Case Study, Dump Trucks, Earthmoving Machinery, Excavators, Komatsu

Komatsu and Earthfix: the smart way to sustainability


The durability and reliability of Komatsu equipment continues to be the backbone of the operations of Earthfix, the sustainable smart farming initiative set up by Gold Coast-based civil construction hire company Sniffers Group.

Earthfix Managing Director Stephen Orchard founded Sniffers more than 25 years ago, during which time it evolved from a one- machine operation to now incorporating a comprehensive modern fleet, offering a wide range of excavating, earthworks, and haulage services.

Stephen said he bought his first Komatsu machine around four years after starting Sniffers, and, as the business has grown and branched out into different areas, has been a Komatsu customer ever since. But more on the equipment later.

In 2022, Earthfix signed a deal with the Korean Agriculture Technology Promotion Agency and ISU Group to bring the first Korean smart farm to Australia under a partnership with Griffith University. It aims to develop sustainable solutions for food production.

“We’ve been focusing pretty heavily in that space,” Stephen said. “We’ll produce the energy, the water and the nutrients needed for the smart farm, and ultimately, we’ll produce really healthy food.

“We only use about 5 per cent of the water and about 5-8 per cent of the land equivalent to traditional farming. We use no pesticides or herbicides, and about 30 per cent of the fertiliser to the equivalent – and nothing gets wasted.”

“We’re going to build an innovation valley at the site at Luscombe,” Stephen said. “We’ll be working with Griffith University for a minimum of five years, building an R&D facility, and we’ll be basically building the farms of tomorrow.”

An aerial view of the Earthfix smart farm under construction.

Stephen elaborated on the four pillars of Earthfix: food, energy, water and waste.

“As part of our waste management efforts, Earthfix recycles a range of materials, including concrete, topsoil, clean fill, unsuitable soil, green waste, and non-contaminated vacuum excavation mud,” he said.

“These materials are processed in our state- of-the-art facilities to produce a range of high- quality products, including concrete blocks and manufactured aggregates, as well as organic soil products.

“Our innovative approach to waste management helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, which not only reduces our carbon footprint but also helps to conserve natural resources and reduce the cost of waste management. By converting waste materials into useful products, we are helping to create a more sustainable future for generations to come.”

As for water, Earthfix will use effective dewatering solutions to recycle Class A water from vacuum excavation muds.

This solution will allow up to 100 per cent of the material from the muds to be recovered, processing the waste practically and cost- effectively.

“We will use Korean plasma technology to help us achieve this more efficiently,” Stephen said.

“We will also extract the water from our green energy plant’s process once we have generated energy from it.”

The recycled water will be reused:

  • To fill/refill outgoing trucks with industry- compliant recycled water, ensuring millions of litres of potable water is not taken from the water main
  • To wash down vacuum trucks as well as other various machinery
  • In Earthfix’s recycling processes
  • In dust suppression

By working together with LIPP Engineering, Green Energy Resources, Griffith University and Algae International (AIB), Earthfix is also working towards building a green energy plant that aims to produce energy to power the Luscombe site.

“It will feed off multiple streams of organic food waste from external sources and the Earthfix smart farm to generate energy through the process of anaerobic digestion,” Stephen said.

“This process converts organic matter into biogas, which can then be used to generate electricity and heat. The biogas is primarily composed of methane, which can be used in a gas engine to generate electricity or can be cleaned and used as a fuel for vehicles.

“In addition to producing energy, the anaerobic digestion process also produces a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser, which can be used to improve the soil quality on the Earthfix site and be added to any soil to improve its quality or be sold through landscaping yards.

“This closed-loop system not only generates energy, but also helps to reduce food waste and improve the overall sustainability of the Luscombe site.”

The family team behind Earthfix: Stephen Orchard with daughter Brooke (left), wife Emma and daughter Megan.

The centrepiece of the project of course is the smart farm and its food production.

“Smart farming is the application of information and data technologies to optimise complex farming systems,” Stephen said.

“Smart farming incorporates information and communication technologies into machinery, equipment and sensors used in agricultural production systems.

“Technologies such as the IoT and cloud computing are advancing this development even further by introducing more robots and artificial intelligence into farming.

“Our mission for the Earthfix Smart Farm is to create consistently great-tasting and high-quality produce through innovative farming techniques that strives to exceed the expectations of our consumers.”

The Smart Farm Dashboard

There are various processes in place on a farm using smart farm technology.

These include:

  • Data collection
    The sensors installed at all critical places
    in the farm gather and transmit data about
    the surroundings, such as air – temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels; water – nutrient balance, pH and EC levels; and tracking of the sun and intensity of the sun rays.
    • Diagnostics
    The data collected is analysed by the system and conclusions are made regarding the status of the object or process monitored. Potential problems get identified.
    • Decision-making
    Based on the problems identified in the previous steps, the software platform and/or a human managing the platform decides on actions that need to be taken.
    • Actions
    The actions identified in the previous step are performed. A new measurement on the water, air, moisture, etc is performed by the sensors and the whole cycle starts again.
The Komatsu Smart Construction Dashboard combines 3D design data with aerial mapping and intelligent machine data to confirm quantities.

To help Earthfix with this process, Stephen said he has found Komatsu’s Smart Construction Dashboard an invaluable tool.

The program, which combines 3D design data with aerial mapping and intelligent machine data to confirm the required quantities, can be retrofitted onto machines. With the dashboard, users can:

Gain greater project clarity
The job site is visualised in 3D with design data, aerial mapping (drone) data and machine as-built data all in one easy-to-integrate location.

