Johnson’s Construction


Sep 30, 2008

Newfoundland company turns to Komatsu PC300HDs to help build the Trans-Labrador Highway

Rugged work requires rugged equipment. That's why Johnson's Construction, which is building a highway through remote, wilderness conditions in Labrador on the eastern edge of Canada, has turned to Komatsu equipment in general, and the PC300HD hydraulic excavator in particular.

Johnson's is building the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH), which will be the first road connecting the eastern part of Labrador with the west, thereby tying the region into the North American highway network. The company, which is based in Pasadena, Newfoundland, specializes in such wilderness-type construction work.

"We're building the road through virgin territory, which requires substantial logging and land clearing, as well as excavation and grading," explained President Brian Johnson. "It's demanding work and we're doing it in the middle of nowhere, more than 200 kilometers from any civilization. I'd have to say our ability to do all types of work, and accomplish it in a challenging environment like Labrador, is our greatest strength as a company."

To help the company do such demanding projects as the TLH in a productive, cost-effective manner, Johnson's Construction has turned almost exclusively to Komatsu machines from SMS Equipment. The company has about 65 Komatsu units, including dozers, wheel loaders, rigid-frame and articulated trucks, motor graders and, of course, hydraulic excavators. The excavators range from PC220s up to PC800s, and include numerous PC300HDs.

The HD (heavy-duty) excavator

The Komatsu PC300HD (HD stands for heavy duty) combines the upper structure of a standard PC300 with the undercarriage of a PC400. It's a 246-horsepower (184-kW) machine with an operating weight of almost 86,000 pounds (about 39,000 kg).

"We use our PC300 HDs for logging and clearing, for moving overburden in conjunction with our quarry work, for loading trucks, and for helping to spread material to build the road," said Johnson. "Komatsu and SMS recommended the PC300HDs because the PC400-class undercarriage works well in adverse working conditions. We've had them for a year now. They've really worked well for us and our operators love them."

According to Johnson, the additional size and weight of the machine (it's about 7,500 pounds - 3,400 kg - heavier than a PC300) provides outstanding lift capacity.

"As a former operator myself, I can tell you one of the biggest factors impacting the performance of a hydraulic excavator that's used in heavy construction is the stability of the unit," said Johnson. "With the larger base, the PC300HD is very stable, especially over the side. The result is improved confidence and improved productivity."

Reliable and productive

The other key factor for Johnson, given that the road project is in a remote area of such a sparsely populated region, is the fact that the PC300HD has been extremely reliable and has held up very well.

"When you're working in the wilderness, everything is intensified," he noted. "For example, when a machine goes down, it can easily be a day or two or more to get a part or a service technician to the site. With our PC300HDs, as well as our other Komatsu machines, we have relatively few breakdowns, so our downtime is minimal."

"We've been using Komatsu equipment for four or five years and our operators have been pleased with the units," said Johnson's Construction Site Superintendent Perry Anthony. "Across the board, the machines have been good - they're fast and they've held up well in a challenging application. What's most important, since we started using Komatsu, we're building more road than we did before, and in this business, that's what it's all about."

Future looks bright

Johnson estimates his company has built about 350 kilometers of virgin road in Labrador so far, and probably has another two years left to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway. After that, he expects there will be additional work connecting communities to the highway. Johnson's Construction also was recently awarded a five-year contract to maintain much of the route.

As he looks back at the significant growth of his company, thanks largely to its ability to tame the Labradorian wilderness, Johnson says he's proud of what his team has accomplished.

"When we first came here in 2000, we saw the growth potential and knew there would be an opportunity for a substantial amount of work - but it's not easy. Other companies have come and gone, but we're still here. To work successfully in a place like this requires not only good equipment and solid support, which we feel we've gotten from Komatsu and SMS - but most of all, it takes employees who are committed to your company and committed to getting the job done. Fortunately, we have a lot of people who understand the survival techniques it takes to succeed in this environment and are extremely loyal to Johnson's Construction. I'm truly indebted to each and every one of them."