General Manager Don Russell says Komatsu’s NMO is dedicated to customer satisfaction

Don Russell, Don Russell, General Manager Newberry Manufacturing Operation

QUESTION: How has the Newberry Manufacturing Operation (NMO) changed?

ANSWER: This facility opened in 2002 as Komatsu’s utility plant with the production of backhoe loaders, and it continued as our utility location until last year. About a year ago, we began producing wheel loaders ranging in size from the 170-horsepower WA320-6 to the 350-horsepower WA500-6. We shipped our first loader from here in December 2009 and have steadily increased production.

Primarily, it’s an assembly plant, although we do manufacture a wheel loader frame, and we have product support engineering. NMO has the capacity to produce about 900 wheel loaders a year. We’re also producing 13 models of Komatsu fork lifts in LP gas, regular gasoline and diesel configurations for both indoor and outdoor use.

QUESTION: What hasn’t changed?

ANSWER: As with all our manufacturing operations, the focus on quality remains our utmost priority. We produce some stock machines, but the vast majority of our loaders are custom-built for customers who have unique specifications for their machines that are used in a wide range of applications — agriculture, construction, forestry and mining. Those specs could include a high-lift boom, a certain size bucket or a number of other things. They rely on Komatsu machines for their livelihood, and each of the approximately 160 employees who work here understands that.

Every machine that’s shipped out of here goes through a thorough inspection to check all systems, functions and a long list of other items. NMO is certified as both ISO 9001, which means it meets strict standards of operation, and ISO 14000. The latter shows that we’re a facility focused on using environmentally sound practices.

QUESTION: Why are those certifications important?

ANSWER: Equipment users have high standards and they want to do business with a manufacturer that also sets and meets high standards. The ISO certifications reinforce the commitment to outstanding manufacturing practices that Komatsu has. If customers want to see that in action, we encourage them to visit the plant and take a tour. We’re always excited about the opportunity to show customers how their machines are built.

QUESTION: Do customers give you input on machine features when they visit?

ANSWER: Certainly, and we pass that along to our product marketing personnel who work more closely with customers and distributors to get feedback on development of new machines. Our primary focus is on the manufacturing process and what we can do to improve delivery of a product. One area where we work closely with customers is in quality and warranty claims. If there’s an issue, we work to resolve it quickly.

QUESTION: We’ve discussed the past and present. What’s the future hold for NMO?

ANSWER: Interim Tier 4 regulations begin next year on machines in the 175- to 750-horsepower range, so we’ll start manufacturing the machines in that category. As far as that affecting our operations, it won’t have much of an impact. We’ll still continue to produce loaders using the same quality standards we always have.

The plant is 250,000 square feet of building sitting on 80 acres of land, and was built with future expansion in mind. I’m sure at some point that will be a consideration.