• Choose what to measure
Easily quantifiable volumetric production measurements are available for the whole site or defined areas of interest: for example initial survey vs. design, today vs. design, or comparing any day in-between.

• Quickly measure stockpile quantities
Stockpile measurements can be made in a snap for material quantities, reporting in terms of volumes, tonnage, and even assign costs to material.

• Collaborate in the portal and offline
Industry-standard cut/fill colour mappings to visualise material movements are easily generated, creating standardised reports for download, email or print.

• Visualise site progress
Site progress can be monitored with timeline functions, including playback, for the whole site. Investigate more deeply with cross sections and individual measurements.

“The smart construction tool is great for us because we can get in a room together and actually visualise the project,” Stephen said.

“Zooming out on a little screen, we can pull up the project and we can all go through the job together and we can get a visual of the overall look of it, see if there are any problems with the design and what might arise later on.

“It’s such a good tool where you can pull a 360° view of any angle from above, from the side below, and you can spot stuff you might have missed.

“It’s hard looking at profile lines, so it’s very possible to pick up things.

“We’ve tried CAD drawing and it’s too complicated. We’re simple sort of people and it’s easy to steer this thing.

“It’s a great tool and we’re learning more. It can do a lot more, but we’re happy with what we can do.

“It’s designed for designs.”

In the last year alone, Sniffers has added more than a dozen new pieces of Komatsu machinery to its fleet, many of which will be employed for the varied tasks carried out by Earthfix.

As a company, Sniffers has about 80 operating units, along with various other bits of equipment, including trailers and vehicles.

The Earthfix side uses its own fleet, including crushing and screening equipment, trommels, graders, dozers, and compactors.

“They’re great machines if you want something that’s not going to give you grief, and which is going to go forever,” he said. “They’ll just keep ticking over for 20,000 hours, no problem at all.

“They won’t give you any issues, they’re simple to work on, and they’re just good, reliable machines.

“We use the latest technology on our civil sites but we still use the older gear purely because they just sit there and can go forever.

“They don’t give us any problems: just get in and start them up.”

Earthfix has long reach attachments to two Komatsu excavators: a PC138US-8 and a PC228USLC-11.

One of the Komatsus, a venerable PC300 excavator, has already logged at least 15,000 hours and is still used daily.

“We’ve owned it for probably 15 years now,” Stephen said.

“It’s definitely not worth getting rid of it. It just doesn’t cost anything. It’s cheap on fuel and it just keeps going.

“We’ve never had any major problem with it. We just service it, we stick juice in it and it just keeps going.”

Another ace up the sleeve for Komatsu is the ability of the machines to be retrofitted with long reach attachments.

Stephen has added the extended arms and booms to two of his Komatsu excavators: a PC138US-8 and a PC228USLC-11.

And because of the stability and robustness of the machines, no tail swing is needed to balance the weight of the attachments.

“I believe we’re the only company with these zero-swing attachments, which give us about an 18 metre reach,” Stephen said.

“I think no one else considers doing this because they believe they need a tail swing. But these machines are so well weighted in the centre.

“For example, if you’re doing roadworks with long reaches, you can’t have a tail swinging out over the road; if you do, you need to be able to shut down one lane.

“Or else do a stop and start job with traffic control. And you know every time you swing out to do some work, you hold up all the traffic if you’ve got a tail.

“Initially we were worried that the long reaches with no counter-balance wouldn’t work with zero swing, but they certainly exceeded expectations.

“When they’re not out on jobs for Sniffers, they’re cleaning out the Earthfix mud pits, which is the where the vacuum excavation is carried out.

“That’s wet mud and everybody knows how heavy that is, and they perform very well pulling this wet mud out all day, swinging it out.

“It’s a really good example of how really well balanced the machines are.”

 The Komatsu machines are so stable that no counter balance is required for the long reach attachments, meaning there is no danger of tail swing.
The Komatsu machines are so stable that no counter balance is required for the long reach attachments, meaning there is no danger of tail swing.

Testing times

Stephen makes it a point to use Komatsu condition monitoring services for all his equipment.

Customers receive an evaluation as well as a recommendation from their oil or lubricant samples. If needed, analysts will contact users and provide direct technical assistance and recommendations.

“We just go to the one place for our machines, which makes it easy for the guys. Komatsu doesn’t discriminate: if it’s a Kenworth or a Mack truck, they still carry out the oil sampling.

“So it’s a one-stop shop for us to just test and go to the same people every time.”

Komatsu is also the only company in Australia where the manufacturer is the distributor.

“So you’re talking directly to the manufacturer when you talk to these guys. If there are any issues, not necessarily problems but maybe improvements, it goes straight back to the factory,” Stephen said.

“We’ve been dealing with them for a long time and have a great working relationship. They often come out and say, “OK, what do you guys want on the machines?”

“We might say ‘put in flashing lights’ or ‘put in emergency stops’, and the next year, our machines will come with them factory-fitted.

“You don’t have as many problems with factory fitments as you do with retrofitted stuff.”

Stephen said this hands-on approach helped facilitate a greater understanding of Australian conditions and market requirements.

“They come out here and they look at what the Australian market needs, and they will tailor machines specifically for it,” he said.

“They’re a good company to deal with. It’s simply the ease which is important for us.”

The Komatsu excavators making soils and mulches for Earthfix.



Send this to a friend