views finding new methods for deep energy storage as an important innovation that will take place in the coming years. That includes improving the current KESS (kinetic energy storage system) system and expanding the abilities our of LHDs to include fast-charging systems to optimize their speed while reducing downtime to deliver the most value to the customer.

“We’ve already done a lot,” said Barr. “Our electric drive is at the top of the industry. It reduces fuel consumption, lowers the amount of heat that goes into the atmosphere and helps operations control their costs. It’s a win for us, the customer’s operation and the environment.”

Future development built off experience

While some OEMs have built their labs to learn how to electrify their equipment, Komatsu has taken a different approach by dedicating decades to truly learn the ins and outs of electric drive technology, then building a facility that supports everything needed to innovate the next wave of electric drive technology.

P&H L-1350 wheel loader leaving facility in Longview 

“I know we keep coming back to this, but it can’t be overstated,” said Barr, “the experience we have is something unmatched in the industry. That’s what has allowed to us take this technology as far as we have and it’s what will allow us to take it to new heights.”

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