PASSING THE TEST Attention to detail is the key for Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds General Manager Neil Johnson

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This is one of a series of articles based on interviews with key people at Komatsu discussing the company’s commitment to its customers in the construction and mining industries – and their visions for the future.

QUESTION: What is the Komatsu Arizona Proving Grounds?

ANSWER: It’s a 660-acre facility in Sahuarita, Ariz., where up to 40 employees conduct research and development primarily for Komatsu mining haul trucks. However, with the formation of Komatsu Mining, we are expanding our reach to test other mining products. We currently have a PC7000 excavator and P&H 77XR drill here.

Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds is a 660-acre facility north of Tucson in Sahuarita, Ariz. It primarily handles research and development for mining haul trucks and recently began testing other Komatsu Mining equipment and alternative technology.

QUESTION: What kind of testing takes place at the facility?

ANSWER: We focus on three types of testing: performance, structural and durability. Typically, we address the first two on our site. We have a mine operation set up here, and we spend hours running the equipment through various exercises. Once we complete performance and structural testing, we closely monitor the durability of the machine at a customer’s site for approximately 2,500 hours.

QUESTION: What role does the Arizona Proving Grounds play in the development and testing of Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS)?

ANSWER: We are the only Komatsu site that engages in AHS development and benchmarking. We have the same testing process for AHS as we do for the trucks. The group in Peoria, Ill., handles the design and integration, and we put it to work in the field to validate performance. We ensure that the sensors in all structures meet life expectancy and measure stress as well as vibration on those components.

Here in Arizona, we also analyze software updates before they are integrated into Komatsu equipment. Our group performs a stability test, which is a 150-hour exercise that searches for any failures in the system. If issues are detected, they are addressed and testing begins again. We pride ourselves on delivering products and technology that perform to our customers’ high standards from the very beginning.

In addition to equipment and technology testing, the Arizona Proving Grounds evaluates mining site plans to help customers layout their operations in the most efficient manner.

QUESTION: In addition to addressing equipment and technology, are there other ways you help customers increase productivity?

ANSWER: While equipment and technology are major components to efficient operation, we also look at site design. Sometimes removing three stop signs from an operation or changing an incline can result in significant fuel savings, so we work with customers to address those as well.

QUESTION: What does the future look like for the Arizona Proving Grounds?

ANSWER: We have several new things coming up, including larger customer events. In the past, we primarily hosted individual customer demos, but, for the first time, we recently held an AHS event for a group of customers, and we have others planned. It’s exciting to open the doors to the facility so that people can see it and experience the equipment, because both are really impressive.  

We will continue to work with AHS, including testing the Innovative Autonomous Haul Vehicle. It is the world’s first cabless, driverless haul truck. Komatsu debuted the prototype at MINExpo in 2016. After the show, it came straight here for testing. It’s been a very good research platform.

Equipment goes through rigorous testing at the Arizona Proving Grounds. “We focus on three types of testing: performance, structural and durability,” said General Manager Neil Johnson. “We have a mine operation set up here, and we spend hours running the equipment through various exercises.”
Neil Johnson, General Manager, Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds

Neil Johnson has spent his entire career with Komatsu. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering in Newcastle, England, he began conducting research and development on excavators for Komatsu UK Limited. “For nine years, I worked with wheeled, crawler, high-reach, road- rail, super-long-front and utility excavators,” recalled Johnson.

In 2009, he moved stateside to Komatsu’s U.S. Test Group (USTG) in Cartersville, Ga. 

“When I came to the States, I visited customer sites and conducted many field tests,” shared Johnson. “Then, I got involved with the intelligent Machine Control machines, which used a D51-22 dozer that was converted to the prototype for the D61PXi dozer.”

Two years after arriving in Georgia, he moved to the Arizona Proving Grounds, where he served as Chief Engineer and was eventually promoted to his current role of General Manager. His tenure at the facility has included several exciting projects.

“One of the major events was moving to this current facility in 2015,” noted Johnson. “We put a lot of thought into the building design, test courses and the mining site, in addition to installing permanent infrastructure for the Autonomous Haulage System.”

In his free time, Johnson enjoys traveling with his wife, Angela, and riding motorcycles, in addition to mechanical projects. 

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